Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Fairs: Are They Worth It for Self-Published Authors?

Frankfurt Book Fair
Updated 11/2/23

Large international book fairs, such as Frankfurt and Bologna, are where industry professionals meet to buy and sell rights, arrange for subsidiary rights, such as film and games, and scope out what's hot in the literary market.

Can self-published authors set up a table at international book fairs? Technically, no. But in 2013, Tina Seskis formed a shell publishing company (hers was the only published book on the list), and exhibited at Frankfurt. She ended up nabbing a $500,000 deal with HarperCollins.

In general, setting up a shell company is frowned upon, and venues are tightening up their restrictions. But you can still exhibit if you have self-published. Combined Book Exhibit offers self-publishers the opportunity to showcase their books (print or ebook) and/or advertise it for a few hundred, rather than a few thousand dollars. There is an annual membership fee of $150.

The question is: Should self-publishers invest a few hundred dollars? Showing your book at a book fair can be an advantage, provided you (the author) intend to make an appearance and know how to make a sale. Tina Seskis actually attended the Frankfurt Book Fair and set up a booth, so she was able to negotiate a deal. If you aren't there to represent yourself, and your book is merely displayed, it won't attract anyone's attention.

The other thing to consider is whether your book already has a track record. Most publishers are reluctant to make a deal with an author who has no fans, and whose books have not garnered significant sales. (Selling over 10,000 books in the first year is considered significant.)

The bottom line for first-time self-publishers is not to waste your money on an international book fair. However, if you happen to live near one of these events, it is worth attending as a member of the public, if only to get a taste of what is available to publishers.

While international book fairs may not be the best option for self-published authors, local and regional book fairs are another matter entirely. These present many opportunities for local authors to read, sell and sign books, and lead workshops. Local fairs are an excellent means of building a fan base, as well as making contact with other authors. If you would like to exhibit, costs are much lower than for international fairs, and the logistics are easier to manage. You can find out if there is a fair in your region by contacting your local chamber of commerce, or by googling "book fair" and your city.

Recommended reading

Read Jane Friedman's article on BEA before investing your time and money: Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA)

Indie Author Fringe advises against international book fairs: Authors, Don’t Waste your Money: Book Fair Bewares: David Gaughran

Debbie Young points out that even if you don't exhibit your book, fairs are a good opportunity for meeting people in the industry, attending talks, and learning about publishing: Publishing Conferences & Book Fairs – What’s In Them for Self-published Authors?

For a complete list of all international fairs (there are over a hundred) see: 2 Seas International Book Fair Calendar


International Book Fairs

New Delhi, India

The New Delhi World Book Fair is India's second oldest book fair after the Kolkata Book Fair. India is the third biggest market for English publications with almost 12,000 publishers that publish around 90,000 titles a year in more than 18 languages. Visitors come from India as well as the USA, Bangladesh, France, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Germany.

Bologna, Italy

The Bologna Children's Book Fair is the world's leading event for children's book authors and publishers. This is where all industry professionals involved with creating and publishing children's books buy and sell rights for books, translations, and for derived products like movies or animated series. Major awards are also given at the fair, the Bologna Ragazzi Awards, in four categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, New Horizons (for the non-Western world) and Opera Prima (for first works).
Olympia, London, UK

The London Book Fair is the second largest international book fair, after Frankfurt. Over 1700 exhibitors participate in The London Book Fair, representing a wide range of interests and markets within the publishing industry.

American Library Association Annual Conference
New Orleans, LA

The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world with more than 62,000 members. The ALA annual conference is one of the largest professional conferences in existence, typically drawing over 25,000 attendees.

Beijing, China

The Chinese market is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. With over 2 billion people, education is a high priority for the government. Every Chinese child is required to learn English when they enter school which puts English language content in high demand. The Beijing Book Fair is attended by over 30,000 people each year. In attendance are publishers, distributors, literary agents, consumers, digital media companies, film and production companies and bookstores.

Frankfurt Book Fair
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world's largest trade fair for books. With 7,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries representing book publishing, multimedia and technology companies, it is considered the most important book fair for international deals and trading.  Publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, academics, illustrators, service providers, film producers, translators, professional and trade associations, institutions, artists, authors, antiquarians, software and multimedia suppliers all participate in the events.

