Letter from the London Book Fair

I am proud to present a guest post written by Brett Jocelyn (BJ) Epstein, who very recently attended the London Book Fair. Among BJ’s latest literary accomplishments is Northern Lights: Translation in the Nordic Countries, a volume she edited containing essays from a conference she organized. To learn more about this wonderful writer-editor-translator, please visit BJ’s blog and Web site.

The London Book Fair 2009

by BJ Epstein

Ah, books, books, books. Rows of books, books for sale, authors signing books. Books and more books. That’s what the typical bibliophile would excitedly imagine when thinking of a book fair. In fact, although events such as The London Book Fair (LBF) and the Frankfurt Book Fair seem to be about books, they are really about the bottom line.

The LBF is a place where publishers come to show their wares to other publishers, hoping to make foreign sales. People rush around holding notebooks, looking for books they might want to purchase the rights to and then have translated to their own tongue. The major publishers have big stands with lots of small tables where their agents can meet with other agents. An observer can stand at a distance and watch as figures are discussed and hands are shaken. It’s all very serious and pragmatic and it doesn’t seem to be predicated on a love of books. Writers and translators may feel unwelcome amidst all this deal-making.

Nevertheless, for a visitor willing both to accept that and to do a lot of walking, there is plenty to see and enjoy at the LBF. The fair takes place at Earl’s Court, a large convention center in London, and it is very well organized. The huge main room is where publishers from all over the world have their stands. One area has children’s books, another travel books and maps, the religious (primarily Christian) books are in one (fairly small) spot, textbooks are in their own section, and so on. If you go past this room, after, of course, having browsed it to see what is being published these days (gift books seem to be a growing trend), and on into the next, smaller one, the atmosphere is different. This room is where the printers and binders have their stands, where people sell little book lights and other items for the book-lover, and where the various cultural agencies are located.

As a translator from the Scandinavian languages, I spent most of my time flitting between the Swedish Arts Council, the Danish Arts Agency’s Literature Centre, Norwegian Literature Abroad, Finnish Literature Exchange, the Iceland booth (this was the first year the Icelandic publishers and agencies had their own stand). On Monday, April 20, there was a joint Nordic reception, and events like that are excellent for networking, especially for writers, translators, and people from smaller publishing companies.

I also made sure to visit the stands from other countries. Several of them publish an annual or biannual magazine with biographical information and short translated excerpts from their nation’s top writers. This magazine, such as Sweden’s Swedish Book Review or Portugal’s Voices from the South, is meant to tempt publishers, but it is also a wonderful way for curious readers to learn about the kind of literature being published in other places. Because so few works are translated to English, unless you happen to read a particular tongue, you will never know what writers are doing in other parts of the world. I picked up as many of these magazines as I could carry. India was this year’s special focus at the Book Fair, and I had no idea there were so many publishers in that country. It was very interesting to see the way these publishers manage to differentiate themselves; I was slightly surprised by how many seemed to have a distinct niche in spiritual books.

PEN is also at the fair every year, offering readings. And one of my very favourite parts is the Gourmand area, which showcases top cookbooks from every culture imaginable. Even if you can’t read the books, you can salivate over the pictures. A number of chefs give demonstrations of their craft and they always make enough of the dish for the audience to try a bite as well.

In short, then, the LBF can be an enjoyable event, but only if you are prepared for what it can and can not give you. It is not a place to buy books or to connect with other writers. But it is a place to get a deeper understanding of the publishing world and to feel inspired (or overwhelmed) by the sheer number of books published each year.

The Wednesday Web Browser: Poets & Writers Edition

A couple of days ago I pointed you to the classifieds in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Today, I’m going to spotlight some articles the magazine has made available online.

–In a special section on literary journals, Sandra Beasley writes about the evolution of online journals.
–The super “Agents and Editors” series continues, this time with Jofie Ferrari-Adler speaking with agents Maria Massie, Jim Rutman, Anna Stein, and Peter Steinberg.
–Kevin Larimer updates us on small presses and lit mags.

There’s plenty of great content in the print issue, too, including Mary Gannon’s profile of Jay McInerney. Since I encountered resistance from some fiction workshop-mates when I wrote stories (in 2002) with connections to the attacks of September 11, 2001, I particularly appreciated this snippet: “And, as he did by using the second person in his debut, in The Good Life McInerney took a risk by writing about New York City in the immediate aftermath of September 11, despite advice from the late Norman Mailer to hold off ten years. ‘I was writing about the emotional texture of those three months afterwards,’ he says. ‘If I had waited, that would have faded for me.'”

A Celebration of the Chapbook

Well, folks, I’m going to take a few days off for Passover, which begins this evening. But I’ll leave you with some excellent reading material: the program for the upcoming Celebration of the Chapbook, taking place right here in New York City, April 23-25, 2009. Most of the festival events are FREE, and I can tell you that a lot of work has gone into planning them. I’ll hope to see many of you there–and happy holidays to all who are celebrating in the next several days.

