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Decoding Book Fairs: A Guide for Authors

Demystifying Book Fairs: Should independent authors join these events?

During webinars, authors would often ask our publicists if they should join book fairs.

First, a little background—of what these events are. 

So, what are book fairs?

National and international book events, the likes of Book Expo America (BEA), ALA, Miami Book Fair, London Book Fair, Sharjah, and Frankfurt International Book Fair, to mention a few, are prestigious gatherings.

These annual events bring together publishing professionals from around the world for meetings, events, and seminars. Spanning over a few days, these fairs are pivotal occasions for in-person business interactions and also serve as a venue for authors, new technologies, and discussions on current industry topics. 

These highly regarded events are attended mostly by people inside the industry, including booksellers, librarians, publicists, literary agents, and the media, where industry professionals meet to broker rights, publicize their books and upcoming titles, arrange and explore subsidiary rights opportunities, such as films and translation rights for books from other publishers—who wouldn’t want to be there?

These events are mainly trade fairs.

It is more of a business-to-business (B2B) affair than a business-to-consumer. Book fairs focus on negotiating rights, sales, and distribution of various forms of media, including books, audio, TV, and film. The emphasis of these shows is on rights sales, networking, and pre-publication marketing, and for publishers to explore and scope out the latest trends and technologies in the book market. 

Most publishers, literary agents, and publicists are there to sell rights and promote books and authors they represent—not necessarily to acquire. There will even be more ‘rights people’ than acquiring editors.

So, don’t go expecting to sell units of your book. This is not an opportunity to sell books—these aren’t that kind of fair at all. 

Sidenote: Most of these fairs are open to trade professionals and the public. While the primary focus is on industry insiders, there are designated days during the event when the general public can attend, explore, and engage in the world of books.

Should independently published authors join these events?

The answer depends on your goals: What is it that you want to get out of these events? And your presence—will you be there?

Tina Seskis is a compelling choice for a success story—she is the kind of person who wants others to succeed—a very generous soul to give marketing tips. Her journey as a successful author mirrors a textbook example of the most effective way to do it.

At the 2013 Frankfurt International Book Fair, Tina Seskis sold her self-published book, One Step Too Far, to Jennifer Brehl with HarperCollins for $500,000 ( North American rights. )

Tina’s success at Frankfurt was not a stroke of luck. It was the result of hard work, dedication, and preparation—and serendipity.

She was there. She attended the event, negotiating deals and leveraging the exposure. Tina has done her preparation—the previous year, she strategically promoted her book and sold 10,000 copies—that’s impressive and would catch a publisher’s attention.

I hate to break it to you, but if you—the author—are not present to advocate for your book—or if no one is there to represent you—your book doesn’t stand a chance.

There are marketing agencies offering services for a few hundred to thousands of dollars to have your book ‘placed on shelves’ on these shows. With the promise that this service will “capture the attention of publishers, distributors, booksellers, librarians, literary agents, and countless other publishing professionals.”

This is not the truth—the marketing verbiage is superbly inflated—disgraceful marketing.

Generic services that offer to ‘promote’ books at these events rarely, if ever, promote your book in a meaningful way. The pitch and promise may sound perfect, but when you look closelyunderstand the mechanics, and read the fine print—you will soon realize that it is an overblown promise. Sadly, either these agencies or agents are uninitiated or simply uninformed and will gladly cash your cheque and say your book has a ‘presence’ at these fairs.

When you register for these events—you are only paying to register for the event. It means your book is neatly wrapped in a plastic cover and placed on a shelf at the exhibitor’s booth with other books to last for the duration of the fair—two or three days. There are no less than a thousand exhibitors’ booths, a sea of people, and more than 10,000 titles. Imagine placing a copy of your book at the world’s largest book fair, with no means of drawing attention, even if someone were to briefly pause within 20 feet of it, if you’re not there, if there is no one on the ground to represent your book, if no preparation has been done prior ( sales track record & fanbase)—nobody is going to take notice of your book being there. 

Remember, these are primarily trade fairs.

As a company and a team, we’ve been to these events for fifteen years now. We have seen these shelves. If your book is merely ‘displayed,’ it won’t attract anyone’s attention. That’s the reality. Think about it. 

