Writers: how to do business at a book fair

Susannah Marriott
21 February 2017

London Book Fair is a publishing trade event, so how welcoming is it to new writers? Publisher and novelist Tom Bromley has some tips on how to operate in the world of literary agents and publishers.

  • Discover new authors and books
  • Meet agents and publishers
  • Network with other authors and publishing professionals
London Book Fair

I’ve been going to the London Book Fair for about 12 years now — usually as an editor, but sometimes as a writer, too. To be honest, I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. There’s always that feeling that you’re missing out and something more fun and more important is happening just around the corner. And that’s as a commissioning editor: as a would-be author, it can feel a little bit, well, where do I start?

Book fairs have changed a bit over the years. They always used to be about the acquiring of new titles; some agent would turn up with a hot new book which everyone would read like crazy and get into a silly bidding war in the frenzied atmosphere, then wake up the following morning and realise in the cold light of day that they’d seriously overpaid on what was actually a middling thriller. These days, with no editor able to breathe without conferring with their sales department and Nielsen Bookscan figures, those deals are done before the fair (and for less money). Instead, the main business of the fair is either announcements of books bought, or the attempt to sell the rights of your books to a foreign publisher. Businesswise, it’s secondary stuff.

For me, book fairs are much more about catching up with people and making new contacts.

Tom Bromley

So now, for me, book fairs are much more about catching up with people and making new contacts. A bit like the Jona Lewie song about how you’ll always find him in the kitchen at parties, so you’ll usually find me in the corridor or the coffee bar, or sneaking out of the centre for a sneaky drink and a gossip with someone I haven’t seen for years. Rather than cramming my diaries with meetings, I try to leave space to wander around and bump into people.

That’s how I’d approach the fair as a writer, too – go the publishers’ stalls and grab a catalogue or two to see what’s new. Catch a word with someone after an event. Get talking to people. Above all, remember that at the end of the day, the people rushing round as though they’re terribly important and making you feel small would be nothing without people like you, the humble writer. Without your stories there would be no literary agents, no commissioning editors, and no publishing industry.

Tom Bromley

Tom Bromley is a published author, editor, creative writing tutor, book reviewer and ghost (not the scary kind). He's written ten books under his own name and the pseudonym Thomas Black, which are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. He's also ghostwritten a dozen more titles, several of which have been international bestsellers.

As a creative writing tutor, Tom teaches novel writing and five further courses for the Faber Academy. He's also Director of Fiction for the Professional Writing Academy, where he runs courses on crime and genre fiction. He's also the books columnist for View Magazine and columnist for the Salisbury Journal.

As a former commissioning editor and publisher, he works, too, as an editorial consultant and mentor for a number of publishers, literary agencies and organisations, and also in a private capacity. Locally, he hosts the Salisbury Writing Circle — a community of new and experienced writers alike.

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