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London Book Fair beckons lit scouts

To research her role as England’s most famous overworked, undersexed fictional thirtysomething, Renee Zellweger worked undercover for two weeks at Picador — the British publishing house that launched “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”

But anyone who wants to know how that book helped changed the face of publishing may find it more useful to spend a day at the 31st annual London Book Fair, a three-day international rights bazaar and bookseller confab that has become a major destination for American literary agents and film scouts. It opens March 25.

Poised strategically five months after the Frankfurt Book Fair, London stepped into the breach when America’s top book fair fell on hard times in the late ’90s and agents felt squeezed out by booksellers. It opened an international rights center for agents on the second floor of its vast exhibition space.

Books like Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” and Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” found a crossover audience Stateside, and American publishers, agents and film scouts began looking to London for the next trendy novel, buying up books by the likes of Jenny Colgan (“Amanda’s Wedding”), Kathy Lette (“Altar Ego”) and Anna Maxted (“Getting Over It”).

Many of these books were romantic comedies about young urban singles — a literary genre that Tribeca Prods. development veep Hardy Justice acknowledges has been slow to flourish Stateside, but one that has been much sought-after in film circles.

“Whenever one of those authors come out with a book, it’s very anticipated,” says New Line production veep Renee Witt. “Everybody hopes it will be something different.”

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