You have written a novel, an information book, an outline for a picture book, or a series of short stories. Maybe you have a portfolio of illustrations or photographs that you believe will interest a publisher of illustrated books. Or perhaps you are a freelance editor, designer, or picture researcher seeking work? How do you go about finding an editor or art director who will look at your work and maybe commission you? Do you find an agent and let them do the chasing and negotiating or do you try and do it yourself?
...at any fair you are unlikely to place your work, be offered any freelance jobs, or get signed up by an agent;
but there is a huge amount you can achieve...
If you are going it alone, I believe your best starting point by far is to visit book fairs and book exhibitions where publishers exhibit. While attending the major book fairs may be costly for travel, accommodation, and entrance fees, local fairs are easily accessed and affordable. At all these events you have the opportunity of finding out about a large number of publishers and of meeting, or at least getting the contact details for, a good number of editors and art editors. However, you can’t just turn up and be successful. You need to prepare in advance; have a plan of action on the day; and follow up after the fair.
London Book Fair, image © Midas PR
Now it is generally held that for authors, and for freelancers in general, attending book fairs is a waste of time: publishers don’t want to see you; agents and rights managers are cordoned off in an area that is inaccessible without an appointment; and important people are wandering the aisles or in meetings. All of these are indeed hurdles—but there are various ways of overcoming them. True, at any fair you are unlikely to place your work, be offered any freelance jobs, or get signed up by an agent; but there is a huge amount you can achieve, and the more fairs you visit and are seen at your chances of success increase greatly.
What exactly can you achieve at a book fair? I believe all of the following are possible.
i) Identify the most likely publishers for your work.
ii) Identify the editor or art editor you need to approach, and get their contact phone numbers, email, and address.
iii) Determine publishers’ procedures for submissions or applications.
iv) Identify non-traditional outlets for your work.
v) Get ideas for new projects by reviewing what others are doing.
vi) 'Network' with other authors, illustrators, and freelancers and share information and experiences.
vii) Pick up the vibes of the industry.
viii) Where relevant, attend workshops, presentatations, and panels with industry leaders.
Even if you have an agent, visiting book fairs yourself can help with items v) to viii).
My view of the importance of visiting book fairs is based on 25+ years of visiting on a regular basis major international book fairs and many writers’ conferences with book exhibitions. At various times in my career I have visited book fairs as a freelance writer/editor of children’s non-fiction looking for freelance (work-for-hire) work; as a book packager seeking to sell our services to UK and USA publishers and to sell co-editions to foreign publishers; and as an editorial director looking for freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, and picture researchers.
Publishers exhibit their books at book fairs and exhibitions primarily to sell to bookshops, book clubs, and to co-edition publishers. So the people working on the stands are generally sales, marketing, and publicity people. Nonetheless, commissioning editors, art directors, and even publishers are present. These people will almost certainly visit the fair at some stage so, if you can get to meet them, this is a great step forward.
If you do decide to visit a book fair, look at the event’s website and find out about the format and focus of the fair before you go. Do seek as much advice as you can about how to try and achieve the maximum benefits. I find each and every book fair rewarding and, in one way or another, well worth the time, effort, and expense.
© Bender Richardson White 2017
Lionel Bender is an author, editor, and director of UK book packager Bender Richardson White (www.brw.co.uk). He gives talks and workshops in the UK and North America on various aspects of publishing and provides professional advice on visiting book fairs. For his 'Visiting Book Fairs Information Pack' providing detailed insider hints, tips, and advice on the subject, cost £75 +VAT, contact Lionel at email@example.com