London (or other) book fairs - worth attending?

I appreciate that this is simply another of the endless ways to procrastinate that I find to fill up the time between first sitting at my desk and realising that not a lot is going to happen to my word count, but is there any point in an unpublished author attending a trade event, like London Book Fair?

LBF is on in a couple of weeks, and it’s only up the road from me, so I thought it might be fun, or useful, or I don’t know, so mind-blowingly awful that I get a proper job (again).

I’m not looking to pitch - I’m not that pushy - but there are some interesting looking seminars, and I thought I would at least get some good people-watching out of the day. And perhaps seeing agents / publishers as human beings (or mortal enemies, depending on the cut of their gib) might help improve my querying, or vague understanding of ‘the market’.

Or, you know, provide some riveting blog material.

Any advice? Is this a waste of £25 and eight hours of hitting the delete key?

Having attended a number of these things on the editorial side of the counter, I can provide only two bits of advice:

  1. Yes, it’s worthwhile to go, if for no other reason than to see just who and what is out populates our inbred little business, and to see which house, and which editor, publishes the kinds of things you’d like to write–and to sell them.

  2. Don’t even think about trying to sell them anything at the fair. Editors attend these things to sell books, not buy them. You just want to collect some business cards and leave behind no unpleasant memories.

Then, once you know your targets, you get to work writing something they’ll want to buy.

A qualified “yes” — for all the reasons you give, plus one or two more.

Although some authors, publishers and agents are not good value when in the flesh on a podium , some are, with good advice to share and an entertaining gig to present. Margaret Atwood is a favourite of mine. I heard the agent Jonny Geller give a memorable talk, answer questions and speak to individuals afterwards at the London festival when I was starting out a few years ago. Likewise the author Graham Swift. There are certain pieces of advice from both that I still remember and value.

The cost is low compared, say, with the cost of spending a day in the audience of a “guru” like McKee or Truby.

And most fundamentally, writing is a very solitary, some would say lonely, business. Now and again I think it’s worth spending time in the company of others in the same trade, facing similar challenges and looking for similar solutions. Of course, most people at book festivals are readers, not writers, but even so if you’re a gregarious sort, you will often find a kindred writing spirit.


Hugh, Ahab, thanks for the words of wisdom, sounds like I am voluntarily going to go to Earl’s Court, which is a novelty in itself. I shall follow the mating calls of moleskines, shuffle my way into the Rankin session, and try not to acquire the Uzbeki rights to anything by mistake.