Held at Earl's Court in Kensington, the London Book Fair occurs once a year and lasts three days. Similar book fairs are held around the world throughout the year, with Frankfurt and Bologna also extremely important for rights sales. Frankfurt is far and away the biggest, though London continues to grow. Bologna is for children's books, and as a result is both smaller and a bit calmer.
This is actually my first London Book Fair; in the past I attended Frankfurt but for various reasons it made sense to come to London instead this year. I'm a big fan of London generally - there's something to see on every street, the people are nice, and the food great. My only problem is the price of everything, but the tube is a solid transportation option and there are enough cheap eats to avoid breaking the bank.
To the fair itself. Imagine a huge convention center, split into columns and rows. Most publishers, distributors, or book sellers set up stands, with the bigger and nicer stands belonging to the larger houses. The stands are typically organized by country or language, though this is less a rule than a guide. Each stand will typically have a few of the publisher's books displayed, or in some cases some of their authors' names, and often there are a number of tables set up at each stand for meetings. Here is a link to some statistics from 2007.
One floor up is the International Rights Centre (IRC). This is where you'll find me and most of the agents (about 400 in total). There are numerous rows of tables manned by agents or rights managers from countries throughout the world, though some agents don't take a table at all and walk from table to table throughout the day. There's a bit of a buzz in the IRC, though it's not so loud as to cause a headache, and there are chairs a bit away from the tables to take breaks as needed.
To the meetings, which are the heart and soul of any rights fair. Typically thirty minutes long, they can be between just about anyone, including agents, agents and publishers, publishers and book sellers, publishers and authors, and publishers and distributors. My typical meeting consists of pitching my rights list, which is a collection of the titles I represent.
This is both the most difficult and most fun part of the fair for me; I have a very short space of time to pitch multiple titles to a person that I often just met for the first time. Some meetings are disasters, with your pitch falling on deaf ears. Others are more successful, and connections are made and friendships even formed.
Another important part of the fair is socializing. Whether it's a drink at a bar, dinner afterwards, or a swanky publishing party, these are great times to meet and make connections. People call it a night a bit earlier here because the tube stops running after midnight, but in Frankfurt the partying can go on until the early hours of the morning. Take together all the handshakes, the meetings, the partying, and the traveling, it's almost inevitable that people get sick towards the end of every fair.
OK, back to the madness!