"See you at the book fair?" is a common greeting among us publishing types, the book fair in question being the London International Book Fair. The grown up part of the trade staggers from book fair to book fair, and occasionally kind-hearted but naive writers ask if I am going to Frankfurt this year. Why? To do what? Am I made of money? It costs £200, last I looked, to have a shelf at the London Book Fair on the Five Leaves distributor's stand, that's six books, face out, ie insignificant when some publishers hire spaces the size of a small city but it gives you a base to leave your bulging bag of catalogues, somewhere to sit and somewhere to arrange meetings in order to pretend you are doing business. To go to Frankfurt, the really big fair, would bankrupt us.
The London Book Fair is huge - over at CB Editions' blog (http://sonofabook.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/jeffrey-archer-offers-me-slice-of-his.html) Charles Boyle gives the flavour of the place quite nicely. It is crammed with young women in little black numbers and important looking men and women all doing important deals with each other though you do wonder, in an electronic age, why it is all so necessary. Certainly as a bookseller it was good to see the advance books by publishers, and to think ahead, but mostly I find myself wandering around aimlessly, looking as lost as the occasional everyday writer or reader who has accidentally strayed into something almost, but not quite, to do with them.
Of course the days of the big deals are over and there is more going on now for the groundlings, otherwise attendance would drop off. There are more seminars, talks and meetings and, perhaps, the scale is a little more human.
There are plenty receptions. One year - gatecrashing a party I found my then partner in an animated discussion about Canadian literature with a rather distinguished-looking man. "Why did he start talking about Canadian literature, and who was he anyway?" she asked me on leaving... It was the Canadian publishing village and he was the Canadian ambassador, but somehow she had not noticed. Another year a colleague and I attended the Swedish publishing reception as the seats looked comfy, hoping that nobody would talk to us about Swedish writers, none of whom we could remember.
One year I decided to do the book fair properly. Fixed meetings, tried to sell rights, obtain distribution deals. Be a joiner. Be professional. I came away having sold nothing, but bought rights to two books from an American publisher I'd tried to sell some of our rights to. They saw me coming.
Sadly, the economy means there is less to pick up for free. One year I wrote an article for The Bookseller about the freebies at the book fair. For years afterwards people in the trade would mention the article.
I'm sorry not to go this year. It is time, and I rather feel that I am somehow not being a publishing professional by missing the book fair. So, next year, I'll dust off my little black number. Meet me at the Canadian book trade reception. Time to catch up with that ambassador.