Springboard: trade bodies, agencies and publishers line up virtual events to plug book fair gap

Springboard: trade bodies, agencies and publishers line up virtual events to plug book fair gap

To be fair to the organisers of the London Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, moving their dates to late June/early July was the most sensible option in a very difficult and changeable climate; they did so in order to get a chance at holding the events in real life. But even with vaccine roll-outs, it is still very much touch and go whether the fairs will happen in physical form and, even if they do, it is unclear how many boots will be on the ground at either.

But the moves were perhaps not so sensible in terms of the bulk of the business that goes on there: rights trading. The publishing rights year is cyclical, and having the two fairs less than three months before Frankfurt—which has a better shot of returning to some form of normality—is not really fit for purpose. Hence, agents and publishers have launched their own bespoke virtual “Faux-lognas” and “e-LBFs”, some of which we have highlighted here. It’s also why we have, for the first time, run a rights special—including our Agents’ Hotlists—outside a major fair.

There is perhaps a larger issue of whether fairs will ever return in full force. Yes, many miss those serendipitous moments of the fairs (including Watson, Little m.d. James Wills), but over a year of Zoom back-to-back meetings and virtual fairs will have many rights professionals questioning the travel and exhibition costs. But that might not be resolved until next year. 

Three digital events to watch out for

8th–19th March
Hachette Spring Rights Festival

The Spring Rights Festival, a virtual fair planned by Hachette UK with participation by its sister companies worldwide, is aiming to “create a focal point for all the great titles Hachette has to sell”, says Rebecca Folland pictured left, rights director at Hodder, Headline, John Murray and Quercus. With that dedicated and fixed virtual festival, Folland says the publisher is hoping to avoid the drawn-out “Fakefurt” virtual meet-ups of last year, which saw the Frankfurt Book Fair rights-selling period extended by several weeks. 

For the festival, Hachette is launching a dedicated web page where publishers can access rights catalogues, view showreels of highlights, and interact with Hachette rights teams by “sharing their working from home views, be it out of their windows or of their bookshelves”. 

Folland says: “Of course, there’s a limit to what we can do to replace the excitement, buzz and human contact of an actual fair, but finding a moment to gather virtually [at our festival]felt important.” 

The past year has been rather fruitful for Folland’s team, despite the restrictions of the pandemic, as Hachette has established new ways of working. She adds: “Our business has remained buoyant and it’s been heartening to see publishers still in an acquisitive frame of mind. In some ways, our existing relationships have been enriched by this shared experience, but meeting new people is certainly more challenging and it’s undoubtedly harder to keep track of market changes when you can’t visit those markets in person. 

“I hope that when we come back to some kind of normality, we will keep a lot of the new ways of working we have established, and add them into the mix of our regular rights lives.”

9th–10th March
Independent Publishers Guild International Publishing Forum
The Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) is running its inaugural International Publishing Forum, a virtual networking event-cum-seminar programme with around 20 speakers across the two days. IPG c.e.o. Bridget Shine says it “is a way to connect IPG members with fellow publishers, retailers, suppliers and experts around the world, at a time when we can’t get together in person at book fairs and conferences”.

After so long without physical events, Shine says, the forum will have an emphasis on interaction and discussion: “Each session is live, and will have lots of time for Q&As, and they will be followed by splitting delegates into smaller groups so people can continue discussions, meet others and share advice. We hope people will leave with new contacts as well as new ideas for their publishing.” 

The sessions will be targeted and focused, such as Nosy Crow m.d. Kate Wilson and Alicia Liu pictured above of Singing Grass Communications discussing the change in China’s market over the past year; scout Louise Allen-Jones running down current international rights trends; a Society of Young Publishers-led look at recruitment and retention in the age of Covid; and an examination of imports and exports post-Brexit. The events are free to delegates, but the trade body has monetised the forum with partner sponsorship and exhibitor packages. 

Last year, IPG’s virtual conferences were “hugely popular”, says Shine, due in part to how accessible the online events are. Shine adds: “Making events like the forum free helps to attract people for whom cost is a barrier. Like everyone, we’re keen to get back to real-world contact as soon as it’s safe, but virtual events are here to stay and will undoubtedly be a bigger part of the IPG’s mix in the years ahead.”

Shine thinks the absence of book fairs has hit rights sales for IPG members, especially on books and projects that have been started since the arrival of the pandemic. But the publishers have responded very well to the challenges of trading without fairs, and video calls have helped them to maintain contact with regular partners. She says: “What people have probably missed most is the face-to-face contact, and those chance meetings or first introductions that you get at book fairs. We are trying to re-create some of that serendipity at the forum.”

8th–12th March 
Peters, Fraser + Dunlop Meet the Authors

During last year’s “Fakefurt”, Peters, Fraser + Dunlop launched a series of virtual events to give editors, scouts and subagents the opportunity to speak directly to its clients with its Meet the Author events. The agency is olling out the initiative again next week, in the time period in which the London Book Fair would normally have run.
PFD hasn’t spared its heavy hitters, with Jeanette Winterson, Lesley Pearse and The Bees author Laline Paull among those scheduled to appear. With many looking for an online “Faux-logna” to replace the children’s fair, PFD’s kids’ line-up is strong, with authors in conversation including sessions with middle-grade stars Onjali Q Raúf pictured above and Lisa Thompson, plus fantasy authors Lisa Lueddecke and E Latimer. And, new this spring, is the “contemporary classics” strand (i.e. PFD’s estates), with executors and relatives of classic authors on hand, such as Richard Compton-Burnett and Pushkin Press’ Rory Williamson speaking about the imminent relaunch of Ivy Compton-Burnett’s novels in the UK; and cookery writer Tamasin Day-Lewis talking about her father Cecil’s crime novels, which he wrote under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. (Alas, Cecil’s son Daniel Day-Lewis seems to have been unavailable...)

PFD head of international rights Rebecca Wearmouth says: “It is so wonderful to be able to give our international publishing partners the chance to hear first-hand from our authors about their work. We have a glittering array of authors representing their work across all genres.” 

Wearmouth says “Meet the Authors feels like an opportunity for us all to connect, for our authors to engage directly with foreign editors—something they may not normally get chance to do—and for us to bring our wonderful books to life in a way that is new and exciting. And one of the key benefits is that it’s not just for the day: we can create links to the videos after the events, which is a hugely useful tool for sharing with interested publishers—and that means interested parties are still able to view the event, even if they weren’t able to attend at the time.”