London Book Fair, image © Midas PR
Every year, the London Book Fair (LBF) attracts thousands of visitors – writers, illustrators, journalists, translators and many more – each hoping to meet, learn from and talk to publishers, agents, producers, distributors, booksellers and other authors in person. It’s an opportunity to discover something new, network with those in your industry and catch up with fellow authors.
But where do you begin, and how can you make the most out of your time there, with over 1,700 exhibitors and three days to get lost and a little bit confused?
We’ve gathered our expertise over the years and put together a few top tips to help you prepare (and enjoy) your book fair experience.
1. Set realistic goals
It’s unlikely you’ll catch a big break (and if you do, see tip 6 below), but if you manage your expectations, you’ll find it easier to prepare. Firstly, do your research. Make sure the publishers you want to see are the ones most likely to be interested in what you have to say. Pick the right editors and agents – no matter how good your satirical picture book on Henry VIII is, not everyone is going to be interested. Figure out what it is that you want to get out of your experience.
Remember, too, that it may not be the best place to trawl for an agent – most of those attending will have packed schedules as it is. It may be better to check out who is currently active in your area of work – and who you can see is the best match for you (and you for them).
Book your appointments with plenty of time in advance. At this stage, most agents and publishers will already be booked up – and if there are any open invites, you may still end up waiting at the back of a queue. So set realistic goals and narrow your objective: if you want to find a small independent publisher, drop them an email ahead of time. Or if you do know who you want to see, make sure you get in line early – and ask around for open invites or opportunities.
2. Remember the practical stuff
Have business cards or your contact info ready to hand – it’s harder to follow up on your pitch seriously if you’re scribbling your email on the back of a napkin. And, of course, pack comfortable shoes (or a change of shoes) and lightweight clothing. It can get stuffy – regardless of how warm it may be outside – and a folding bag for your extra clothing if needed. Carry a bottle of water with you, and leave room in your bag for freebies.
You can purchase snacks and meals at many locations throughout the event – but consider packing your own lunch if you have special dietary requirements or if you’re on a budget. The vendors may not have a full range of vegetarian or vegan options, and most are quite expensive.
3. Show off your best side
Once you’ve set your goals and you know what you want to achieve, it’s time to show off what you can do.
Illustrator Steve Antony has some great advice about preparing your portfolio (which you can read here), particularly for illustrators:
Whatever you do, don't underestimate your sketchbook. Take it with you. Yes, it's great to present your work in a polished and professional way, but editors love to see sketches. They love to see how you come up with ideas. Something in your sketchbook might catch their eye.
There’s no harm in bringing your work along – just don’t overpack your bags with books because (no doubt) you’ll come away with more books than when you arrived. You can also present your work nicely on a PDF and show it off on your smart tablet, as Steve suggests. It’s best to do both, in case publishers want to see your work in print.
Take a notepad and pen with you to make notes, and whatever your reason for being there, make sure editors, publishers or agents can see your best side.
4. Grab any and all opportunities
To do this, you might need a bit of luck on your side. But don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to new people, no matter how intimidating – just be polite, friendly, and clear about why you’re talking to them. Again, Steve’s advice is to prep a one-sentence synopsis of your book, which can come in handy if you happen to bump into a friendly editor or agent on the way to the loo.
And while it’s hard to meet and network with new people (especially if you’re there on your own), remember that simply by virtue of being at the London Book Fair, you’re doing what you can to put yourself out there. Say hi to someone you don’t know and complain about the long queues, or go visit a publisher from outside the UK if things are getting hectic. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn – after all, as storytellers, we’re all about collecting new experiences.
LBF is a great place to pick up on commercial trends, plans across the industry, in the many talks and other events taking place over the three days. In fact, our CEO Nicola Solomon together with Management Committee members Philip Womack and Woodrow Phoenix will be speaking at this year's LBF Authors HQ on making a living from writing (more here), and our Public Affairs Manager Tim Gallagher will discuss creating a fairer industry (details here).
6. Consult your trade union
Okay, so we’re blowing our own trumpet a bit, but we’re there for a reason! We help all types of writers, illustrators and translators with all types of questions. So, whether you’re looking to make it in the translating world or you’re unsure about a contract, come see us. We’re friendly, we offer astonishingly good advice – and we have a very big bowl of sweets.
Our advisors are on hand to discuss any issues you are currently facing, contractual or otherwise.
And whether you’re a member or not, we’ll be happy to answer any questions about the SoA itself – our events and prizes, our special interest groups and campaigns. It’s all for you – so please come and say hello.