How to do business at a book fair as a writer

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

Tom Bromley
Tom Bromley

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 around 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.

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Meet your Tutor

Tom Bromley

Tom Bromley

Tom Bromley is an author, editor and ghostwriter.

He has written ten books under his own name, both fiction and non-fiction, ghosted a further dozen titles, including several UK and international bestsellers, and has edited over a hundred books.

Tom’s novels include Half A World Away, described by Jonathan Coe as ‘a shrewd and ingenious riff on modern relationships . . . a comic gem with a serious undertow’. His most recent books are the popular culture memoirs Wired for Sound and All in the Best Possible Taste. The former was described by Will Hodgkinson, The Times’ chief rock critic, as ‘a joy’; the latter was a Daily Mail Book of the Week.

Tom spent over a decade working in publishing as a copywriter, commissioning editor, editorial director and publisher, and continues to work for both publishers and literary agencies in a consulting capacity. He has tutored for the Faber Academy for five years and created seven of the Academy’s online courses.

He has also taught and run workshops for a number of festivals and organisations including CrimeFest, Stratford Literary Festival, the John O’Connor Festival of Writing, the Literary Consultancy’s Literary Adventure, the Casa Ana Mentoring Retreat, Falmouth University, and the National Film and Television School. Tom is Director of Fiction for the Professional Writing Academy, the founding director of the Salisbury Literary Festival and has an MA in Creative Writing himself, from Bath Spa University.

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