ALCS at the London Book Fair 2018

This year's London Book Fair welcomed book industry visitors from all over the world. Among the key themes were literature and publishing in the Baltic Countries (this year’s LBF Market Focus); copyright in the digital age; and inclusivity in publishing and bookselling.

Focus on the Baltic Countries

The Market Focus for 2018 was the Baltic Countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Talks by writers from these countries provided audiences with the opportunity to hear about their experiences while writing and growing up under the Soviet regime. Many related that the connection they felt with their native language sometimes felt more like home than their countries did.

In a talk entitled Interpreting Cultures: Russia, Europe and the West, four writers spoke about the relationship between language and culture, and how language was essential in the development of their identities. Estonian writer Rein Raud spoke frankly about how, with no Estonian passport or sense of citizenship, the people of Estonia had to make language their space. This has shaped their humour and poetry into something very language-based, with secondary English, Russian and Finnish languages encircling their established Estonian linguistic space.

Latvian writer Nora Ikstena echoed this sentiment during the talk Transformations: Women’s Writing from the Edges, saying it is “important to write in our own languages, as our language is our real home”. She was also passionate about the idea of literature being a tool for healing, stating that “the more anxieties we have, the more stories we need” and that “if you are keeping your stories inside, you are not healing”.

While many talks focused on the importance of native language, there was also plenty of discussion about the benefits of being multilingual. Rein Raud addressed the idea that “living between two cultures and languages gives a person a kind of spiritual flexibility” that perhaps a monolingual person may not experience.

Finally, Krista Kaer gave an excellent talk on the importance of translation. She spoke about her experiences of working in publishing in Estonia, saying it was becoming harder to publish original fiction in Estonian because so many people buy and read English books. Despite this, people are still keen to read both the English and Estonian versions of a book because there are different shades of meaning to these translations which can affect the overall tone of a book. Kaer revealed that after Estonian independence in the 1990s, there was a hunger for books you couldn’t obtain under the Soviet regime, resulting in sales spikes throughout the country. She likened literature to a religion, where poets were prophets and people were queuing for books. This passion for literature is what inspires the translation publishing industry in Estonia. She stressed that in Estonia you can’t be entirely sales orientated; you have to translate a work because you know it needs to be published in Estonian.

Please #NameTheTranslator!

With more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, translation has the power to bring us together. However, the need for translators to be recognised is a major issue. In Aspirations and Anxieties: How Authors See Copyright Today, translator Daniel Hahn argued that translators should be more widely credited, and should be mentioned in any book reviews. You can read more about this on social media under the hashtag, #NameTheTranslator.

Copyright in the digital age

Former Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, currently Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market discussed European copyright in the Charles Clark Memorial Lecture.

Ansip stressed this importance of a way to modernise copyright law while maintaining protection for authors and maximising access to creativity. Today’s copyright laws are not fit for the digital age as they were developed before digital platforms existed, he said. With the internet now the main place for distribution and access to copyright-protected material, our laws need to reflect these new and emerging online uses.

Reforming the rules on copyright lies at the heart of the plan to build a Digital Single Market in Europe, with the aim of keeping the creative and cultural industries competitive in the digital age, Ansip added that copyright reform gives publishers and authors the means to negotiate better with digital platforms. Rightsholders will then be in a stronger and fairer position to negotiate and be paid when a platform puts their work online.

Finally, Ansip discussed how new exceptions are proposed for public libraries, museums and archives, with the aim of providing increased access to knowledge. Another proposed exception is for text and data mining, where all EU countries would be required to allow research organisations such as universities and research institutes to carry out text and data mining of copyright-protected content to which they have lawful access, without prior authorisation. This is a sensitive issue, but Ansip stated that safeguards will be included to ensure the integrity and security of publishers’ databases are maintained, and to limit the scope to research.


A major strand of LBF2018 explored the need for diversity in the book industry. Rethinking Inclusivity: Ideas for Change addressed the idea that normalisation is key. Speaker Aimée Felone pointed out that a story written by a black writer does not need to relate to that writer’s history or class; it’s essential to have everyday stories published to ensure that people understand black writers can be writing for the same commercial reasons as other writers, and this kind of representation is also essential for young black readers. She added that the same thing can be said for hiring and commissioning in the publishing industry. Just because you hire someone from a different ethnic background doesn’t mean they need to represent that entire group of people.

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) presented a talk on the importance of writing children’s literature that includes themes of disability and chronic illness. Emily Davidson, a young ambassador for the organisation Inclusive Minds, argued that children are willing to read anything and that it seems to be publishers or parents who are worried about children not wanting books about disabilities. Once again, the idea of normalising was a hot topic. Speakers stressed that a disability doesn’t have to be the main story, but that the balance between representing the character as just another person in society and recognising their disability was essential. It’s also important to ensure disability is written as a spectrum, so that inclusive representation is as well-rounded in books as in society.

Following concerns about the lack of British and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation on the 2017 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal longlists, CILIP, the library and information association, has launched a review into how it can better include diversity in its awards. The review opened in March 2018 and runs until 27 April 2018, so CILIP is keen to hear from as many people in the industry as possible to help make the awards more inclusive. If you’re interested in taking part in this opportunity to help embed diversity into the UK’s oldest and most renowned children’s book awards, click here. With not long left to go, now is the time to get involved.

And finally…some advice for authors

The Society of Authors’ talk Key points to watch out for in authors contracts aimed to give guidance to authors who are increasingly seeing their incomes squeezed. The key points included the duration for which rights are granted in a contract; the range of formats permitted for exploitation (that is, while book and ebook formats are normally included, authors should be careful of giving away dramatisation rights); and the languages and territories in which a book can be sold. Most importantly, the speakers discussed the factors that can affect the calculation of royalties: before signing any contract, authors should understand what royalty will apply to the majority of their sales.

Authors can sign up to the Society of Authors to receive contractual advice here.

Written by Alice Donovan, Esther Jones and Luke Alcott.