Visiting the London Book Fair as an Unpublished Writer

Published on 6/27/2023

I was fortunate enough to attend the London Book Fair in April 2023 for the first time. I had just left my job to go freelance, and I was trying to invest in my future as a novelist. It wasn’t cheap, but honestly, it was so worth it, and I definitely plan to attend next year.

Did I get what I wanted out of it? Yes and no.

Despite everything online saying otherwise, I naively thought I’d be able to walk up to agents and chat with them. I didn’t think they’d sign me on the spot, but I thought I could get advice… and maybe even an email address. I was very much mistaken, and I have an embarrassingly crumpled copy of my opening chapters to worsen it.

The agents are kept separate from us common folk. You need a scheduled meeting to cross the barrier to them. I’m not really sure how you get this, but for next year I’ll definitely try to arrange that.

Despite this, I still got so much out of my time at the London Book Fair. I made great connections with other writers and listened to panels by experts. Here’s what you need to know about attending the London Book Fair, especially as an unpublished writer.

What to expect at the London Book Fair

To put it bluntly: expect absolute chaos.

That’s not to say that LBF is unorganised, simply that it is busy. I don’t know if it’s the effect of the pandemic, and perhaps I used to be more equipped for such things, but I was so overwhelmed walking in.

The place is absolutely filled with people, and everyone is rushing around. There are rows upon rows of stalls. Some you recognise as big names in publishing, and many are completely new names.

When you initially look at the map, you’ll feel absolutely lost. I was pretty panicked about finding the Author’s HQ. And once I had, I didn’t feel like I could leave it for fear of never returning. It had become my Narnia in the midst of the chaos.

Another thing that surprised me about the London Book Fair is how many people knew each other. Already in the queue to get in, people were greeting one another, discussing where their stalls were and more. I knew absolutely no one going in. But don’t worry, by the end, you’ve got a few familiar faces in the crowd.

There are talks happening all across LBF, and if you’re introverted or socially anxious like I am, you’ll want to make these a priority. They are a sweet relief from the terror of networking. They’re also very interesting!

As a writer, I mainly went to the talks at the Author’s HQ, but I also saw great ones on the influence of Tiktok on publishing, freedom of the written word, and bookselling trends across the globe.

How to prepare for the London Book Fair

Perhaps don’t do a Fleurine and print out your opening chapters, as bringing that home at the end of the week was humiliating, to say the least.

First things first, make sure to get the right ticket. If you’re there as an author, definitely sign up for The Writer’s Summit. It’s more expensive, but that was the most valuable part of LBF for me. I learned so much about the industry, including self-publishing, querying and writing residencies. I also met a lot of writers and we created a chat to keep each other motivated.

Note: The Writer’s Summit is held at a different location, so be sure to check where it is!

A lot of people had business cards, and I think I’d do the same going forward. It made swapping details much easier and just looked really cool. Consider having your Twitter handle on it, or any other platform you use as a writer.

Don’t plan anything for the evenings. Firstly, in case you meet people or attend one of the mixers at the end of the day. Secondly, because you will be exhausted. You will be socially drained. Take the time to rest so that you can give the next day your all.

Another reminder: make sure to print your badge before coming! This is a mistake that I saw a lot of people make. Print it ahead of time so that you can enter the venue with no issue.

I found it quite warm inside, and was quickly irritated by carrying my jacket around all day. By the second day, I didn’t bother with a jacket and settled for a chilly morning on my way there.

Tips for visiting the London Book Fair

1. I won’t say that everyone is as nervous as you are, as that simply wouldn’t be true. Some people have been attending for years, or might be those extroverts you hear rumours about. But I will say that many people feel nervous entering. I found that a great way to start a conversation was just to acknowledge this. I made a friend on my first day simply by asking if it was her first time there, and we bonded over how chaotic it all was. We’re still in touch, and I can’t wait to read her upcoming debut novel!

2. Don’t force networking. I hate that term, to be honest, as I think it makes us forget that it’s simply a conversation. Don’t speak to someone for the sake of it. Don’t ask an expert a question just to be seen. Focus on getting information and making actual connections. You could ask an expert an obvious question that they’ll forget ten minutes later, or you could swap information with another writer and keep in touch.

3. Bring a notebook and pen. There is going to be so much information thrown at you, and you’ll definitely need your notes later.

4. Bring snacks and a water bottle. There are many places to refill your bottle throughout the building. Stay hydrated and energised. You’ll be in a stuffy hall for hours and need it.

5. Speaking of the stuffy hall - escape it! On the third day, I finally took a short walk between two talks, and I was so grateful that I did. It made it far easier to focus and stay alert.

6. Arrive a bit early to walk around and get a feel for the place. It’s huge, so you’ll need some time to find where each speaking location is. Also, seats are near impossible to get at the Author’s HQ, so arrive early to snag a spot.

7. Don’t try to do it all. You can’t go to each talk. You can’t speak to each expert. Have realistic expectations and compassion for yourself. On the final day, I left at 3 pm because I was exhausted. I recognised that I didn’t have the mental capacity to take in more information or speak to people. You’re only human, don’t forget it.

8. Wear comfortable clothing! I was a little worried about the dress code, and my frantic Google searches didn’t really help. So what should you wear to LBF? Comfortable clothing. I saw some people in jeans and others in suits. Personally, I went for something in the middle, a kind of business casual. I was really happy with that decision, and glad I also prioritised comfort as it’s a lot of walking and sitting around.

I definitely recommend visiting the London Book Fair if you can. For me, it was a chance to display to myself that I’m serious about this, and that I’m willing to invest in myself and my writing. It was a chance to meet fellow writers, something I hadn’t even realised I was missing until now. The relief of having people that understand the soul-wrenching pain of querying and the inescapable doubt.

Visit the London Book Fair, but go in with realistic expectations and compassion for your limitations. This isn’t going to be a life-changing event, but rather a chance to geek out with fellow writers and readers.



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