A guide to attending international book fairs for would-be-published writers – The London Book Fair 2012

Next Monday I am going to attend the London Book Fair 2012. It will be held at Earls Court, London from the 16th – 18th April. I went there last year during two days and I had a great time, which is why I’m going again this year.

According to its own website, the London Book Fair has been “the global market place and leading business-2-business exhibition for rights negotiation and the sales and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels for 41 years. With over 400 seminars and events, 1,500 international exhibiting companies and 24,500 publishing professionals, The London Book Fair encompasses the broad spectrum of the publishing industry.”

So the question is: is it at all worth it, for a would-be-published writer, to attend such a fair? My answer is yes, IF you are realistic about your expectations.

What won’t happen at the London Book Fair

If you are, like me, a would-be-published author, you shouldn’t go to a book fair (whether in London, New York City or Frankfurt) hoping to get noticed by an agent or a publisher. To me, this is not the place to get your foot in the door by walking up to agents or publishers and dumping your awesome manuscript in their lap.

Agents and publishers who attend those book fairs do so to meet business partners that they already have, not to meet new ones. Unless you were actually given a meeting time by an agent or a publisher at the fair, don’t expect to be able to sit down with them and to pitch them your best-seller in the making. They don’t have time for newcomers who haven’t previously been introduced to them. Even if you “only” want to talk with a specific agent, chances are he is fully booked with meetings with different publishers and book buyers anyway.

If you want to talk to agents and editors, my advice is to attend writers’ conventions/conferences. The agents and editors who attend those are actually expecting to talk to authors.

So should you just give up and not go to the London Book Fair? No. Because here is what will happen there

If you are a would-be-published writer, going to the London Book Fair is still worth the trip for three reasons.

1-      You can attend seminars and workshops and learn A LOT about how the publishing business works. Last year I attended a How To Get Published Masterclass, numerous seminars on the state of the publishing industry and its (digital) future, as well as a few authors/publishers panels. And it was enlightening on many levels. Among others, I got to listen to words of advice from Philip Pullman (best-selling author of children’s fantasy novels, His Dark Material) and Sarah Odedina, the former Bloomsbury Group editor-in-chief who has published all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Talking about people who know their stuff.

2-      You get to have an insight into future publishing trends. It can be a good way to find out whether this great book you’ve been working on is in sync with what those decision-making people actually want to buy/publish.

3-      You meet other would-be-published writers. To paraphrase Kristen Lamb, you are not alone. Other unpublished authors go to those fairs and unlike agents and publishers, they are interested in talking with you. And it’s great to meet and exchange with other writers who are on the exact same “I want to be a writer!” roller-coaster ride you’re currently on. The book fair is the time to connect and make friends.

So what do you think? Are you going to attend the London Book Fair?

To wrap this up (yeah if you’ve read the whole thing!), a few noteworthy websites:

The London Book Fair http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/

Book Expo America http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/

The Frankfurt Book Fair http://www.buchmesse.de/en/fbf/

Absolute Write Forum (on going to the London Book fair) http://absolutewrite.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-94444.html

Kristen Lamb’s hilarious account of her personal first book fair disaster http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/?s=book+fair