The London Book Fair is the trade show for publishers, agents and booksellers. Now in its 47th year, anyone in the book business anywhere around the world finds themselves heading for London in April. During the three-day event at London’s Olympia, held this year between 10th and 12th April, over 25,000 people connected with the publishing industry will pass through its doors. The question is: should you be going? Is there a business-case for writers making the trip?
Until relatively recently the answer was not really, unless you were a big brand author and your agent wanted you there to sweet-talk new, prospective publishers. Historically, the fair targeted trade professionals – publishers, agents, booksellers, book packagers, and even those connected with the television and film industry. It was, and still is, an opportunity for the publishing businesses to show off their latest wares, and it’s also a key time for agents and publishers to agree contracts and sign new deals.
However, with the publishing world changing, especially when it comes to independent publishing, the London Book Fair now actively welcomes writers at all stages of their career. Its Author HQ section is designed to help writers make the right decisions when it comes to getting their book published.
Now in its seventh year, the Author HQ is home to numerous events, including The Write Stuff where budding authors can make a three-minute pitch to a panel of agents (limited places, so apply early). However, if that’s a bit too daunting, it is possible to book a ten-minute one-to-one session with an agent. These need to be booked in advance and are by strict appointment, so don’t turn up on the day and expect to walk straight into a meeting with some of London’s the top literary agents.
If you secure a one-to-one session, don’t expect to be taken on by the agent to which you’re allocated. However, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get feedback on your idea, your structure, and approach, as well obtaining guidance on what your next steps should be.
Like many of these events, if you’ve never been before it’s worth making some preparations to ensure you get the most from your visit. Time will fly!
Penny Legg has written numerous books, the latest of which is Crime in the Second World War published by Sabrestorm Publishing, and is now a regular London Book Fair attendee. In fact, she loves it. ‘Personally, I have gained all manner of benefits from attending the LBF,’ she explains. ‘I have taken ideas and discussed them with potential publishers to see if they were commercial and had appeal before I got too enthusiastic and spent time and effort putting together a proposal. I have talked through new contracts face to face with advisors from the Society of Authors. I learnt how to apply for Arts Council Funding for a new project and was able to get some behind-the-scenes advice on what to say to stand a better chance of being successful.’
As with all of these events, one of the most important aspects is the networking and information gathering opportunities it provides. ‘I come home each year with a bag bulging with contacts’ says Penny. ‘I follow these up as soon as I am able to. It is always useful to know the right person to speak to for advice in the future. Also, my horizons are always expanded by talking to publishers from all over the world, all eager to do business.’
Throughout the three-day event the Author HQ hosts a series of seminars, where publishing industry leaders share knowledge and insights into how the industry is working, adapting and changing. Last year there were over 34 seminars (out of some 200 talks) aimed directly at authors. Full details of this year’s programme can be found on the LBF website (http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/en/Whats-On/Insights-Seminar-Programme1/Author-HQ/).
There’s something for everyone, no matter what stage of your writing career you’re at. Even if you’re just starting out and don’t have anything (let alone the confidence) to pitch to an agent, it’s still worth going along just to absorb the atmosphere, collect information and expand your horizons. As Penny explained, being able to chat to publishers about whether they think an idea has commercial potential can save you a lot of time. It’s worth networking before you’ve written anything. ‘Authors gain a better understanding of the publishing world by going to the LBF,’ Penny confirms. ‘Many authors have no idea about publishing and blindly send out their submissions in the hope that they will be offered a publishing contract.’
Preparation is vital, though. Remember, you’re attending a professional trade show, so act appropriately. This is three manic days of networking, so nobody has time to waste. ‘If authors do their homework properly and research the companies attending in advance, they can make appointments to talk to publishers about their work,’ Penny advises. ‘They need to do their homework though as many publishers will only talk to agents or agented authors.’
It’s not just about networking. Take time to browse the programme of events on the Fair’s website and plan your day as much in advance as possible. Penny’s discovered that there are plenty of opportunities to learn, too. ‘The programme is online and it is always very full. There are lots of useful talks that authors can sit in on. Last year, there was a presentation on how to gain funding for writing a book by applying for Arts Council funding and by crowd sourcing. Societies have stands there so, for example, you can seek advice from the Society of Authors, or find out how much it will cost to have your typescript edited by talking to members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Then there are the author interviews. One year, Ian Rankin was talking about Inspector Rebus. Last year, Julian Fellowes was speaking.’
If you’re attending your first London Book Fair this year, it’s wise to be aware of etiquette. When first impressions count the last thing you want to do is make yourself known to a potential publisher or agent as a troublesome writer! ‘Don’t go thinking you will be automatically be seen by anyone you fancy,’ says Penny. ‘Most people have appointments, but it is possible to talk to smaller publishers without an appointment sometimes. Do your homework! Don’t go on the last day – the show is starting to close up. The first day is the best – it will be buzzing, busy and bubbling!’
One common tip regular attendees offer to Fair newbies is to wear sensible shoes. ‘Don’t wear high heels!’ Penny warns. ‘You will regret it by the end of the day!’
Don’t attend the fair expecting to sell your book idea to an agent or publisher, especially if you haven’t arranged any appointments beforehand. However, you never know who you might bump into, sit next to during a talk, or find yourself standing behind while queueing for refreshments. So think about what you could do should such an opportunity arise.
‘Be prepared with an elevator pitch if you happen to find yourself sitting next to someone important in the cafe,’ Penny recommends. ‘If you have a copy of your typescript, take it along, but be prepared to bring it home again. And be open-minded and explore what smaller publishers have to offer – it is often much more than you imagine.’
Download a copy of the floorplan (found under the Exhibit link on the website: http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/en/exhibit/) and identify the stalls you want to browse and where the talks are that you’d like to attend. Make a note of times, and give yourself ample time to get around the halls. Seats fill early. If you are successful in securing meetings with publishers, or agent one-to-ones, be professional and arrive in the right area early. If you arrive late, it’s you who’ll lose out time-wise, not the person with the meeting after yours.
Follow the London Book Fair on social media. You’ll pick up last-minute announcements and changes to any programmes, as well as all the important news of the day.
If you make the effort to attend the show and make several new contacts, remember to mention that you met them at the London Book Fair, when you next get in touch with them. Not only will it help them to remember you, but it also reminds them that you’re the type of writer who takes their writing seriously enough to make the effort to go to the UK’s most important publishing trade show.
Entrance to the London Book Fair is via a pass, which is cheaper if booked prior to the event, although it’s possible to buy passes on the day. The pass gives holders free access to all Author HQ events during the fair.
Some writing organisations offer members discounted passes, so make enquiries with them first.
Expect a busy and tiring day, but most of all, remember to enjoy it. You might find this becomes one of your regular annual events. As Penny says, ‘Enjoy the fair – it’s wonderful!’
Penny Legg’s London Book Fair Top Tips
1. Do you homework. Check who is there beforehand and target those companies that will see you without needing an agent. Make appointments in advance. The fair is super busy, and it is unlikely that you will be seen without an appointment.
2. Take business cards.
3. Take a bag on wheels, because you will bring home a forest of brochures, flyers and newsletters, which are heavy.
4. Check the programme and make sure you know where and when talks that interest you are happening. Try to arrive early as seating can fill very quickly.
5. Arrive as the doors open if you can. It will take you many hours to get around the show.
6. Wear comfortable shoes!
7. Take something you can make notes on.
8. Be prepared for anything.
London Book Fair Information
10th/11th April 9am to 6.30pm
12th April 9am to 5pm
London Book Fair Social Media