Although I've been to the London Book Fair a few times before, today was my first visit as an illustrator and I have to confess I felt a little nervous! Although I share my illustrations online, I rarely share them face to face when I can actually see an immediate reaction. I spent some time last week printing out a selection of my latest drawings to create an up to date portfolio, packed up some copies of my books and some postcards to give to people and set off.
I started the day by attending some seminar sessions, followed by a good browse around the stands and then spent the afternoon in the Children's Publishing area listening to art directors and having a one to one portfolio review. I thought I'd share a few notes on what I learnt today.
1. A lot of the fair is about the business of books. It's a great opportunity for the industry to get together to have meetings and network in one place, which means being new to it can feel a little intimidating. People are rushing everywhere keeping to their schedules while you wonder round wide-eyed. Most of the big publishers have huge stands with lots of tables where colleagues and visitors are talking intensely. It's helpful to know that approaching stands to speak to editors or art directors on spec may not work as appointments are often pre-planned. However, the majority of publishers I spoke to were very happy for me to leave samples and to chat about their submissions policies.
2. Head for the area that is relevant to you. The fair is split into sections, Authors HQ and the Children's Hub for example. The floor space is huge so wear comfy shoes, allow plenty of time to get from A to B and spend a little time studying the map to ensure you know where you're going. Give yourself breaks and try not to worry too much about what everyone else is doing!
3. The Insight Seminar Programme is brilliant and worth the entry fee alone. As I'm relatively new to publishing I am still learning a lot (!) and the fair runs almost 200 conference sessions about all manner of subjects with a whole host of experts. The timetable is published on the fair website. Today I joined sessions about demystifying book distribution with Ingram Spark and getting started with Kindle Direct Publishing and I also listened to a presentation about book PR & Marketing. Most sessions are about 45 minutes long and importantly the speakers are always very available for questions both during and after their session.
4. Take opportunities. When I was reading about the fair a few weeks ago, I noticed there was an Illustrator's Afternoon taking place in the Children's Publishing area, which included the chance to have your portfolio reviewed by an art director. After being so absorbed in independently publishing An Amazing Alphabet of Cake I thought it would be really interesting to be brave and to get a professional opinion on my work so I booked a slot. I met with a lovely lady, Strawberrie Donnelly from Scholastic, who gave me some really helpful and encouraging feedback and advice. Although I am really enjoying working independently, I also love collaborating on projects and it was great to investigate a little about whether my style is going in the right direction to make that possible. If you are an illustrator, I would highly recommend making a note to sign up for a portfolio review next year!
5. As a writer and illustrator I also love the fact there are some wonderful opportunities to see authors being interviewed. I didn't have time to go along to any today but enjoyed an impromptu brief speech by Author Of The Day Joanna Trollope who addressed the crowd of writers who were gathered at Author HQ. Joanna talked about how important failure is and how it is just part of your story. She also spoke about her process and how she loves to note down all sorts of things about people all the time. A turn of phrase, what people choose to wear and what that says about them, small habits people have, even things like what art they like. Joanna mentioned that she feels like, "Fiction is where we learn more about life than anywhere else..."
I hope you get the opportunity to visit the London Book Fair, if not this year, in the future. If you have an interest in books from any angle, it really is a great place to learn and to enjoy the company of people who love stories just as much as you do.