Book fairs can seem vast and overwhelming – here’s how to take advantage of such an event, and how author networking will help you get the most value from your visit.
A book fair offers a unique way to see a whole literary marketplace interacting in a single location. It’s a place where all the key players in the trade – thousands of publishing professionals, such as wholesalers, agents, publishers, editors, booksellers, distributors, licensers, buyers and sellers of rights, translation agencies, and so on – can get together to catch up, see what’s new, network, and conduct deals.
In the case of the really big shows such as Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, BookExpo America, London, Guadalajara, and New Delhi, a book fair can even shape the landscape of the book world for the next few months.
So, for a humble author, a first visit to one of these protean, multi-faceted events can be a daunting and bewildering experience. On top of often being located in a vast, complex area to navigate, such as an exhibition centre, book fairs tend to bombard you with multiple claims on your attention across a range of interlinked venues: author events, company stands, trade talks, demonstrations, and merchandise stands to name a few.
At first glance, it can feel like the author is almost irrelevant to the whole scene. Much of what goes on relates to the backend of the publishing business, which the author has little to do with on a daily basis. But in recent years, we have seen a definite move towards making book fairs much more author-friendly. Here are some pointers to help you make the most of the event!
Prepare for Your Visit
If you just turn up at the event and start wandering around, taking it all in, you’ll quickly be defeated by everything that’s being offered. Instead of diving in headfirst, take a good look at the fair’s website beforehand, and study the program of events and list of exhibitors to help map out your route before arrival.
Are there particular publishers you’d like to take a look at? Seminars on useful topics you’d like to catch? Authors you’d like to hear speak? Make a note of where these key things are in relation to each other, and when, so you can make the most effective use of your time there. You can also download a Book Fair app, which will help you get familiar with the layout and prompt you about events and timings, too.
Finally, wear comfortable, casual, yet smart clothes and shoes that are good for walking. You’ll be doing a lot of it!
Book Ahead for Things You Don’t Want to Miss
With popular events, it’s a good idea to book ahead. If there’s a subject or a writer you’re dead set on hearing about, chances are you’re not the only one. The fair website will advise you of events that are likely to get booked out, too.
Think About Your Own Promotion
Book fairs take a dim view of authors who try to hand out flyers about their latest thrillers, and not just because the show’s official exhibitors will have paid a premium for the same privilege. But you can certainly bring some samples and have a business card with your name, website, and contact information handy to give out to useful new colleagues.
Additionally, shows like the London Book Fair (LBF) now runs a dedicated author club, which offers a newsletter, author discounts, and the opportunity to get your book in front of publishers and agents. The LBF has also recently introduced an event called The Write Stuff, a sort of Dragon’s Den for authors where they get to pitch their books to a panel of publishing professionals in front of a live audience. The prize is a meeting with an agent!
See the Fair as a Chance to Learn
Though for individual authors there are some opportunities to promote your work, much of the hustle that goes on at a book fair is on a business-to-business, or trade level. It’s probably more helpful to see the event as a learning opportunity rather than a marketing exercise.
Fairs put on a range of really interesting talks by authors who will share their journeys to publication, whether through a traditional model or one of the new, highly successful independent routes, such as self-publishing. Industry trends, new Amazon author features, changes in rights legislation, the rise of audio and alternative storytelling platforms: if it’s relevant to publishing now and in the future, and it’s of interest to you, it’ll be discussed at one of the many book fairs out there, and you should grab the opportunity to absorb all the info you can.
Don’t Be Shy
Some of the most valuable experiences at book fairs can come from one-on-one encounters and new acquaintances that you make, sometimes entirely by chance. Make a point of introducing yourself to editors, publishers and agents if you can. Think about what you want to say beforehand so the other person gets a quick, crisp understanding of who you are and what you’re about. Don’t expect to be able to develop a long conversation at the stand, though – this is where sellers of rights interact with other publishers, who are keen to meet as many people as possible. But if you can strike a chord with someone, you’ll at least have established a contact that you can follow up on later. Often at book fairs you can book a meeting with an agent, and the networking drinks that usually take place after the show has closed for the day offer a more informal chance to rub shoulders with publishing professionals.
Enjoy Your World!
Wherever you are on your publishing journey, don’t forget to take a moment to relish this whole event, of which you are a deserved part. Book fairs don’t have to be all work. Enjoy the parade, and browse the new and unexpected. If you’re able to attend with another author or a publishing friend, you’ll enjoy the experience even more.
Follow Up Promptly
After the fair, make a point of following up with any useful contacts you made at the show. It’s always best to do this within a few days of the event, while memories are still fresh, and don’t forget to include enough detail for your contact to remember you. Like you, they will have seen a lot of faces and had a lot of conversations over the course of the fair!
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