As I said in my last post, I recently attended the London Book Fair and had an amazing time. The fair is mostly geared towards agents and publishers selling international rights, but it can be a productive place for authors if they go about it in a professional manner.
This last detail is key. On more than one occasion I saw writers desperately pitching ideas to people who were not in a position to make a decision, or whipping out a manuscript faster than Jesse James in a gunfight. Since the fair is basically an international business meeting, most of the representatives at the booths were from marketing, not editorial. These folks are good sources of information for what direction the company is taking, what subjects are doing well and what aren't, and who to contact in editorial, but there's no point hard-selling busy people who can't accept your manuscript. A little soft peddling and some educated questions can land the right business card, however.
The majority of authors I came in contact with were self-published, and hung around the big Authorhouse booth. Some made some rather odd attempts at marketing. One fellow set up a little stand of bookmarks on top of the recycling bin, which led to some cynical remarks. Another shameless guy put up stickers inside all the stalls in the men's room. Not only is this going to create even worse subconscious associations than the recycling bin marketing campaign, but it's a pain in the ass for custodial services, who were stuck with the job of scraping them off.
Despite the sometimes embarassing company, I found the fair to be very helpful. If you're a writer and decide to go, please keep in mind that the fair is not geared towards you. Maintain a professional demeanor, have something to bring to the table (like prior publications), don't be annoying, and realize that this will mostly be a learning experience, not a fast-track to publishing success.
More insights and news from the London Book Fair coming up tomorrow!