Romantasy, AI and Palestinian voices: publishing trends emerge at London book fair

From The Guardian:

Palestine, artificial intelligence and romantasy were high on the agenda at this week’s London book fair. More than 30,000 agents, authors, translators, publishers and other book industry professionals flocked to Olympia London to secure deals and discuss publishing trends, challenges and rising genres. Here is our round-up of the main takeaways, and a flavour of what we can expect to see in bookshops in the next year or so.

Palestinian voices

On the first day of the fair, Book Workers for a Free Palestine held a vigil outside to “mark the death of Palestinian writers, poets, academics and journalists killed by Israel”, wrote Ailah Ahmed, a publishing director at Penguin. English PEN ran two seminars focused on Palestine and freedom of expression, featuring writers including Isabella Hammad, who was recently longlisted for the Women’s prize.

“It has been remarkably difficult in the face of the violence that we are seeing to make room for poetry,” Rafeef Ziadah told the fair. “Many people have written to me saying, ‘Why haven’t you written poems, like We Teach Life?’ Poetry doesn’t work that way. It’s not on call when there’s a war.” On the deals side, Profile Books acquired the rights to publish What Does Israel Fear from Palestine? by Raja Shehadeh, which explores opportunities for peace that have been “rejected by Israel” since its formation in 1948. Shehadeh explores “what went wrong again and again, and why”.


Books featuring neurodivergent protagonists were celebrated in a conversation including the author Marina Magdalena, whose Antigone Kingsley series is about a girl who has ADHD — one of a number of new books with neurodiverse main characters. A talk by Pamela Aculey focused on how augmented reality technologies can enrich reading experiences for neurodivergent children. “Great minds do not all think alike,” said Aculey. These discussions come after Fern Brady won the inaugural Nero non-fiction prize with Strong Female Character, her memoir about growing up as an autistic person without a diagnosis.

The impact of AI

“A writer is a very peculiar thing, it’s not going to be replaced by a machine,” Bill Thompson of BBC Research & Development told the fair at one of many talks about AI and publishing. “[But the] publishing industry? Woah it’s going to be chaos. The whole industry is going to be transformed.” The way publishers deal with copyright, marketing, distribution, e-books and translation will be changed by AI, he added.

Panellists highlighted that AI models such as ChatGPT could be used as a collaborative tool for writers. “It’s not going to write the book for you, but it’s going to be the thing sitting on your shoulder” when “your family have got fed up with you”, when “your children won’t talk about character development”, AI “will always be there, it will not get tired, it will not stop”. Kate Devlin, a reader in AI and society at King’s College London, added that she had used AI “adversarially” – she went through a “really bad bout of writer’s block” so she asked ChatGPT to give her an opening to a chapter. She “absolutely disagreed” with what it came up with, and was “so angry” at the response that it removed her writer’s block.

BookTok and romantasy

Romance and romantasy – a portmanteau of romance and fantasy – were also in focus this year, with discussions on BookTok and the genres it has helped to skyrocket. Love stories were also popular with publishers, and there was high demand for romantasy according to Lucy Hale, managing director of publisher Pan, reported The Bookseller. Penguin imprints Del Rey UK and US acquired rights to Silvercloak by Laura Steven, described as a romantic fantasy set in a world “riddled with crime, where magic is fuelled by pain and pleasure, mafia groups lurk in every alley”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian