Book fairs are wonderful.  They are also terrifying.  Where else can you find tens of thousands of highly passionate literary fiends massing together to further the art form that is the book?  Where else can you find teeming crowds of people determined to find their next bit of reading material, and eager to simply browse among hundreds of tables of books and authors on display in order to find it?  Simply put: nowhere.  The book fair is an experience unparalleled by anything else in the reading and writing world, and because it most often reflects the best aspects of the writing and reading and publishing processes, it has quickly evolved to make room for you, the self-publishing author.  Many self-publishing platforms and hybrid publishing companies send representatives to book fairs.  Many, like Outskirts Press, will even sponsor booths in order to feature self-published books at home and abroad.

London Book Fair

Case in point, the 2014 London Book Fair is world-renowned & well-attended.


So, what do you need to know about book fairs?

First, you need to know your audience. 

What kind of person attends a book fair?  Interestingly, the London Book Fair has already answered that question and thoroughly; according to the LBF website, the 2015 event drew exhibitors from 60 countries and some 25,000 attendees from 124 countries.  In attendance also were around 900 members of the media, also from all over the world.  Since Planet Earth only sports around 196 countries at the moment, this means that the London Book Fair managed to represent at least 60% of the world’s population in some way, shape, or form!  Not every book fair can lay claim to such a draw, of course, but it serves as a good example of the power of books to bring people together.

There is no one-size-fits-all description for who attends a book fair.  The LBF welcomes “anyone who is involved with the creation, distribution, sale or treatment of content.  Authors, talent scouts, editors, designers, digital gurus, all walk the floor, meeting, talking, observing, discovering.”  I’d like to re-emphasize the digital gurus part of that sentence, since the LBF had 400 delegates at the Publishing for Digital Minds Conference.  If you’re a self-publishing author who’s looking to make a break into digital formats–or perhaps digital formats are your only or preferred option–there is still room for you at a book fair!  Whether you go as an attendee, a vendor, or wholly solo, the conversations you begin and the display zone in which your book is featured will reflect your digital-friendly nature.  Often, fair-goers will pause, snap a picture of a QR code, and queue new ebooks for immediate or future download–on the spot!  That’s the power of the digital-friendly book fair.

London Book Fair

Second, you need to know you belong there.

I know that it’s easy to think of book fairs as the stomping ground of the New York Times bestseller list and not for midlist authors–much less self-starting indie authors!  But making the leap to recognizing the value and worthiness of your book to keep those Big Names company at a book fair is an important one to make.  I can’t necessarily teleport to your location and give you a pep talk, but I can use this space to encourage you, I hope.  Your book is wonderful.  It needs to be read.  Critical acclaim and a blurb in notoriously biased magazines or ranking in notoriously rigged bestseller lists  doesn’t make a book better or more inherently deserving.  It just means someone with the right access to people and time and resources put out a book perfectly timed to fit into the publishing machine.

But you’re already a rebel.  You’re already striking out on your own, dispensing with the false and burdensome values of traditional publishing.  You and your book are free to take advantage of scaffolding like book fairs without being shackled to the rest of it, and your book is a bonafide example of an author designing and creating and publishing exactly what he or she envisioned.  That kind of artistic integrity creates its own gravity, its own magnetic attraction to readers.  Fair-goers will pick up on that authenticity right away!

Third, you need to make your book the star of the show.

What’s the trick to making sure fair-goers notice your book?  Creating intimacy in a warehouse-like environment.  If this sounds like an impossible task, let me be the first to assure you that it’s not.  Take a look around you whenever you next step foot in a mall or retail space, public library, or family-friendly health clinic.  How do those professionals section off space and create a warm and welcoming atmosphere?  Take note of what you personally respond to–because your ideal readers will most likely respond to the same.

London Book Fair

Often a busy or crowded space isn’t the most comfortable environment to spend time talking or browsing for new reading material.  Think of Starbucks–and of bookstores like Denver’s the Tattered Cover.  Both of these companies use small nooks to great effect, and it’s not by just packing in a lot of stuff and posters and wallpapering the whole area with product information.  A book fair is not a bookstore; it doesn’t revolve around books.  A book fair revolves around authors and the worlds that they create.  People can order whatever they like off of Amazon and have it in their hands with far less expense of time and energy and money than attending a book fair–but people still flock to them!  And why?  Because they want to participate in the social world of books.  They want to meet the people who make books happen.  They want to meet you.

So, how do you make your book the star of the show?  You winnow down your display and your presence to the absolute essentials, and you focus on building human connections with the people there.  And the London Book Fair is just the beginning–your book could just as easily find new readers in Beijing or Frankfurt!  All you need is the confidence to go, and perhaps the support of those who have gone before.

Always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

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