Last week was the 41st annual London Book Fair, and the first time I’d ever spent the whole three days there.
Having spent the past couple of months trying to arrange meetings with publishers, I got the train to London on Monday morning, armed with the comfiest shoes I could find, blister plasters (just in case), paracetamol, business cards, lots of enthusiasm and a little trepidation; this would be my first London Book Fair as a fully fledged freelancer and I needed to make a good impression.
Having stashed my case at the luggage storage facility at Waterloo, I charged across London by tube, running up and down escalators, and made it to Earls Court with just enough time to dump my coat and orientate myself before my first meeting. My first couple of meetings went quite well, and I soon got into the swing of things and received some promising offers of work. One editor even offered to suggest my services to other publishers - surely it shouldn’t be this easy?
In the afternoon I attended the Mainstreaming Accessibility seminar. I was a bit concerned that the technical speak was going to be a little over my head, and I wasn’t wrong, but the seminar was still fascinating. Personally I prefer ‘real’ paper books, but the availability of ebooks, particularly if your ereader has a text-to-speech option, is making such a difference for people with visual impairments. Pete Osborne from the RNIB, and chair of the Right To Read Alliance worked out that he had spent over £600 on books in the last year - when two years ago he had spent nothing - which really proves that there is a market for accessible and inclusive books. The most surprising thing for me was when he played an extract from a text-to-speech reader. I thought the monotone quality was pretty bad, and couldn’t imagine listening to a whole book like this, but Mr Osborne seemed impressed by the standard and said that it was much improved compared to how it used to be. I was, however, shocked that many ebooks do not come with a text-to-speech function - such a wasted opportunity for inclusion and accessibility. For more information visit The Publishers Association.
After stopping by to say a quick hello a couple of people, I left the fair to visit a friend who now works for one of the big publishing houses. It was great to catch up and, although I can’t go into it here, lots of exciting things were discussed. I headed back to Waterloo that evening on a high - everything seemed to be falling into place, and I began to think that maybe I had made the right choice to go freelance.
Tuesday was another busy day. Traveling in from where I was staying took longer than expected, and I only just arrived at the book fair in time for my first meeting. This was, again, very positive, and I was asked whether I would be able to consult on manuscripts that dealt with issues regarding inclusion. This wasn’t something I had thought about when I first went freelance, but would be an excellent way to utilise my experience and skills, so I jumped at the chance.
Next it was time for a sit down in the Children’s Innovation Zone for Sarah Benton’s talk about using social media. Hot Key Books are a new player in the industry but already have a huge profile, partly thanks to their use of Twitter and blogging. I took a lot away from this, and my followers on Twitter will notice an increase in my activity! This was followed by a chat with a friend and a rather fortuitous introduction to a publisher who really wants to look at inclusion in their books. My next meeting had been cancelled, so I took the opportunity to wander around the fair, and approach publishers to ask if they used freelance editors. Very often the person I needed to speak to had stayed in the office, so I left my card and hoped for the best. One publisher did have time to chat to me and was very interested in my experience in diversity and inclusion. When introducing myself to someone else, I found that they knew who I was because they had followed me on Twitter the night before - my increased level of tweeting must have been working.
At last, it was time for Alexandra Strick’s seminar with Booktrust - ‘What’s the Story? Listening to Deaf and Disabled Children'. This is the third year that Alex and Booktrust have run a seminar under the ‘Equal Measures’ banner (I spoke at the first one) looking at how disabled children can be included in books and it’s great to see them getting busier each year. I had a prime spot as Alex wanted me to film the event (although unfortunately the there wasn’t enough memory space for the whole seminar - you can check out my camera skills here). With a panel including Julia Donaldson, Joyce Dunbar and Ros Asquith, as well as Rebecca Atkinson, Lauren Metcalfe and Aminder Virdee the event was destined to be a success. One of my favourite quotes was from Joyce Dunbar who pointed out that Deaf children are “not only unable to hear, they are not heard”. It’s definitely time we started listening. Rebecca Atkinson also pointed out the importance of representing Deaf (and disabled) adults in books as many deaf children think that they are going to be ‘hearing’ when they grow up as they never see any images of Deaf adults. This gives them the impression that they must not exist and the same goes for disabled children and adults. The panel members discussed their favourite inclusive books, and I felt very proud that some of the Child’s Play books on which I’d worked were on the list. I was also honoured to be mentioned by Alex as a useful contact and freelance inclusion consultant.
After the seminar there was a quick chance for a chat before heading off to a final meeting followed by dinner with my old employer Child’s Play and the fabulous Letterbox Library. It’s always interesting to chat with Fen and Kerry from Letterbox Library; they are so knowledgeable and passionate about all kinds of issues and definitely inspiring.
I woke up on Wednesday with a cracking headache - most likely induced by carrying a heavy bag around for two days rather than too much wine the night before. My first stop was the SYP How to Get Ahead in Publishing seminar. I think I was one of the ‘more mature’ people in the room and, although I didn’t really find out much that I didn’t already know, I was inspired by talks by Jon Slack and Sophie Rochester who had both gone freelance. Another confirmation that maybe, just maybe I’m doing the right thing! The only thing I wasn’t convinced by was the incitation for everyone to focus on digital in order to get ahead, as experience in this area would make them unique. This is not going to be the case forever, and certainly not if you’re competing against others at the same stage in their career who have also made digital their priority. I was pleased that I have a unique selling point, even if it’s not experience with digital!
Next was a lunch meeting with Alex Strick, and other key partners, regarding an exciting new book project. I can’t go in to details yet, but watch this space - it’s going to be something special.
Meetings and seminars over, it was time to head to the Bookstart 20 celebration and the chance for a celebratory slice of cake. It was nice to have to catch up with some old faces before heading off to catch a train home.
So, with a remarkable lack of blisters (but sore feet), an aching head and tired eyes, but with a big smile and a head full of inspiration, I finally arrived home for a well-earned glass of wine.Roll on LBF 2013!
Tags: lbf london book fair publishing freelance editing accessibility inclusion equal measures deaf disabled syp
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