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President Donald Trump visited the London Book Fair this week – but only in the form of a lookalike who posed for photographs in an ‘Oval Office’ built by Penguin Random House to publicise James Patterson and Bill Clinton’s forthcoming thriller The President is Missing. The title has now sold in 21 languages and 13 territories, including Rewayat in the UAE, the imprint of Kalimat whose founder Bodour al Qasimi was at the fair this week, along with Ahmed Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority and executives from the Emirates Publishers Association.
The fair wrapped up on Thursday (12 April) and was extremely busy – and here credit must be given to its Director Jacks Thomas who has effectively re-invented The London Book Fair. With its packed programme of events, seminars, panels and attendant conferences, she has given The LBF a massive shot-in-the-arm. She has proved that ‘if you build it, they will come’ – and this week’s crowds attest to her success.
Out in the aisles there was much excitement over audio – a format whose figures continue to grow – and a big focus on a number of dystopian and ‘feminist’ thrillers, which tap into the global uncertainty of the political situation and the continuing consequences of the #MeToo movement.
Bonnier Publishing announced it would double its audio output in three years with the launch of a new standalone audio division and Faber said it would bring its audio arm in house and give more focus to it. The eponymous agent Lorella Belli said that there had been a huge rise in audio deals. “I have sold more books direct to audio publishers – and some for significant five-figure deals – in the past year than in the agency’s 15-year history.”
Summing up the mood on the floor of Olympia’s Grand Hall – one of the most striking buildings in the city, Katie Brown, commissioning editor at Hachette-owned Trapeze, said: “All the big books are coming out of the US, and all are in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale: dystopian and feminist. These are the books everyone is talking about. I think it is in response to the #MeToo movement, which is not going away. Books with strong female characters are really popular, and are selling extremely well.”
Among the titles setting people talking were Chandler Baker’s The Whisper Network, about four women’s revenge on a sleazy male CEO, which Sphere acquired in the UK; Joanne Ramos’ SF-tinged The Farm which touches on ownership of women’s bodies; and Kassandra Montag’s After the Flood, “a riveting saga about a mother, her daughters, and their struggle to survive”, which has gone to Borough Press (HarperCollins) in the UK, and William Morrow (also owned by HarperCollins) in the US.
The Baltic states were Market Focus region this year, with 12 writers giving talks and meeting publishers. Latvia was particularly pleased to see its National Library in Riga collect the Library Award at the fair’s International Excellence Awards.
Among first time exhibitors at the fair this year was online bookseller NWF from Lebanon. Owner Saleh Chebaro said he was “testing the water” and spreading the word about its ebook conversion programme, with a view to picking up some English language publishers.
Meanwhile, at Olympia at least, the Oval Office has been packed up and put away.