Yes. But proceed with caution and be prepared if you’ve never been before. Here’s why.
Simplistically publishing is a business just like any other. There is a product and customer - books and readers. The series of steps, the supply chain, enables the books to be manufactured and delivered to readers. Representatives of that supply chain attend The London Book Fair (LBF) the leading spring trade event in the publishing world and its timing is important for the industry. Many books being discussed or on display are coming out that year or the following year.
It is a business meeting place at which the different parts of the industry come together to work using their roles, skills and specialties to make the business of publishing happen. It is one of the most concentrated periods of activity in the year and one at which some of the biggest deals will be struck, networking nurtured and new contacts made. There is no book-selling to the public.
• LBF is a physically a huge event - 67 countries represented last year.
• 25, 302 visitors attended over the three day period in 2008.
• Non-public access areas include certain invitation-only seminars, the International Rights Center (IRC), the Press Centre and private company meeting rooms.
• The majority of space is exhibition space and is open to all, including the public.
So, if you want to attend, I'd recommend you first consider what you already know of the publishing industry and what you are missing. Selected events are not open to the public, but the majority will be rewarding for authors. For example on Tuesday,Writing for Teens, Writers of Tomorrow or The Google Book Settlement in Plain English: How Does It Affect You? Further to the seminar program, you can listen to various authors talking about their experiences at the English PEN Literary Café, this year including Umberto Eco, James Patterson and Sarah Waters. They also take questions. As with any event remember the good practice to ask something that will benefit the general audience, as well as yourself.
Review the events schedule online well in advance and around your timetable of events, walk the exhibition halls. Because of its size, you will not be able to visit every stand in every area so plan your tour to suit your interests as an author. Do you write fiction or non-fiction? You may want to skip the children’s or academic sections if it is not your area. To get a basic grasp of the business, try and touch one or more exhibitors of each area of the business in a logical order. The floor plan is available online here.
Where are you in your writing career - just starting out or do you want to see how other others have developed their career beyond their first book deal? Whatever your aims, you will benefit from a mixture of exhibit and seminar activities. The LBF is a babble of noise and colour. Wherever you look there is something to see, someone pressing you to take a flyer, or well-dressed executives rushing by from one meeting to the next, briefcases in hand. The exhibition stands are brightly light, full of people and hundreds of books line the display shelves. It can be too much, so be selective. As Danuta Kean, journalist, publishing guru and Editor of the LBF official magazine says,
“ It can be a bit soul destroying for authors, to realise just how many books are published a year, and realise just how many books just never get in front of readers, never get into Waterstones. There’s only so much shop front. Not all the 200,000 titles published every year can be seen or read.”Key to any stand visit - remember your place in the chain. It would be easy to feel as an author that the whole supply chain starts with you, without authors there would be no books. Whilst that may be true, at this trade event, authors, unless they are invited guests taking part in the events schedule, are just members of the public who write. Listen, learn, but don’t get in the way. By being well prepared not only will you maximise your time and how much you can benefit from your visit, but you will increase your credibility when talking to people on the stands or asking questions. And what is author credibility? A tool in doing successful business. It will help you demonstrate to publishers that you are someone they can work with and you would be a good investment. After all, what do publishers really want? They want books that will sell. They are looking for books and authors for which they have a market and distribution channel and which will enhance their reputation.
So amongst all this business, what can authors really do at a publisher’s stand?
Large publishers tend not to take unsolicited books but many smaller presses still do. However no publisher will recommend that you take your unsolicited manuscript to the Fair. Behind the stand reception desk there is usually a moderately organised chaos of items jostling for space on a limited shelf. There will be notes for members of staff, business cards, meeting schedules, a stock of logoed pens and hard boiled sweets and perhaps a spare bulb for the projector. Do you want your manuscript, no matter how well presented added to this pile? I would imagine it could be worse than the regular slush pile at the publisher’s office, as at least then it is guaranteed to make it to the office of someone who may actually read it. The last day of a trade show, all the items for return to the office are packed, often randomly, in cardboard boxes that could sit back in the hall on arrival for several weeks, unopened, marked ‘Fair office supplies'. So, yes, DO go and find out if they accept unsolicited manuscripts at all and if yes, to whom you should submit, but don't expect to hand deliver your novel to a prospective publisher onsite.
However, you should be prepared to give a 30 second pitch on your book and yourself to the reception staff if they ask you to, so they can best guide you. Be aware that the reception may be manned by an agency temp, an editor or the publishing director, but don’t hang around waiting for editors or agents at stands. They are often running late between meetings and do not have the time or interest to spend talking to an author. Don’t forget the money that is being spent by their company on their time at the Fair. It is a business investment and they have to make the most of every minute. Before your visit, make a route map including the publishers you want to consider. On the day, you can look and see who is doing the sort of thing that you are, make notes, and then target them for submission away from the Fair. You will also see what they are publishing in the upcoming year. Authors can also pick up the publisher’s catalogues on their way round. They can be a very useful source of who’s agenting whom. As well as having the name of the author, blurb, where you can buy UK & foreign rights, you may see who the agent is, you can get the idea of the sort of books which agents take. You may come across an agent or a publisher that seems just right for your book.
For the same reason that you shouldn’t take your own manuscripts to submit at publishers’ stands, it would be a mistake to exhibit a self-published book at your own stand. Although you may gain visibility, you will not win credibility. Agents, scouts and editors are too busy to take time to stop and hear a sales pitch and a self-published book is viewed no better than an unsolicited manuscript, in fact often it would be less preferable, because even if it sells well, most publishers would not want to take on a book which had already been published. There are of course notable exceptions, but you can probably count them on one hand over the course of the last five years. The most significant disadvantage of having your own stand however, is that it must be staffed, both for promotional value and security, which means that you are stuck at a desk and unable to walk around the floor or attend any of the arranged events you may otherwise have benefited from. The most basic stand will cost around £1000. Many successful authors don’t get that much as their first advance with a genuine publisher. It is totally different from book selling conventions and fairs at which members of the public are there to buy books. Danielle Ackley-McPhail is an American author of four books, and can tell you stories of her success through her niche market and attending science fiction conventions. (Her website.) She can more than pay for her costs of attendance through onsite sales, but she too says the biggest gain at any fair, "is the networking".
Tomorrow: What do People do all Day? - Who attends LBF and why?
Part five - The Wrap up.
Part four - What's the Big Deal? LBF and rights negotiation.
Part three - What do People do All Day?
Part two - LBF - should Unpublished Authors attend?
Part one - Last Chance for a Discount - Introduction.
The London Book Fair website registration - save £15 on the entrance fee if booked before 9am Monday.