Chris Wold is the Associate Publisher of Nourish, the food and drink imprint of Watkins Publishing. A champion of international markets for the last 20 years, he has made a career of using licensing, co-editions and proprietary sales to find new markets for the books and authors on his lists. His latest project, The Really Quite Good British Cookbook, will be published later this month, having been discovered over a chance conversation at last year’s London Book Fair.
Tell us a bit about your role.
As Associate Publisher for Nourish, I’m responsible for the development of the food and drink list for the group. With Watkins Media being a lean and nimble team, there is also acquiring for other parts of the list, proprietary project development and sales, work with the other teams (marketing, publicity, sales, rights) and lots of operational aspects and projects. There are many hats to wear.
What is an average day at the London Book Fair like for you?
It’s a pretty solid diary from nine to six most days, filled with a mix of meetings with agents, domestic and international customers, suppliers and the odd gap in the schedule to get out into the aisles. But this is nothing compared to the rights teams, who have no gaps for three days solid, with a few meetings sprinkled in on the set-up day. The lucky few get a bathroom or brunch break. Seriously — they’re hardcore.
Post-show, the opportunity for catching up with friends from near and far over drinks and dinner is a real pleasure. Once upon a time it was pretty hedonistic. Certainly less so now, at least for me.
Do you actually do business at the Fair or is it more about networking and chance meetings in the aisles?
The days of writing POs at the show or making a deal on the spot with a handshake seem a long time ago. That’s not to say that deals aren’t done there, they just aren’t done as impulsively anymore. There’s more analysis, approvals, risk-management and the like done on both sides of the table.
There are always people who are down on trade shows, saying they’re an unnecessary expense and a waste of time, and that this business can be done with calls and emails. I disagree in the extreme. The personal interaction is so essential in this industry and isn’t something you can replicate elsewhere.
And there is more than a bit of serendipity at play. We’ll be publishing two books this year that came out of completely chance conversations with people last year with whom I struck I struck up a conversation when I saw them admiring books on our booth. The Really Quite Good British Cookbook is publishing 9 March —we’ve just shipped 20k+ of this £25.00 hardcover cookbook with a cover by Sir Peter Blake — and The Paleo Primer: A Second Helping will be coming out in July.
Tell us a bit about the process of buying and selling co-editions.
The show is a time to showcase face-to-face, getting a real-time reaction from customers about the projects and often talking through ideas and thoughts about the structure and look, which can have a fundamental impact on how the project develops.
Co-editions by their nature are very visual things, so presentation materials are key. This sounds incredibly obvious, but it can be difficult to get materials developed when their trade publication dates are much further out in the schedule than the date of the show. Early 2018 titles, for example, which won’t have had photoshoots, take some finessing and creative thinking.
Each market has its own influences and styles, so there’s a big challenge in balancing content ideas that will work across as many as possible, for the obvious financial reasons, without collapsing into a kind of trying-to-please-everyone mush. Focus and confidence in your editorial direction are so important.
What advice would you give someone attending the Fair for the first time?
If you’re reading this now and hoping to do real business at the show, I’m afraid to say that you’re running very late. A successful fair is about the groundwork in the lead up to it (3—4 months prior) in terms of making connections and scheduling meetings. Although you might be able to make some meeting arrangements by rocking up at various booths, it’s not going to be the most effective way to get results. The big publishers have whole teams of gatekeepers to manage those who have scheduled appointments — the unscheduled contact won’t have much chance to get through this line of stern staff. Collect catalogues, leave your card and get contact names if you can and reach out right away to see if you can get your message or project into an inbox. The sad but real fact is that unless it’s exceptional and exceptionally presented, dropping off project material for someone to review is going to be seen as slush pile material at best.
That sounds tremendously dispiriting, doesn’t it? Don’t let me rain on your parade. Do walk the whole floor. Talk to people in the smaller booths whose books catch your eye (they’re easier to engage than the big publisher’s fortresses). Share your interests and passions. You might be surprised what might come of it.