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The Ultimate Guide To Book Fairs For Indie Authors

The Ultimate Guide to Book Fairs for Indie Authors

It's ten years since the Alliance of Independent Authors launched at LBF2012 and the association will revisit London Book Fair this year (LBF22) on 5-7 April  to mark its 10th anniversary. If you're coming to the London Book Fair, or planning to visit another fair in 2022, see below for our guide to book fairs for indie authors. 

To celebrate ALLi’s tenth anniversary, the organization will revisit the London Book Fair with panel sessions at the Author HQ and Writers’ Summit, a stand where authors can drop by for advice, networking and to showcase their books (ID48), and a 10th anniversary drinks party sponsored by Amazon KDP.

Find out more and book a 50% discounted Visitor Ticket for the London Book Fair here. [Use the coupon ALLI50 at checkout to get 50% off your ticket]. 

For those who cannot attend the fair in person, ALLi will bring the indie author sessions and celebrations from the fair to its global membership at a special mini-conference and online party (#SelfPubMiniCon22) on Facebook and YouTube, including:

  • Ten Word Story Competition: A ten-word flash fiction competition, open to unpublished and published authors. Entry details here, closing date 10th April.
  • Mini-Conference & Party: Panel sessions recorded at the London Book Fair with Orna Ross, Joanna Penn and Michael Anderlé, special interview with Mark Coker and Kris Austin, CEOs, about the merger of Smashwords and Draft2Digital; inspiring indie author interviews; grand prize-giving with Kobo Writing Life; and lots of giveaways and good times. Click here to learn more and register for information.  16th April

 

Guide to Book Fairs and Conferences for Indie Authors

Why Attend A Book Fair? 

Firstly, book fairs are a great place to identify potential publishing rights buyers for your book. At a book fair, myriad international publishers, agencies and other entities all gather in one place, and all are open to having meetings about acquiring new content and buying and selling rights.

Books fairs are also a useful way, when starting out, to explore the publishing climate and get an idea of what genres, niches and territories might be a good fit your books.

While building a rights business, it’s invaluable to be able to visit the stands of international publishing houses to assess if they might make good potential buyers for you and to get to know who’s who within their operations.

The two biggest fairs, and the ones at which the Alliance of Independent Authors has a presence, are the London Book Fair, which takes place in April in England and the Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place each October in Germany. We used to also attend Book Expo America, now defunct. If you write children’s books, Bologna’s book fair is a must.

As other regions’ international markets are growing, there are fairs that are gaining in popularity and the last twenty years has seen a plethora of new book fairs opening up. Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America have particularly fast-growing markets currently.

As an author-publisher, you can choose to approach a book fair as a publisher (where your stand is a booth) or agent (where your stand is a table on the rights floor). Taking a rights table is a less expensive option than a stand but whichever way you go, be aware that book fairs are not for the fainthearted.

Agents and rights buyers may not welcome cold callers with unsolicited material at the stands or tables, and the experience of being turned away without a hearing can be disheartening.

If you want to make rights sales part of your publishing strategy, your first book fair visit should be a learning experience, which you can build on with email correspondence between fairs, increasing your range of contacts from fair to fair, and year to year. This is how trade publishing rights departments work.

Break up the cold calls and appointments with educational events and do search out the Authors’ Area at the fair (Author HQ at LBF). An increasing number of fairs have them.

Preparing for a Book Fair

It’s not as simple as simply showing up at a book fair and hoping that you'll just find the right people. Agents, publishers' acquisitions editors and other rights buyers arrange meetings in advance. It’s not unusual for them to have appointments every half hour at the large book fairs, so they are likely to be too busy to see unscheduled sellers who just pop by.

Obtain a copy of the fair catalogue well in advance of the fair, and from there, identify publishers whose subject interests appear compatible. Study their range and style of publications and find your best matches. Larger book fairs often highlight key players attending, which can further assist your searches and arrangements. List the stands you want to visit and the people you want to meet.

