The London Book Fair

Crikey! What a lot of people.

That’s doubtless one of the first things to strike any newbie at The London Book Fair. It’s daunting. Everyone seems to know someone and is busily chatting with them, doing deals and looking altogether businesslike.

London Book Fair - Grand Hall Gallery

I had no idea what to expect from The London Book Fair. I decided to go as an adventure, an opportunity to meet new people, armed with new business cards, hot off the press (see below), and a few copies of The Hapless Rehearsal.

New Peawit Press business cards - 4 designs!

I wandered aimlessly at first, passing stand after stand and wondering what had possessed me to come along to this event. Eventually, I made my way to the 1st floor and felt an instant wave of relief as I approached the Illustrators Gallery. Ahh… this was more like home. So, I embraced the friendlier vibe and approached the first stand. A cheery young woman came up to me and started chatting about her graphic design business based in Singapore. After a while, she introduced me to the chap at the next stand and, as it happens, this would prove to be my home base for the duration of the fair. I instantly took to Jessica Martin and her ace assistant, Alex Fobbester. Jessica recently published her first graphic novel, the enchanting Elsie Harris Picture Palace, and is a first-time exhibitor at LBF. She and Alex are quite the dynamic duo. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them over the course of the fair and it was wonderful to have a stand to keep returning to and people I could chat with about the arts (they are both actors), running a business and life.

London Book Fair - Jessica Martin

Moving on from the Illustrators Gallery, I handed my card out to various people at the more interesting stands (those with beautiful books), but as one woman said, “mostly everyone here is in sales”. So, although these sales reps kindly agree to pass along my business card to their buyers/editors, this is probably a dead end. I’ll certainly follow up the shops that feel like a good fit for Peawit Press though. After all, the chance of a buyer randomly getting in touch is, of course, slim to none.

There are people at LFB aside from sales representatives, but in order to speak with them, you really need to make an appointment. They are always busy. Through pure luck, I managed to speak with a sales manager at PGUK (specialists in distribution) and received some friendly and excellent advice. It also didn’t hurt that he loved The Hapless Rehearsal. ☺ Even so, he said it was unlikely I would get a distributor on board unless I had published 5 or 6 books. So, one step at a time. My goal for now is to get my book into as many (gorgeous) London bookshops, concert halls, museum and design shops as possible!

  • The London Book Fair ☆ Grand Hall Gallery
  • The London Book Fair ☆ GMC Publications
  • The London Book Fair ☆ on the floor - Lithuania & Latvia
  • The London Book Fair ☆ on the floor - Latvia
  • The London Book Fair ☆ View from West Hall Upper
  • The London Book Fair ☆ Writers' Block

A definite highlight of LBF (for an entirely different reason) was an exchange I had with a publisher on the last day. First off, let’s get something straight. I self-published The Hapless Rehearsal a few years ago and have no real wish to be taken on by an outside publisher. I love being my own boss and in control of my own business. You could certainly say then that The London Book Fair isn’t really for me and I wouldn’t disagree. But I was up for an adventure and thought that, as long as I’m there, I may as well speak with as many people as possible.

So, I found myself chatting with a new friend I met at the fair and we decided to be brave and approach one of the larger publisher’s stalls to see what would happen. A chap beckoned us forward and asked what we were doing at the fair. I said something to the effect that I’m an author/illustrator who self-published an illustrated book (comical insight into the world of classical music) and then showed him a copy.

He glanced through The Hapless Rehearsal for a few seconds and said…

I only do high quality art… not that [pointing to my book]. If you want to give me £8000, I’ll publish it.

I smiled and walked away.

Perhaps a comment like this would have crushed me several years ago, but I was more amused than anything by this rather shocking display of rudeness. My first instinct was to quickly get out my notebook and record these words for posterity. ☺

It is highly likely that you, too, have experienced an unexpected put down at some point. If you haven’t (lucky you!), don’t feel left out… you probably will.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you encounter your own Mr/Ms Rude…

  • DON'T take Mr/Ms Rude too seriously. They are most likely not a happy person and get some sort of twisted pleasure in abusing their position of power and being horrible to others.
  • DON'T resort to abuse. You may be tempted to fling petty abuse back at Mr/Ms Rude, but don’t rise to their level. Petty bickering doesn’t reflect well on anyone.
  • DON'T get in a fight. You’re not in a Tarantino movie, so violence is not the answer. Take a deep breath and keep your hands to yourself.
  • DON'T let this stop you doing whatever it was you were doing when you received this criticism.
  • DO offer a well-timed witty retort. This is a fine line though. You want to silence your adversary with a clever one-liner and not make the situation worse by provoking a petty exchange. If inspiration doesn’t come to you in the spur of the moment, don’t fret. There’s no shame in just walking away.
  • DO scribble down the encounter word for word and blog about it later. It may make a good story, give your friends a chuckle or even help someone you don’t know cope with a similar situation.
  • DO keep on making your lovely thing or doing whatever it is you do. Keep calm and persevere.

When you put yourself out there, you are bound to receive some negative feedback. You will be criticised and need to be alright with that. You can do it! You are, after all, made of strong stuff.

It’s just like figuring out who your target audience is…

  1. There are people who love what you do and will instantly want to buy whatever it is you sell.
  2. There are people who love what you do, but need a bit more time/convincing to buy your products.
  3. There are people who will never like what you do and will never buy into your brand. But who cares! They are not your target audience. Don’t waste your time worrying about them.

Keep creating whatever it is you create and surround yourself with people who will support you on your journey.

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Sure, a little constructive criticism is often helpful, but in the end, trust your gut and be true to yourself and your brand.

Getting back to The London Book Fair…

I’m really glad I went. LBF is full of potential, full of opportunity and there’s lots to do, including a plentiful offering of talks on a great variety of subjects. The ones I stuck through to the end were ‘The Book as a Brand Platform’ and ‘The Value of Literary Festivals: Do They Sell More Books?’. Both compelling topics with excellent panels.

So, the plan is now to get my book into loads of nice shops and market the heck out of it. This is pretty much what I was going to do anyway, but, hey, I had an adventure, have some fresh leads to approach and also made some new friends. Thanks to Jessica and Alex, Sandhya and Barb for their wonderful company and for helping make the fair an overwhelmingly positive experience! ☺

To everyone else… why not go on your own adventure at The London Book Fair next year? You have nothing to lose. Perhaps I’ll see you there.