Book Fairs: The London Experience
Question: Should you go to a book fair?
Answer: Only if you know why you’re going.
In April this year I went to London with the purpose of experiencing my first book fair. I may not have known it at the time but that was pretty much the sum of it. Yes I met people, yes I went to seminars, yes I attended digital presentations and yes I came away wide eyed and brimming with ideas (and business cards) but I get the feeling that the first book fair is more about the experience of it than anything else.
I can say this because in May I went to my second book fair, Book Expo America – a very different kettle of fish I might add.
I stayed just off Baker Street with my sister and her boyfriend in a lovely little flat with a kitchen and a bathroom down the – communal – hall. That first morning I woke, got smartly dressed in items raided from my sister’s wardrobe (she’s far more fashionable than me) and had a lovely little breakfast made for me (yes, my sister is awesome). I then pulled my handbag over my shoulder grabbed my bag, of books and paraphernalia I intended to sneak on to the stand, and stepped out to become a London commuter!
Well… sort of.
I can barely call Edgeware Road to Earls Court commuting.
As I got on the tube I quickly recognised the publishing folk around me with their Kindles, iPads and giant bags of exhibition extras – The bags rather than the gadgets being the signifiers here.
Stepping off the tube I may as well have slipped into a querying author’s wet dream – I was literally swept up by the mass of publishers and carried towards Earls Court to be deposited neatly by the exhibitors entrance.
In I wondered and with in moments I had my badge and was heading towards the stand – far more efficient than I had been expecting!
Upon arriving at the stand it soon became clear that I would be holding on to my little bag of books – I had been thwarted by the organisational skills of the staff. There was no extra space for me to sneak my hidden books into and so they stayed with me – a heavy, awkward reminder of my failed attempt to stick it to the man.
After the first quick hellos I was off! There were stands that needed exploring, seminar rooms that needed finding, optimal lunch kiosks that needed selecting and, had I been more experienced, wifi enabled stands that needed befriending.
Monday was chock-a-block with seminars I wanted to attend – most of them on at the same time. I had my colour coded schedule with me the whole time and quickest routes mapped within the first hour – alas I still only attended 40 percent of them.
I found it very useful having my net book with me, even if I did evilly eye the iPads that seemed the dominant form of note taking. It turned out finding a nice patch of floor with near by wifi made typing out notes on each seminar and meeting allowed me to retain a great deal more information than I normally would have – unfortunately due to laziness time constraints this practice only lasted the one day.
About 40 percent of my meetings were pre-arranged, and only one was nearly missed due to timing confusion - It is important to remember to have contact details for everyone you are meeting with you on the day you are meeting them; it will make life so much easier. The other 60 percent came out of exploration and milling around.
I did meet with a few foreign language publishers, but most of my meetings revolved around digital services and certainly helped me get a clearer view of what was available, how it worked and what kind of prices were standard. Not all the meetings were fruitful and not all yielded the expected results, but from most of them came new ideas.
I learnt a lot at the London Book Fair and thoroughly enjoyed my experience of it. I met a lot of people and gained a library of business cards.
If you plan on going next year I’d suggest:
- Knowing what you want to get out of it
- Having a plan
- Being organised
- Allowing yourself some time to wander
- Being sociable
- Being open minded
- Bringing a netbook or equivalent
- not expecting a wifi connection
- Enjoying yourself