Making Appointments

While ad hoc meetings can lead to success (see below), the bread-and-butter activity at a book fair is almost always a result of preparation and planning face-to-face meetings by appointment with interested buyers. The main purpose of an appointment is to finalize pending deals, discuss potential new business, and deal with any outstanding problems.

It's essential to have all the details about the rights buyer and the title to hand (see “Rights Guides & Information Sheets” below).

When planning a book fair visit, think about each appointment in terms of:

  • Your objective—what do you want to get out of this meeting?
  • The people/companies attending—who is key to you achieving what you want?
  • Scheduling—make appointments with key people with whom you want to connect and identify the events you want to attend while you’re there.

Reach out to intended contacts eight to ten weeks before the fair. Target a named individual and make the intended purpose of your meeting clear i.e. that you are selling rights and attach or include details.

Give all necessary information but don’t send too much unsolicited material to a new contact. Send only what’s necessary to stoke interest.

Give the dates you will be available, if not attending for the full length of the fair, and include your stand number or hall location and a suggested date and time for an appointment, and also offer to come to their stand.

Assume that no buyer has more than 30 minutes for an appointment. If it's impossible to arrange an appointment, keep a note of your correspondence and write a follow-up email after the fair.

Ad hoc Meetings

Even without appointments, book fairs are an excellent opportunity to do unscheduled meet-and-greets, get email addresses and build networks within the international publishing rights community. So do leave time to visit stands to identify publishers who lists might be compatible with the rights you want to license. You can seek an appointment, and by going to a vendor’s booth or table, you can see more clearly if they are a match than by poring over databases and cold querying from home.

If you don’t have an appointment with a buyer who you’ve determined would be a good fit for the rights you’re selling, the best time to drop by is early. If unsuccessful, leave your book catalogue on their stand, together with a business card and details of where to find you, at the fair and online.

Many book fairs feature a different country or region each year as a guest of honor or market focus, which can be a great introduction to markets and increases the number of buyers from the featured region. The Abu Dhabi fair runs “matchmaking” events, bringing visiting buyers and sellers together.

Rights Guides & Other Information

When you have little time to introduce yourself or your work, you need to have something clear and concise to leave buyers, so any follow-up correspondences can focus on business instead of introductions and explanations.

It’s important for you to have accurate, up-to-date, complete rights guides and information sheets for all titles you’d like to license, both for your own purposes, and also for potential buyers.

Information sheets need to be something that an interested buyer can take to an acquisitions board or business partner, and use to answer basic questions. They should be short, tailored to the rights you’re offering to sell, contain all pertinent information about your books.

Detailed up-to-date records are necessary for you to give an impression of professionalism to buyers and also to make informed decisions. From the beginning, you need to keep notes about:

  • The book title and primary publication
  • Where it has been submitted and for which rights
  • Any negotiations
  • Potential publishing partners and information about them
  • Any sales made or licenses granted.

Good record-keeping is greatly facilitated by online rights trading platforms, a number of which have emerged in recent years.

Submission Tracking

When you are selling and exploiting rights for your books, a submissions tracking system is important to enable quick decision-making. You need a database to record details of your titles, submissions, sales and details about your rights buyers and basic terms of agreements (exclusivity, length, etc.).

Don’t rely on memory; book fairs are overwhelming and it’s very easy to get confused about details. Organized information will prove its worth, time and again.

Schedule

Make up a timetable for yourself and a data sheet for each buyer you will see, to be used as the basis for your meeting. When starting out, this sheet may contain little more than the name of your publishing imprint, nationality, range of subject interest and contact details.

Make it clear what rights are, and are not, available.

Later by email, you can expand on details of books under consideration, any deals already completed or rights under offer, problems or challenges emerging, technical specs, payment details, interest in future projects and so on.

Follow-up

Prompt and relevant follow-up after a book fair is essential. Deal with it immediately after your return. You might even want to stay on an extra day to do follow-up before going back home.

Confirm any discussions held on specific deals, particularly financial agreements, other terms agreed and any relevant information e.g. delivery dates or submission materials. Include any relevant catalogue, rights guides, information sheets, sample chapters, manuscripts or reading copies.

