Everything you need to publish
Only a few years ago, when writers asked me if they should head to the annual London Book Fair, I would tell them it wasn’t worth it. Book fairs were for the industry to meet each other and LBF encompasses some of the most crucial couple of days in the work calendar. Preparations take months. The primary function of book fairs is to facilitate rights deals. Agents are looking to find publishers for their lists of unpublished authors. Publishers are meeting with international partners to sell foreign language editions or work on coedition deals. Often agents and sales people will have schedules literally packed with meetings – I know, I used to be one of them. My record was fifty-two meetings over the course of three days one year at Frankfurt. Distributors, solutions providers and of course the new digital technologies are also in attendance but – for a place full of books – historically there hasn’t been a lot of room for writers. But something has changed at London Book Fair – a space has been made for the people who write books.
There’s always been a programme of seminars and sessions at London Book Fair but recent years have seen many more of these geared up to the interests of writers looking for advice on both their craft and navigating the publishing world. Seminars like ‘Preparing for publication’, ‘Energising the Writing Process’ and ‘Trending On TikTok = Book Sales: The Perfect Equation?’ appear on this year’s (2023) schedule of talks at the designated Author HQ area. There will be spokespeople from the independent publishing platforms ready to answer your questions and – I promise you – lots and lots of other writers. So my answer these days is that a day at Olympia in April is well worth your time if you’re interested in broadening your understanding of publishing and exploring the options are open to you as well as possibly meeting some new friends.
As a book fair veteran, here are my tried and tested guidelines for navigating your way around your first fair:
Go business casual. Look smart but you don’t need to dress to impress. Dress for comfort and wear layers (Olympia is partially covered by a giant glass roof so it can get steamy on a sunny day when the place is crowded). All floors are accessible via lifts if you have mobility issues but the place is huge so prepare to travel however you can.
Go prepared. My Olympia survival kit includes notebook, pens, water bottle (or two), paracetamol, Polo mints, charging pod for my phone, tissues, snacks (the prices for food and coffee inside Olympia are eye-watering. Food at outside venues is a little cheaper but involves leaving and reentering via security) and plasters. I also make sure I have some data on my phone (the wifi is notoriously shaky) just in case I need to check an event’s details or Google someone new I’ve just met.
Take a folder or something else so you can collect business cards, publisher catalogues and leaflets. Take your own business cards but don’t force them on people. You’ll be collecting more than you distribute for now. There is usually an abundance of tote bags at book fairs (Publishing loves a tote) and these freebies are great for stashing your haul.
Plan your visit. Look ahead at the schedules and highlight the talks you really want to see. Some get really busy. In Author HQ you have the option to stand around the edge of the seating but others are in closed rooms, so you might want to have a few back-up alternatives if you find you can’t attend one.
Leave some time to look around. The publishers will be showcasing their lists on their stands. Take some time to note what sort of books are being published. What trends can you spot? Where would your writing fit in? Which publishers look like home? And those catalogues on the publishers’ stands? They’re for you. Grab one from any companies that look like a good fit for you to look over later.
Remember that people are working. The whole book industry is in one place but, for most of them, this is perhaps the busiest three days of the year so give them some space, don’t invade stands if they look busy and be polite and patient. You’re here to research and learn.
You probably won’t meet your future agent here. It’s cruel – because yes, they are all sitting right there in the agents’ tables area – but, unless you have an appointment, you probably won’t be sitting down to pitch your work to an agent today. And don’t try to grab an agent on their way for a coffee or a quick bathroom break. They are busy and – even if you have written the best book in the world – they won’t thank you for that. With a bit of luck next year those agents will be pitching your project to publishers over those very tables.
Chat to the person in the seat next to you at any talks you attend. You’ve definitely got something in common so say hi. You might meet your next beta reader or someone who you can chat to for advice.
Have your pitch ready – just in case. You probably won’t get signed up on a six figure advance and a film option at the book fair but you would be silly not to have your ‘pitch’ ready in your mind. This is a sentence or two that sums up your current WIP. It can be as simple as ‘It’s a crime thriller set in Aberdeen where a hard-nosed detective is looking to stop an organised crime syndicate from taking over the city”. If you’re given a business card, a simple ‘Thanks for chatting to me about my crime thriller set in Aberdeen’ can be a nice way to establish contact post-fair.
Explore your options outside the traditional routes. If you’re not quite seeing the home for your writing at the book fair, that’s okay. Trends come and go and sometimes it just isn’t the right time for a particular writer or a particular book. Even Proust self-published, for crying out loud. And all those platforms and independent publishing pros are at the book fair too. Chat to them. Ask them your questions, no matter how silly you think they might be. This is the ideal time to learn more about what’s possible and what your options are.
Think this sounds interesting? Learn more and get your ticket at https://www.londonbookfair.co.uk. And if you spot me there, definitely come and say hi.