The London Book Fair is a trade fair, meaning it’s primarily aimed at bookish professionals of various stripes. But, for those interested in discovering a bit more about publishing, there is also a lot of merit in wandering around the various stands and picking up on the atmosphere and seeing which publishers do what. There are sometimes free books or catalogues to be had. Also, and I never get time to see any of this, but there is also a huge programme of publishing industry talks, workshops and seminars that’s really worth checking out. There’s more info here.
From an editor’s point of view, the London Book Fair is great fun, stimulating, exhausting and disorienting in equal parts. It’s three days of often back-to-back appointments, from early morning until late, with agents and publishers that you might only see in person once a year. Or every other year. And you get half an hour to a) find their stand or table, b) listen to their pitches on a hopefully huge assortment of hot novels you should definitely buy and c) exchange a bit of gossip. Who’s bought what, who’s moved jobs and who … (no, we can’t tell you that bit!). Then it’s time to dash across the whole of Earl’s Court, bearing a tattered map with some circled arcane symbols (we like to call them stand numbers), while running 10 mins late as you try to find or buy some (£5) water and biscuits to keep you from falling by the wayside.
Perhaps if I followed the scattered biscuit crumbs though the maze left by fellow travellers, I might a chance of ending the day without getting lost … And judge ye not those who haven’t been. Many of the stands look alike.
And as for the Rights Centre where most of the agents are based, well this is what that looks like. There are rows and rows of identical beige tables, sweltering under the artificial lights with a massive beehive-like hum of business going on (or gossip) as ambient noise.
Agent and editor appointments are booked up months in advance—and the juggling of book fair schedules must surely be the bane of spring for an editorial assistant. Given that these schedules are so carefully organised, and that these opportunities to meet our business colleagues from abroad are so limited, it’s not the place for debut authors to come and pitch. We do occasionally get approached, but it’s usually on the way to another meeting, clutching timetable, map and phone, while trying not to spill a forth cup of coffee down a slightly smarter outfit than usual. Needless to say, it’s better to use the usual channels when seeking a book deal!
But the book fair is about seeing some wonderful new books—and you may here about such and such a title being “the book of the fair.” This is when an agent goes out really strongly with their uber-book and manage to drum up such a groundswell of excitement that it does for large sums of money and gains a lot of publicity and prestige. And the other side of the fair is being sent a whole host of manuscripts afterwards, which form a tottering post-London Book Fair pile that must be read and sifted for genius.
All in all, it can be exhausting but it’s a really exciting time to meet new people and renew old contacts. And, with any luck, we can find books that will go on to be the highlights of next year’s lists for your reading pleasure.
This article was originally published on the Tor UK blog.
Bella Pagan is the senior commissioning editor, working on out-of-this world SF, fantasy and urban fantasy (plus other subdivisions, factions and associated areas) for Tor UK. On twitter as @BellaPagan.