Retain the book fair catalogue which can be used to target follow up.

Several fairs now offer online rights information services, enabling publishers to post details of rights available before, during and after the fair. The Frankfurt website (www.book-fair.com), for example, catalogues all exhibitors, 30,000+ titles and includes a “Who’s Who” of attendees.

You can make appointments to see selected people online and the services are now available throughout the year.

***

Daniel Parsons, Author and ALLi Production Manager

Dan Parsons writes the Creative Business series for authors, bestselling fantasy and horror novels (under Daniel Parsons), and a weekly blog for The Self-Publishing Formula. While pursuing his author career, he has worked for several traditional publishers, managed two bookstores and listened to an unhealthy amount of podcasts. Now he’s ALLi’s Production Manager. Find out more about Networking for Authors here.The below excerpt was adapted from Networking for Authors.

Addressing Pre-Event Concerns

It’s important to begin by developing a positive mindset for networking in the physical world. This is the best place to start because being proactive will help you later. Whether you have chronic insecurities or just over-analyse your actions, a mindset slip could occur at any point. Training yourself to anticipate one can help you avoid derailing your progress with impulsive reactions.

Preparation can also teach you not to exaggerate others’ reactions in your imagination and instead consider their more realistic thoughts. Only by knowing how to handle any potential stumbling blocks can you make calculated moves to protect yourself against self-sabotage.

“I Can’t Do This, I’m an Introvert!”

Most people don’t like meeting new people. They also consider themselves introverted to some degree. Confidence is dependent on the situation for most people, so it makes sense.

Believe it or not, I class myself primarily as an introvert. From childhood to my late teens, I was extremely shy. However, I don’t struggle with social interactions now because my school teachers were great coaches. They believed in immersion therapy – the idea that exposing yourself to a phobia eventually desensitises you to it. Hence, I had to do lots of presentations and group work, which over time taught me to manage my fear. I still get nervous if I have to talk in front of a crowd but not to the same extent.

The same strategy can be applied to networking. At first, you might attend a group meetup with butterflies and nausea. But those feelings won’t last long if you take a breath, immerse yourself in the experience and get talking. In many cases, you’ll find that you’re more capable of holding a conversation with a stranger than you thought.

Plus, it’s not solely your responsibility to carry the conversation. Remember, conversations include more than one person, which means that there will always be someone else to pick up the slack if you find yourself floundering. Nobody wants a bad conversation, particularly in a networking session, so everyone works together to break the ice. Even if the beginning feels forced, the team effort is usually enough to get the conversation flowing.

“Everyone Else is So Much Better!”

Commonly referred to as “imposter syndrome”, this belief often afflicts corporate employees promoted before they feel they’re ready to manage a team. However, it is also ubiquitous among writers. Simply put, it’s the belief that you’re not as good as your peers, don’t deserve your success and that, one day, you will be found out. Instead of talking about it openly, many people cover up their insecurities with fake confidence.

For writers, imposter syndrome manifests as doubts in their own writing or marketing expertise. They don’t see themselves as being great at either because they struggle to see past their own shortfalls. This is particularly present among self-published authors because they lack the validation of being chosen by a traditional publisher. Hence, they feel pressure to demonstrate extra abilities in the marketing and publishing processes to make up for not being told they’re a great writer.

It’s often unclear why any book becomes a success. Even decades-old traditional publishers haven’t cracked the code. If they had, every title they released would be a bestseller and they’d never sign a dud. Yet, despite this truth, successful self-published authors are often anxious of meeting new people at book fairs because what if they simply got lucky and couldn’t repeat past victories or give thoughtful advice when people authors at fairs?

An indie author's knowledge has grown over time without them noticing the mountains they’ve climbed. In reality, “imposters” are more capable than they think. And, weirdly, imposter syndrome never stops, regardless of the scale or longevity of your success. That’s a good lesson to take away from some of the industry’s most successful names: most feel like frauds, so the best strategy is to accept that this feeling exists and keep working regardless.

“What if I Get Overwhelmed?”

