How indie authors can make the most of international book fairs – Tom Chalmers | Guest Post

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With the London Book Fair just around the corner, Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License, evaluates how indie authors can make international book fairs work for them

A question we hear day in, day out from authors is, how can we get our work in front of the right people? Closely followed by, my book focuses on a certain country or countries, how can I break into those markets?
And when I say the right people, I could easily have said rights people. Although, in truth, all too many authors remain unaware of the importance, and value attached to the rights they hold to their work.
Of course such questions are nothing new. Pardon the pun but the publishing industry can sometimes appear to be a closed book, especially when it comes to major international events such as book fairs. Despite being arguably the most important marketplace for books, media, rights and licences worldwide, authors have long been under-represented at such high profile events.
This has become increasingly clear from the overwhelming response we’ve had since launching the IPR License Rights Magazine, which represents member titles across a variety of international book fairs. It’s also abundantly clear that more and more authors are treating their writing as a small business in its own right. And it’s crystal clear that rights and licensing continues to play a huge role in this.
The largest of these international book fairs remain Frankfurt, London and, for children’s publishing, Bologna, which a huge number of publishers will attend. But there are many others (from Abu Dhabi to Zagreb) throughout the year, some of which are quite specialist, others more general, but all with the same ultimate purpose: to sell rights in books as widely as possible.
In my capacity as an independent publisher I’ve attended the London and Frankfurt book fairs many times now. For IPR License I went to the New Delhi World Book Fair for the first time this year and will soon be travelling to BookExpo America and the Beijing International Book Fair later in the year.
But, as mentioned, these are often mystical places to many indie and self-published authors. So let’s take a whistle-stop tour of book fairs from the publisher side of the coin and how indie authors can maximise their rights and licensing at international book fairs without actually being there.
Firstly, there is nothing mystical or magical about a book fair. Fundamentally it’s a place to discuss business via back to back meetings and networking events. They aren’t a place for the feint-hearted or where chance meetings lead to million pound deals.
The main halls at book fairs (and there can be lots – at Frankfurt and also New Delhi there is a shuttle bus from the entrance to some of the halls) are where each publisher has their stand. These can be huge – some even having an upper floor meeting space – and the export, rights and sales teams will conduct their meetings here, being visited by publishers, editors, wholesalers and booksellers.
There is usually also an agent’s centre where agents sit at tables in regimented lines to wait for each of their appointments, booked months in advance, to turn up. There is often security at the entrance preventing anyone from entering if they don’t have a pre-arranged meeting.
Editors generally do most of the footwork, running between the various halls and the agent’s centre for 20 to 30 minute appointments, back to back for the entire day. In the run up to a fair, agents will send out the manuscripts they hope to conclude deals for during the fair. Inevitably it’s a tiring time for editors as they try to read everything in advance of meetings. Meaning that for any author looking to secure a traditional publishing deal, the lead-up to any major book fair is certainly not the time to submit a manuscript.
It is now relatively rare (although it occasionally happens) for deals to be struck at the fair without any prior discussion, but it used to be what the fairs were all about. Now it’s more about keeping up personal relationships and taking the rare opportunity to discuss matters face to face with people from around the globe.
Book fairs do still represent a vital exchange of ideas and remain a great place to highlight work to a captive and influential international audience but they aren’t the be all and end all and they aren’t quite the closed shop they used to be.
Thanks to the huge strides forward made by the world of self-publishing, what was once a small dedicated author space in a segregated corner of a huge hall has grown rapidly into going some way to matching the space occupied by traditional links in the publishing chain. There are now more reasons for self-published and indie authors to attend. But that doesn’t mean camping out by the rights centre accosting agents and editors between meetings.
Authors can visit stands, engage with industry people, utilise networking events, author hubs and sit in on seminars which are insightful and educational. And for those not fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of such fairs then there are a host of technological resources which can help keep authors up to date on happenings and allow engagement without actually having to be in attendance.
Twitter, for example, will often provide live updates on events. You can easily narrow down relevant news and use this medium to try and engage with people in and around the book world that are a) interesting and informative and b) potentially good future contacts.
There are also opportunities such as the IPR Rights Magazine to highlight your work at such events in a cost effective manner. Let’s face it the vast majority of rights deals are now done on a day to day basis over email and over the phone and, with the advent of new internet technologies, we hope to see more rights deals happening via various platforms on which to highlight work.
We are also seeing an additional use of the platforms as a background tool – for instance if editors hear of a title they like or would like more information they can immediately view it on the platform, rather than having to make a note and look it up when they get home.
Authors can pay for physical exhibit space at the key book fairs, but many save this expense to work around having their work visible online. Now editors don’t just want to see the book, they want to see reviews and descriptions, categories and also the author’s social media presence and activity. And the author can be all set on this and enjoy the book fair resting in their favourite armchair.
In an age of fast and cheap communications, the reality is that the majority of deals are now done away from fairs and our members do appreciate this. But let’s also underline that fairs do still represent a vital exchange of ideas and they remain a great place to highlight work to a captive and influential international audience. Plus they are now starting to embrace the self-publishing and indie revolution which means that more opportunities will arise for a variety of authors, whether in attendance or from a distance.

Tom Chalmers is Managing Director of IPR License and Legend Press. He is a book industry entrepreneur and founder of seven companies. Recently he became Rights Advisor for The Alliance of Independent Authors.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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