In a new Industry Knowhow series, Janne Moller, Rights Manager at Black & White Publishing, shares her experience of book fairs and her advice for authors and illustrators. Next up, it's London Book Fair, which takes place in March.

I’ve been going to London Book Fair for years. As with Frankfurt, I’m looking to meet with as many editors as possible who are trying to sell books to other countries. I meet with scouts, agents, editors and, taking Christmas into account, I start booking appointments for London in January – some even get in there in December. So now is a great time to start thinking about the London Book Fair and what you might do if you were to attend:

1. London is mainly a trade fair.
It’s important to remember that publishers, editors and agents will all be busy. Most publishers and agents are there to sell their own books and authors, not necessarily to acquire, so there will be more rights people about than acquiring editors. They have booked in back-to-back meetings all day long – literally from breakfast until dinner, with very few breaks. This is because London, similar to Frankfurt, is designed initially for business meetings. This means it is not the fair for an author to approach publishers at their stands.

2. Take advantage of home ground.
The London Book Fair is when the international publishing industry and the national book industry descend on London. If you’re in a position to be able to go, use this to your advantage! Get in touch with publishers beforehand and ask for a meeting. If you email early enough – 2-3 months in advance – then you have a chance to get in their diaries. Remember, if they say yes, they may ask to read your writing in advance.

3. Look at the event programme.
Over the years, more and more is being offered for authors and writers at the London Book Fair, with an ever-growing string of panels, events and discussions. Visitor events are usually held throughout the second and third days. A highlight of the London Book Fair is the English PEN Literary Salon, which hosted 17 events in 2019 including Elif Shafak, Kerry Hudson and YA author Holly Bourne.

4. This is another big one!
London Book Fair is held in London Olympia and spreads over two floors – definitely go for comfortable walking shoes! It’s very likely you’ll be on your feet most of the day. Bring snacks and water too. There are cafes and filling stations around but these are expensive and often busy. Try to get a sense of the set-up and maybe the specific publishers or events you’d like to see, and know which level and hall they will be in. It is better to prepare yourself otherwise, similar to Frankfurt, it can be really overwhelming just to turn up. But it can be inspirational to walk around!

5. Consider choosing between London and Bologna
London and Bologna Book Fairs are very close in the calendar, usually separated by only two weeks. So, if you’re looking to attend a book fair, I would really suggest choosing between either London or Bologna. Attending two book fairs so close together is a big ask – not least financially – and takes a lot of work and effort. And do be aware, publishers do the same! Not everyone can attend everything. And my Bologna advice is coming next month so you'll have plenty of time to plan.

6. Be realistic about what you’re there to do
London, similar to Frankfurt, is a big event to commit to attending. Before planning a trip and diving in, think about what you are hoping to get out of visiting. With publishers in meetings and the busy fair atmosphere, you won’t be able to share your portfolio or give a pitch. It is really inspiring and interesting to go but be sure your expectations are in the right place.

7. Book fairs drive up prices
As with Frankfurt, travel and accommodation books up quickly with this big event on. Add in that this is in London where budget accommodation is thin on the ground, and you’re low on options! The most sought-after accommodation is in places near the fair, in Earl’s Court, Knightsbridge, Queensway, Paddington and Hammersmith. Hotels and accommodation further away won’t necessarily be as affected by the fair and have more normal price levels. If you choose to go, look or book early – Christmas present ideas, anyone? And make sure you plan your fair as early as possible! 

So, sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pen. Why are you thinking of going to the London Book Fair? It’s a fantastic literary experience but think about what you want to get out of it. Is it about taking a closer look at the industry? Or do you want to speak to publishers and agents directly? If it's the second one, maybe consider other options, as this is not typically a place where publishers are looking to meet authors. Perhaps there are other more suitable events and fairs to consider instead. Whatever you choose to do, London is a big event in the literary calendar, particularly in the UK, and will grab your attention from the off!
Main image credit: London Book Fair 

Janne Moller has been Rights Manager at Black & White Publishing for 14 years and has been attending book fairs for almost 20 years. Born in Denmark, she has lived in Edinburgh for 15 years. Books she has worked on at Black & White include Estelle Maskame’s Did I Mention I Love You? series and The Year After You by Nina de Pass published under the B&W YA imprint, Ink Road.

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