The London Book Fair is the “global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels”. It took place from March 14-16 at Olympia, West London. Basically, it’s a place where publishing professionals gather together to make connections and forge new business directions. It’s also showcase for books of all sorts, from 10kg coffee-table books at 600GBP apiece, to educational books; from commercial fiction to niche publishing. I was in book heaven, at least until practicality kicked in and phrases like “baggage allowance” popped up in my head.
I went there not as an author, but as a small publisher (Serenity Press). And, boy, did I learn a lot, from a publisher and an author’s perspective (one of those is that major editors are not interested in your manuscript at this event – they are too busy dealing with agents). Here are 10 things I can tell you:
- It’s big. Really big. On the day we went to set up, we walked around in circles for ages until we found our stall. There are several halls and hundreds of stalls, big and small, inside. Once we found the exit/entrance closest to our stall we didn’t get lost any more, but that first day … let’s just say walked a lot of steps.
- It’s busy. More than 25,000 publishing professionals come to London during the week of the LBF. And that’s not counting authors and readers who turn up for a look. At one point, I had to stand in a queue to go up the stairs!
- It’s overwhelming. There is so much to take in, especially when you first arrive, that it’s exhausting. We took ourselves off to see Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End after Day 1, just to unwind. The second day was easier in that we knew what to expect and could zone out what we didn’t need to take in.
- It’s about selling – but not physical copies of books. As first-timers, we came with a suitcase of books. Literally. We took a suitcase and boxes of books from Australia to Ireland to London, and then dragged that heavy suitcase and boxes from the Airbnb five minutes away to Olympia. Did I mention that our apartment was on the first floor and we had to get the books up the stairs first? Anyway, it’s about selling rights – something we have a lot to learn about. Next time, we’ll have a much lighter suitcase.
- It’s about buying – again, not physical copies of books, but rights. Major deals were completed at the Fair, and behind the scenes, books were being auctioned. We ended up expressing interest in a children’s book – it will be interesting how that pans out.
- It’s about meetings. Lots of them. Some planned ahead, some spontaneous. Walk past one of the big publishers’ stands (and they are big stands) and every table is full of people negotiating and talking … and meeting. We met with our printer (who gave us a lovely gift of a Chinese paper cut in appreciation) and a number of other professionals who we are hoping to connect with further.
- It’s about networking. You collect a lot of business cards. From printers (“Why print in China? Why not print in Turkey”) to editors, from book buyers to other publishers, from cover designers to royalty software sellers. You might strike up a chat in the café, at one of the very nice massage points, or as we did, when you see an interesting company name on someone’s nametag.
- It’s not there for authors to pitch books – it’s for agents/editors/publishers to pitch books. Having said that, as a small publisher, we were targeted by a number of hopeful authors, including one who hoped we would publish “The Art of the Kama Sutra” in Australia. No, it was not an art book, nor a picture book, but my face was a picture when I saw the title. “Not for us,” I politely told the man. Out of the authors we met, one stood out and we have invited her to send some manuscripts to us.
- It’s about learning. There are loads of seminars and talks about a range of topics, from international rights to choosing an illustrator. Yes, we felt like tadpoles in a very big pond, with no idea what to expect, or what to do. But we learnt fast and we will be learning from this experience for a long time.
- It’s about follow up. We came away from the Fair with lots of ideas, lots of to-dos and bucket loads of contacts. Now it’s up to us to make the most of them. To put into practice what we have learnt. To find better ways of doing things. And to reassure ourselves, that even though we are a small press, we can still make our mark.
Would I go back? As a publisher, yes. We hope to attend the Bologna Book Fair in the next year or two, as well as the Frankfurt Book Fair (possibly 2019). But we have some work to do first.
As an author, no. I’d rather go to a bookshop. Or sit at home and write.