Everyone gets overwhelmed at events, particularly if they last several days in large venues. You’re in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people, advertising is everywhere and your senses can’t process it all. Given an avalanche of choices, your brain filters out all but what’s in front of you to survive. What usually ends up happening is that, after several hours, you get a headache, a sore throat, and what you really want to do is find someplace comfortable to sit and rest your feet. And there are never enough chairs!

Inevitably, this means you won’t talk to everyone you planned to meet. The first time you visit an event, you might take lots of notes at seminars but not manage any meaningful conversations. But that’s okay. Many reserved attendees do it every year, preferring to keep to themselves.

A reputation isn’t built in a day. If this is your first book fair, then getting overwhelmed and not capitalising on every opportunity is understandable.

Dan Parson's London Book Fair Experience

I’ve now attended The London Book Fair six times. When I arrive at Olympia, the venue that now hosts it every year, my day starts by grabbing a map from an information desk and heading straight for Author HQ where I give myself 30 minutes to drink iced coffee and read through my plan for the day to refresh my memory.

There, I usually bump into old friends, greet new faces, and immediately get chatting. Typically, someone suggests we meet for lunch before I head off to my first seminar. It’s a pleasant experience and one that I’ve come to take for granted. But my arrival didn’t always look quite so organised.

Picture the scene: it’s spring 2013. I set off from Cardiff at 4:00 am on a sombre coach and arrived after 9:00 am. I was sweaty, carting a backpack full of books, sandwiches and business cards, and had no idea what I was doing. Fumbling to get my ID badge scanned, I pushed my bag through the security check and wandered the Grand Hall for an hour, lost in a maze of stands.

It wasn’t until I found another exit that I discovered the information desks. The staff gave me a map but, as I’m not a natural navigator, that didn’t help. The venue contains two huge halls that look the same to the untrained eye. Within minutes of marching, I got more lost, missed my first two seminars, and ended up perched uneasily in Author HQ, slurping a ludicrously expensive smoothie.

That first year, I took some notes but spent most of my day struggling with the layout. Eventually, I got talking to some equally lost newbies and was invited to join them for drinks after the conference. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go because, rather than investing in a hotel so I could freshen up and network the night away, I’d booked a return coach for that evening. I vowed not to repeat that mistake but had to wait 12 months to try again.

You see, there is a marked difference between my earliest and my most recent conference appearances. Now I go with a plan, knowing roughly who I want to meet and what I want to achieve. But that’s only possible because I now have experience. Expect to get lost and tired. Fluidity is key at these events because you never know what unexpected opportunity or complication will arise on the day. Set reasonable expectations, and celebrate small victories.

***

Book Fairs for Indie Authors: a Final Summary and Quick Tips for Maximizing Your Time

  • Be sure to check out the programme. Often, there are great seminars and lectures you can attend where you'll both learn about the topic and give yourself a breather from networking.
  • But don't forget to talk to the speakers and people at the seminar after the talk has finished — it's often the only time speakers are assessable during a fair.
  • Likewise, some fairs will have a list of who is attending, this is a great place to connect with those going and arrange meetings and coffees. Don't forget you can post in Facebook groups and author groups to ask who is going too.
  • Make sure you decide what you want to achieve before you go. Is it information gathering, is it to meet new people?
  • If you want to guarantee a meeting with an agent or publisher, be sure to contact these people in advance as they're often in back to back meetings.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, these fairs are enormous and you'll inadvertently do thousands of steps, blisters are not the way forward.
  • Don't underestimate how exhausted you will be after the event. Try to block a day or two in your diary for afterwards to make sure you have recovery time.
  • While we indie authors might be home workers and therefore able to write in slacks, many of the people at fairs are corporate professionals. While you don't need to be suited and booted, making a good first impression always counts for something.
  • Take business cards with blank backs so you can either write more information for those you're networking with or write their information if they don't have a card.
  • Hydrate! It's easy to splurge on caffeine and forget to look after yourself. You'll be doing a lot of talking so keep those vocal cords lubricated.

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