An Introduction to Attending Your First International Book Fair

Whether you are a seasoned publisher or just starting out with the idea of expanding your market outside of Canada, the international markets can be tantalizing and a bit overwhelming.

Written by industry expert and rights agent, Catherine Mitchell, Attending an International Book Fair: A Guide for First-Time Participants offers recommendations and expertise on how to make the most of attending an international book fair. And, while this report is designed precisely for those taking that important first step into the international publishing landscape, it is also a valuable resource for publishers who have already had first-hand experience at international fairs.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some excerpts from our market guide examining the main book fairs as the largest and most important for selling rights and conducting other export related sales. This week, we review Mitchell’s insights on the value of attending international book fairs, as well as some tips on how to choose the right fair.

Thinking about going to an international book fair?

As in any new venture, taking the time to learn as much as you can from those who have gone before you is important. So too is your own research on the various steps to make attending an international book fair attractive and profitable, along with knowledge on available funding. The right information can help you make informed decisions to achieve success in growing your sales as you become experienced in the wider world of rights sales.

To attend an international book fair involves a commitment of time and an outlay of financial resources. If your list has the likelihood for rights sales, then doing everything possible to ensure foreign revenue should be part of your sales strategy. Determining that potential can come from unsolicited interest from a great review, an author interview, or the alert eye of a foreign scout or agent. More often than not, interest arises from good publicity and promotion and solid planning at acquisition.

The decision to start selling rights is inherent in your head contract—meaning that you have acquired world rights for the author’s work in question. You have determined that having world rights, meaning having the right to license the work internationally, is the correct goal for the house on behalf of the author. Such terms as territory, royalty splits on rights, and export sales including book clubs and digital formats should be clearly understood before you go.

While it may appear daunting at first, selling rights can be incredibly exciting. Every publisher remembers their first fair, so don’t be shy. You will receive lots of hearty congratulations and likely frequent raising of glasses during these first social occasions. Take full advantage of this collective goodwill.

Choosing the right fair

There are a great number of international book fairs that occur over the course of the calendar year, many of which will seem as appealing as the next. If money and time were no object, one could be travelling and selling much of the year. However, that would be incredibly taxing as well as expensive and likely not the most effective use of time for any publisher. Livres Canada Books maintains a list of the upcoming major fairs on its website.

With so many fairs taking place throughout the year, how is one to decide which fair to attend? The general consensus is that it is better to concentrate on the main international fairs that have the most potential to maximize the odds of success. These include the London Book Fair (LBF) and Livre Paris (formerly the Salon du livre de Paris) usually held in March; the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF) for the children’s market, generally in April; the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) in October; and the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) in November.

Three of the five—Bologna, London, and Frankfurt—have a significant Canadian presence with a highly visible and attractive stand organized by Livres Canada Books, as well as a stand organized by Québec Édition. Francophone publishers have long been present at Livre Paris to buy and sell rights, and to meet with their distributors throughout French-speaking Europe and beyond. One doesn’t have to speak the language to succeed, but those with linguistic abilities may find these smaller fairs appealing. For first-time participants, attending one of the bigger fairs is advised before looking further afield.

Each fair highlights an annual featured country or guest of honour, shining a spotlight on literature from that particular market or linguistic region. In 2020, Canada will be the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair (October 14–18, 2020), an excellent reason to consider attending this event and capitalize on the opportunity to highlight all things Canadian. This news is expected to bring significant attention and excellent economic potential to our publishers in both official languages and to introduce a large audience of readers to a growing body of highly respected and internationally award-winning Canadian literature.

Once you have decided to take the plunge, keep in mind some of the following tips:

  • To keep up to date on upcoming book fairs and industry news, sign up for the Livres Canada Books newsletter. The monthly updates keep the industry informed of issues and concerns affecting Canadian publishers on rights and export sales.
  • Bookmark the Livres Canada Books website and consult their funding options for international travel through the FRMAP program.
  • New York-based Publishing Perspectives is a trade journal founded by the German Book Office to provide coverage of world markets for the industry, particularly on rights and licensing. Along with a well-respected daily newsletter, they publish daily magazines (print and digital) during the London and Frankfurt book fairs on industry news taking place on the floor.
  • The Frankfurt Book Fair provides detailed information on many international markets as well as detailed information about the fair.
  • For more detailed market profiles, the Livres Canada Books website has more than 20 market guides and reports on specific countries and regions, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America, as well as targeted reports on global digital marketing.
  • Support from the host cities adds to the ease in conducting business. The major fairs are held in cities equipped with excellent local transportation to the fair sites and are all well-serviced by the airlines.
  • A good meal after a long day of meetings is high on most peoples’ lists. The preferred establishments, by no means the most expensive, are often booked some time in advance.

Want to learn more? Download the full guide for more helpful resources and to make the most of your international book fair experience!

09/15/2017 | Book Fairs, Export, Market Guides