Thursday April 23rd, 2009 – Saturday April 25th, 2009
A Celebration of the Chapbook festival calls attention to the rich history of the chapbook and highlights its essential place in poetry publishing today as a vehicle for alternative poetry projects and for emerging authors and editors to gain entry into the literary marketplace. The festival will forge a new platform for the study of the chapbook inside and outside the academy and celebrate the importance of chapbooks to America’s cultural heritage and future.

Thursday, April 23
at The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue & 34th St

Chapbook Fair
10:00am-6:00pm, The Elebash Recital Hall Lobby

Brief History of Chapbooks
3:00-4:30pm, The Elebash Recital Hall
With Isaac Gewirtz, Curator of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection; Eric Lorberer, Editor of Rain Taxi; and Michael Ryan, Director of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Columbia University. Moderated by Richard Kaye, Hunter College, CUNY

Chapbooks in the 20th and 21st Centuries
4:30-6:00pm, The Elebash Recital Hall
With Michael Basinski, Assistant Curator of the Poetry/Rare Books Collection of the University Libraries, SUNY at Buffalo; Anne Waldman, Chair and Artistic Director of Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program; and Kevin Young, Emory University. Moderated by Ammiel Alcalay, Queens College, CUNY.

Keynote Reading
6:00pm, The Elebash Recital Hall
Readings by Lytton Smith, Gerald Stern, Judith Vollmer, Kevin Young and others, with an introduction by Kimiko Hahn.

Friday, April 24
at The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue & 34th St

Chapbook Fair
10:00am-4:00pm, Rooms 8301/8304

Chapbook Now: Producing Chapbooks
A Workshop for Poets

10:00-11:30am, Room 8400
With Rachel Levitsky (Belladonna*); Sharon Dolin (The Center for Book Arts); and Ryan Murphy (North Beach Yacht Club). Moderated by Alice Quinn (Poetry Society of America.

Chapbook Now: Producing Chapbooks
A Workshop for Publishers

11:30am-1:00pm, Room 8402
With Jen Benka (Booklyn); Matvei Yankelevich (Ugly Duckling Presse); and Brenda Iijima (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs). Moderated by Rob Casper (Poetry Society of America).

To register for these workshops, call (212) 817-2005 or e-mail abozicevic@gc.cuny.edu – registration is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Friday, April 24
at The Center for Book Arts, 28 West 27th Street, 3rd Floor

Bookmaking for Writers: A Studio Workshop
With Susan Mills and Karen Randall

Bookmaking for Publishers: A Studio Workshop
With Susan Mills and Karen Randall

To register, call (212) 481-0295 or e-mail info@centerforbookarts.org – registration is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. There’s a $20 materials fee for each workshop.

at The Center for Book Arts, 28 West 27th Street, 3rd Floor
6:00 pm
All are welcome! Visit the exhibitions at The Center for Book Arts: \’fl \:art, text, new media; Roni Gross: Zitouna at 20, and Spotlight: 2008 Artists-in-Residence.

Saturday, April 25
at The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, 16 West 32nd Street, Suite 10A

Collector’s Show-and-Tell:
The Secret History of Asian American Literature
Patricia Wakida


Publishing from the Margins
With Tan Lin; Dawn Lundy Martin (Third Wave Foundation, Black Took Collective); and Bushra Rehman. Moderated by Ken Chen (The Asian American Writers’ Workshop). Followed by a brief reading from the Workshop’s Postcard Poetry Project.

at The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, 16 West 32nd Street, Suite 10A
6:00 pm

Participating Publishers
Achiote Press, Belladonna*, Booklyn, Book Thug, Cuneiform Press, Dancing Girl Press, Diagram/New Michigan Press, Flying Guillotine Press, Noemi Press, North Beach Yacht Club, Octopus Books, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Rain Taxi, Sarabande Books, Slapering Hol, Small Fires Press, TinFish Press, Toadlily Press, Ubu Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, X-ing Press, and others.

Co-sponsored by The Office of Academic Affairs, The Graduate Center and MFA Programs in Creative Writing of the City University of New York, The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, The Center for Book Arts and Poetry Society of America.

For more information, please visit http://centerforthehumaniites.org, call 212-817-2005, or e-mail abozicevic@gc.cuny.edu (Ana Bozicevic).

"Best Practices" for the Print-on-Demand Industry

Once upon a time I published a book via print-on-demand (POD), and I’m still occasionally asked to provide advice to others considering that route for their work. I’d recommend that anyone evaluating various POD companies read through this article on “best practices.” The article’s author is Angela Hoy, who certainly has a vested interest in promoting her own company (Booklocker.com). Still, there’s no denying that much of what she says in this article–apparently the first in a series–is valid. For example, POD publishers “should never, ever, ever claim ownership of files that authors have paid them to produce.” And companies should not “upsell authors on services they can get themselves for less or free.” This is an article to bookmark and reread.