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Writers: how to do business at a book fair

Feb 21, 2017

by Susannah Marriott

In:Agents, online course, writing courses

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What to do at a book fair

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.

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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.

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.

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Tom Bromley is the Professional Writing Academy’s Director of Fiction. He devised and teaches our online Introduction to Crime and Find Your Writing Voice courses, as well as teaching the Faber Academy Writing a Novel and Work in Progress courses. Watch him talking about his approach to teaching writing.

Read about our Introduction to Writing Crime Fiction and Find Your Writing Voice courses.

The next London Book Fair is 14-16 March 2017.