Mistakes to Avoid at the London Book Fair

The London Book Fair is now just days away. This year’s LBF takes place April 10-12. That’s three hectic days at Olympia, Kensington, with over 25,000 people attending.

This time around, the market focus is the Baltic Countries, but it’s an international fair bringing in exhibitors from over fifty countries, and some truisms apply every year. I’ve been going to the London Book Fair for a while now, so I’m confident in saying there are some things not to do (especially as some of them are mistakes I’ve made myself).

1 Thrust your manuscript into the hands of a publisher. Don’t even expect to speak to a publisher. The fair is still very much industry-led, and, if you don’t have an appointment, you won’t be able to see a publisher.

The last seven or eight years have seen the fair become more aware of authors, with the belated recognition of who it is that actually writes books. There’s a small area called Author HQ with a range of events relevant to writers, but LBF is still a trade exhibition, so it you can’t expect it to revolve around authors or would-be authors.

LBF 2016

2 Try to find an agent. I reckon you’re more likely to win the lottery, even if you didn’t buy a ticket. You’ll even be pushed to chat with your own agent, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Literary agents are usually holed up for days at a time in the International Rights Centre, for which an appointment is needed.

3 Try to sell books. It’s a non-starter unless you booked a stand, which, as you might guess, is an expensive option.

4 Expect to buy lots of books. Although it would be mind-blowingly wonderful to visit such a massive bookstore, LBF isn’t one of them.

LBF 2016

However, you may be able to buy one or two newly released paperbacks at one of the book launches at the fair. I’m looking forward to the latest novel from author Jane Davis.

5 Help yourself to books from the stands. There will be freebies like mints, keyrings, bookmarks, carrier bags, and the like, but the books on the various stands are there for show, to give visitors a view of a publisher’s range. So put that glossy tome back!

6 Ask a lot of stupid questions. Nobody expects you to know everything, but naivety has limits, and not every speaker is as patient or as courteous as romantic novelist Katie Fforde who, at one of her talks, was asked “How does one start to write a book?”

7 Wear high heels. Comfy shoes are the order of the week. Vertiginous heels may enable you to see over people’s heads, but they’ll soon become unbearable and LBF doesn’t sell foot plasters (is that a gap in the market?). 

8 Expect to sit down. There is some seating here and there, though not much. 

So why attend the fair at all if you’re an author?

Because of the insights you’ll gain into publishing, the chance to network or make new contacts, attending a few interesting talks, getting new marketing ideas, and the inspiration of hearing celebrated authors speak at Author of the Day events.

Julian Fellowes at LBF

Will I see you there?

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At the end of day three at Earls Court, here are some things that stand out for me:

LBF 2014

  • Meeting lovely people I know only from social media, and finding them even better in real life
  • The lure of bacon sarnies first thing in the morning
  • Standing room only at seminars in Author HQ
  • Finding out what ‘domestic chillers’ are  (hint: Zanussi doesn’t make them)
  • The rallying cry to indie authors (and the brand new ALLi badge)
  • Terry Pratchett on video loop
  • Aching shoulders from accumulated bumf
  • Some cringe-making questions from the audience (“How does one start to write a book?”) and Katie Fforde’s incredibly courteous reply
  • An awesome open mic session at the indie fringe fest

ALLi 2nd birthday party

  • Agents emerging blinking in the light after days spent holed up in the International Rights Centre
  • Pizza with not enough pepperoni (Pizza Express, please look up ‘loaded’ in the dictionary)
  • It’s not just my London Book Fair. It’s also my London, so here I am standing with my book in front of the house where I was conceived.
34 Trebovir Road SW5

34 Trebovir Road SW5

You might also like to read these other author perspectives on this year’s London Book Fair

Alison Morton

Debbie Young

Orna Ross

Jessica Bell

Joanna Penn