March 22, 2019

Everyone we saw at the London Book Fair 2019


The London Book Fair: big. (‘The London Book Fair 2017’ by Peter Trimming, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The London Book Fair can be a pretty overwhelming place.

As one of the biggest trade fairs in the world, you can expect a LOT of people to show up—many of them with hugely diverse reasons for being there. Some are busy, some are leisurely—some, you’ll never see at all, because they’re trapped in some distant corner of the Kensington Olympia that has only been written in legend (Hall 7, for example). But who are all these people? Well, we’ve been around the block a few times now (literally—sometimes it’s good to just pace, you know?), and we reckon we’ve got the measure of things. So let us take you behind the traditional wave of big name announcements (as reported by Sian Cain in The Guardian, and elsewhere) to present to you, the indisputably authoritative guide to everyone you’re likely to encounter at LBF…


Editors: These guys have it the worst. With a lot of ground to cover during the fair, you may only see them as a passing blur. They zigzag perilously down the aisles, only stopping to emit a frenzied “hiya!” to someone they only only ever see at trade fairs even though they work in the same office—or to join the cafe queue, eyes swinging wildly over their smartphone all the while, to refill their bamboo keep-cup with “as much flat white as you can fit in there,” which they then gather in close, along with their preciously-guarded schedule. If you can catch up with them, wish them luck. They will need it.

Publicists: The most hardcore of publicists will spend every waking hour sitting in seminars furiously scribbling down words like “engagement” and “experience”—while also making sure that the famous author they’ve been put in charge of photographing next to their stand hasn’t boarded an elevator to the International Rights Centre by accident. (No-one needs to see that unless they absolutely have to.) They’re also probably composing about twenty individual press releases in their heads, so bear with them.

Authors: Authors fall into two categories at LBF – the properly famous celebrity ones (Ian McEwan, Elif Shafak and Brian May all showed up this year) who have been invited to speak and/or pose for pictures with their latest book … and the ones who cart their self-published masterpiece around in a gigantic suitcase, foisting copies upon anyone who has ‘agent’ written on their badge (authors take note: this is *not* the best tactic). Despite their slightly misguided methods, the latter should be treated courteously: they have probably been given some bad advice down the line—and you certainly can’t fault their ambition.

First-time Fair People: Head up to any nearby balcony and you’ll see them, lined up, all taking a very similar picture of the vast sea of stands that make up LBF’s unique vista (it actually is quite impressive.) Fresh-faced, newly in love with the industry, they will only see a tiny fraction of the whole thing due to being distracted by something shiny about twenty minutes in. But good luck to ’em: we can’t all be jaded husks, now, can we?

Agents: Far away, in a land called the International Rights Centre, live the agents. The IRC is where all the real stuff goes down and looks appropriately … er, how can I put this nicely … businesslike. It’s pretty likely you won’t see them, but if you do: bring them snacks, and water. Many of them won’t have seen daylight for many hours, so if you have a spare SAD lamp handy, you might want to bring that along, too. Note: if you see one on day three, they won’t have a voice left. That’s just a fact. So pack some cough sweets and listen close.

People who thought LBF was a place to buy books and are now very confused: Every year.


So, who did we like the most? The Latvians win again, of course, with their isolation capsule—providing support for introverts everywhere. Although when I went over there, someone was having a meeting inside. Gotta love that hustle!



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.