Tickets for individuals range from 19 Euros for one day to 30 euros for two days. Exhibition space costs 372 - 450 euros per square meter. Custom-designed stands can be over 40 square meters. There are additional charges to set up early. In addition there are lighting fees, furniture rentals, surcharges, which bring costs up to the thousands.

Major Book Fairs in the US

Brooklyn Book Festival

The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York City, presenting an array of national and international literary stars and emerging authors. One of America’s premier book festivals, this diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages to enjoy authors and the festival’s lively literary marketplace. If you live in New York, the publishing hub of the US, plan on attending this event.

National Book Festival

This yearly festival is held in Washington, DC and is sponsored by the Library of Congress. Tens of thousands of visitors from all over the country attend. The Library live-streamed the entire Main Stage event on its Facebook page, where it was watched by thousands of viewers. The Festival is free and open to the public.

The Miami Book Fair International

The Miami Book Fair International describes itself as an "eight-day literary party." The highlight of the event is the Festival of Authors, with more than 450 authors reading and discussing their work, including the Latin American and Spanish authors who participate in the IberoAmerican Authors Program. More than 250 publishers and booksellers exhibit and sell books, with special features like the antiquarians, who showcase signed first editions, original manuscripts and other collectibles. There are programs for children, workshops, presentations, and every kind of literary event you can think of.

Baltimore Book Festival

The Baltimore Book Festival is sponsored by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) is a non-profit organization that serves as Baltimore City’s official arts council, events agency and film office. 

Virginia Festival of the Book

The Virginia Festival of the Book is the largest community-based book event in the Mid-Atlantic region and has attracted audiences of more than 20,000 for each of the past thirteen years. Authors have ranged from international bestsellers to debut authors. Past participants include Rick Atkinson, Edward Ayers, David Baldacci, Maureen Corrigan, Edwidge Danticat, Kate DiCamillo, Rita Dove, Alan Furst, John Grisham, Jan Karon, Jim Lehrer, Frances Mayes, Colum McCann, David McCullough, Alice McDermott, Yewande Omotoso, Katherine Paterson, Jon Scieszka, Lisa Scottoline, Pete Seeger, Karin Slaughter, Alexander McCall Smith, Lee Smith, Bryan Stevenson, Joseph Stiglitz, Elizabeth Strout, Judith Viorst, and Charles Wright. The headliner for the 2018 Festival is Khizr Khan, author of An American Family and This Is Our Constitution.

Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival features 250 nationally and critically recognized authors, more than 20 venues including the State Capitol, 80 exhibitors, live music, local food trucks, family activities, and  opportunities to meet authors. Founded in 1995 by First Lady Laura Bush, the Festival has hosted thousands of notable and award-winning authors over the years, including Margaret Atwood, Robert Caro, Sandra Cisneros, Salman Rushdie, Cheryl Strayed, Walter Mosley, Molly Shannon, Frank McCourt, Ziggy Marley, Liz Carpenter, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and many others.

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

The LA Times Festival is held every year on the University of Southern California campus. Over 150,000 people typically attend the Festival, which features writers, poets, artists, filmmakers and musicians. Past participants have included Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle, Bryan Cranston, Cory Doctorow, and more writers and performers than I can count. Don't miss this event if you live in LA.

Louisiana Book Festival

This one-day annual festival held in Baton Rouge attracts tens of thousands of visitors. The event is sponsored by the State Library of Louisiana, the Louisiana Center for the Book, the Louisiana Library Foundation and local businesses.The festival features author signings and readings, workshops, exhibits, food, activities for children, and (of course) live music.

Chicago Tribune Printer's Row Lit Fest

The Printers Row Lit Fest was founded in 1985 by the Near South Planning Board to attract visitors to the Printers Row neighborhood (once the city's bookmaking hub). By 2002, it had grown to five city blocks (South Dearborn Street from Harrison to Polk, Harold Washington Library Center and Jones College Prep High School), attracting more than 100 booksellers from across the country displaying new, used and antiquarian books and featuring more than 200 authors participating in panels, discussions and a variety of other programs. It is now the largest literary festival in the Mid-West.

Jewish Book Festivals

There are more Jewish book festivals than I can name. You can find a list of them HERE. (If you type "Jewish Book Festivals" into a Google search, you will find dozens more.) Jewish culture places a high value on literacy and on literature. If you are a Jewish author, these are great events to participate in. 

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