As an author, you should be the number one fan and advocate for your works. You must be willing to honestly assess the current state of our author’s reach, brand, and readership and make significant changes.

The BookWalker London Book Fair 2024

 

How to Make the Most of Trade Fairs
 

As a book aggregator, we want our authors and their books to reach readers around the world. There is a common misconception that Fairs are the only time big deals are done for books. But, in reality, we liaise, represent, and sell foreign rights continuously throughout the year. However, participating in book fairs allows us to pitch our authors’ books directly to traditional and foreign publishers, significantly expanding the audiences of a book from one country to more than a dozen in a single event. Beyond facilitating the sale of our books to publishers and retailers worldwide, participating in these fairs allows us to gauge the pulse of the global market—we get a sense of what genres are moving and shaking.

So, how to prepare and make the most of trade fairs?

Preparing for a Book Fair requires more than just showing up and hoping to connect with the right individuals. Literary agents, acquisition editors, and other rights people schedule meetings in advance, often with appointments booked every thirty minutes. Unscheduled visits without prior arrangements may go unnoticed due to the busy schedules of these industry professionals.

Attending a trade fair without a strategic plan can lead to missed connections and unfulfilled potential. To help you make the most of your trade fair experience, The BookWalker has compiled a set of invaluable tips for navigating these dynamic events.

    • Be realistic about what you’re there to do. Before stepping into the bustling environment of a trade fair, decide early on you want to get out of these events. Think about what you are hoping to get out of visiting. Is it a publishing contract? Is it to explore self-publishing services and connect with publicists who boost your book promotion? Or engage with distributors and wholesalers?
    • Plan Your Visit. It’s a big event! Study the exhibitor catalogue available on the exhibition website well in advance. Identify publishers, agents, and other relevant stakeholders aligned with your goals. Make a list of priority stands to visit—there are a lot of booths!
    • Research and Contact Exhibitors. Take advantage of the digital age by researching exhibitors’ websites before the event. Reach out to them, set up meetings in advance, and don’t ambush people. Keep in mind that publishers are there to showcase their new and upcoming titles. You’ll just annoy people if you pop up unannounced pitching your book unless it has to do with subrights or licensing; still, treat them as a friend and schedule in advance. 
    • Arm Yourself with Information. Be ready to answer questions about your book by having essential details readily available. Know your manuscript’s word count, format preferences (paperback, ebook, hardback), launch plans, and promotion strategies. Know your book’s sales record and your fanbase, and don’t forget to mention your readers’ mailing list—if they are interested, they will be your fan! Bring your Bookseller Information Sheet and relevant supporting materials, showcasing your professionalism and preparedness.
    • Don’t go into the trouble of lugging around heavy book copies. Instead, distribute your Bookseller Information Sheet, reserving physical copies for those genuinely interested. Collect business cards and contact details, ensuring a streamlined follow-up process after the event. And don’t forget to bring a lot of your business cards! Don’t come home without giving yours—they will be asked for if you have been interesting!
    • Lastly, embrace the experience. Remember to enjoy, and have fun! Engage with industry professionals, share your passion, and build connections. Trade fairs are not just business opportunities; they are platforms for fostering a sense of community within the literary world.

Every Book Fair offers something unique—serendipity. Just ask any publisher or literary agent who frequents these events, and you’re likely to hear a tale of stumbling upon a remarkable book through an unexpected encounter—these accidental conversations, be it on a bus, in a bar, or even in the embarrassing long queue for the cloakrooms. It could happen to anyone, to any book.  A lot of it is about timing, the right team, the right time, the right book. Be ready. Be prepared.

 

If you need help, let us know. Email our publicist at thepublicist@thebookwalker.com

The first benefit of hiring a book publicist is their expertise.  A good book publicist deeply understands the publishing industry and the nuances of book promotion.  They know what works and doesn’t and can advise authors on the best strategies for their book and target audience. They can also help authors avoid costly mistakes from inexperienced attempts at book promotion.

Another advantage of working with a book publicist is their ability to build relationships with key players in the publishing industry, such as book reviewers, journalists, and bloggers.   A book publicist can help authors get their books in front of influential people who can help spread the word about their books. These relationships can be challenging to establish and maintain, but a book publicist has the experience and connections to make them happen. 

 

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