Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 20, 2012


I asked Tracey Baptiste, the author of ANGEL’S GRACE, to take good notes during Lionel Bender’s Workshop about visiting book fairs. She did and here is the article she wrote to share with you:

Lionel Bender works at Bender Richardson White, a book packager in the UK. BRW does not advertise, tweet, or blog. They don’t need to. All of their contacts come through attending book fairs, and they’ve been successful for 25 years doing it that way. As he says, “real social networking is face to face.”

Lionel wanted to know how many of us published authors had been discouraged from attending book fairs by our editors or even our agents. There were a few hands (mine included). He thinks it’s ridiculous for authors not to attend. In his opinion, book fairs are the best place to learn about the industry, make great contacts, and find work (though you probably won’t find work immediately).

Last week, Lionel attended BEA (Book Expo America) in New York. He showed the huge catalog of participants that included publisher names, contact information, and a little information on recent books. “It’s invaluable information,” he said. “The front says the price of the book is $100, and it’s the best $100 you can spend.” As it turns out it costs individuals $100 to attend BEA and see the exhibits. The workshops have additional fees.

BEA isn’t the only book fair, and it isn’t even the best. In the United States there is also ALA (American Library Association) and IRA (International Reading Association) book fairs. These two are great for educational publishing. But the biggest and best book fair in the world is Bologna. SCBWI has a booth at the Bologna book fair. You can exhibit your work there. One fair to avoid? Frankfurt. It’s too big and people there won’t talk to authors and illustrators. So don’t bother to go.

The important thing is to be prepared when you attend. Knowing how the system works will land you valuable information, like someone’s email address. Lionel puts out a book fair guide that you can purchase if you send an email to him at But he did offer some sage advice in the workshop.

Be polite: While this seems obvious, he felt it was worth mentioning. People will help you if you are polite.

Go to the right fair on the right day: As we’ve seen above, not all fairs are created equal.

Try to get an email address: No one will remember a detailed meeting at the fair, so don’t bother to go for a long conversation. Instead, get an email address so that you can follow up with someone later, when they have more time to devote to your idea. A word of caution: If you are going to pitch, don’t get too specific.

It’s like dating or going into battle: In both cases, you have to try to break down the person’s defenses, and get them to open up.

Go yourself: Many agents or editors say that they will go in your stead, but they may not report back everything they found out. Plus, it’s a good learning opportunity for you, so it’s best if you go yourself.

Learn: A lot of attending book fairs is learning. You will find out about the industry, about what publishers are looking for, what they’re putting out now. It is the best way to be on the cutting edge of what publishers are looking for, and stay ahead of the “bandwagon.”

Which is better, book fairs or writing conferences? Lionel felt that writing conferences are great at the beginning of your career. But sooner or later you will have attended too many conferences. You need to stop learning and go out and apply what you’ve learned. You need to build your career.

Book fairs can be costly, but usually exhibition-only tickets are less than $50. BEA is $100, but the SCBWI gives members a $50 discount. Look at it as an investment, and weigh the cost against the potential benefit.

At a book fair, you will meet publishers who are there to sell books to bookstores, supermarkets, schools, etc. At international book fairs, publishers buy rights to foreign books. There are often author signings (this year, there were complaints of too many book signings at BEA). Publishers often give away copies of books. There are also a lot of lectures and workshops.

When you attend a book fair, you will walk away with knowledge of what each publishers is going to do/publish next, you will identify your target publishers, you will make contacts, gather ideas, collect catalogs, look at foreign publishers’ work, survey illustrators, you can exhibit your own work, and learn about publishing in general. You can also investigate the digital revolution in publishing. But probably the most important thing you will do at a book fair, is network.


What happens at a book fair:

• Publishers are there to sell to schools, bookstores, supermarkets, etc.
• At international fairs, publishers buy rights to foreign books
• Author signings (there were complaints of too many at BEA this year)
• Publishers give away copies of books
• Lots of talks/workshops

What you will walk away from a book fair with:

• Knowledge of what each publisher is going to do/publish
• Identify target publishers
• Make contacts
• Gather ideas
• Collect catalogs
• Look at foreign publishers’ work
• Survey illustrators
• Exhibit your work
• Learn about publishing
• Investigate digital revolution
• Network

Watch Kate DiCamillo Conference Video

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Tracey, this is an EXCELLENT article!!! You know, Kathy, the “Article Writer” idea was a good one, but actually reading this kind of valuable info that was gleaned from our conference REALLY hits home. This makes me SO want to attend a Book Fair now! lol

    And a video of Kate’s talk?!!!! The past two years, just from pure exhaustion, my eyes would close uncontrollably during our End Keynote Speaker’s speeches. Last year Holly McGhee also recorded her speech—thankfully—and I’m so glad they recorded Kate’s this year!

    Thanks for posting all this! 😀


  2. Ah, I thought it was going to be the WHOLE speech! This was so much fun to watch (though the music was more in the foreground than the back) and see Mimi doing her thing, too 🙂

    Of course, on YouTube you’re led to other videos, so I clicked on the one when they were in Maplewood, probably at Holly’s house, and that was fun. I have now been led to a PLETHORA of “Kate” videos! OK, so now, how should I spend my day? Well, I can’t spend it watching videos, but I and spend part of my night that way 🙂 hehehe…


  3. Very helpful! I did not know about the SCBWI discount for BEA – that seals the deal for next year.


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