A brief guide to the London Book Fair

A brief guide to the London Book Fair

Olympia London, 12–14 March 2019

It’s nearly that time again! In just over a week, we’ll all be cramming ourselves back into the Olympia Exhibition Centre opposite Kensington Olympia station for the London Book Fair. This will be my fifth year at LBF, and although I’m probably still fairly new to it compared to many publishing veterans, I’d like to think I’m starting to get the hang of things a bit! So I’ve put together some tips for translators and for anyone who hasn’t visited before, which will hopefully give you a bit of an idea of what you can expect when you get there.

If you have any tips of your own to add or have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly.


Practical advice for all visitors:

  • If it’s your first time at LBF, it can be a bit confusing that the fair lasts for three whole days. You don’t need to go every day – in fact, if you don’t have many (or any) meetings booked in advance then that will be far too much time, and even just one day might well be enough. Make a list of everything you want to achieve, which events you want to attend, work out your travel plans and that will help you decide how many days you want to go for.
  • Use the LBF website. Look at the floorplan and exhibitor directory in advance, read the programme of talks and events and get an idea of what you want to go to so you don’t spend too much time wandering around aimlessly once you’re there. That being said, it’s always good to have some spare time just to absorb it all, especially at the beginning when a good walk-around can really help you get your bearings!
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Even if you plan to spend a fair bit of time sitting down in meetings or at talks, there will still be a lot of walking and you might have to go up and down stairs several times.
  • Take a bottle of water. There are a lot of food and drink options, but everything is predictably quite expensive so you might not want to buy too much once you get there. Of course, you should keep your receipts for everything you do buy so you can include them in your tax expenses.
  • Carry business cards and make sure they’re easily accessible. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to admit you’ve forgotten them, or making someone wait for ages while you root around in your bags to find them (we’ve all been there!). If you don’t have business cards, consider getting some made for next time. They don’t have to cost a lot (I got mine from Vistaprint and I’ve been really pleased with them) and they do help people remember you after the fair is over.
  • You may well not be able to charge any devices during the day as there are not many public sockets at all, so consider putting your phone in battery-saving mode or bringing a fully charged portable battery pack so you can recharge it during the day.
  • Be prepared to talk a lot, and consider bringing some sweets (Tic Tacs, cough sweets etc.) in case you get a tickly cough or sore throat.
  • Be brave. Introduce yourself to people, don’t be afraid to say hello. Publishing people are very friendly and will also be happy to meet new faces!
  • Bring a couple of pens and a notebook so you can take notes, as it’s quite overwhelming and you might find you forget things you hear, names of people you meet etc. very quickly. You’ll get a lot of interesting information so always make sure you have somewhere to store it. I’d recommend an old-school paper notebook over a laptop as things can happen quite fast and there won’t always be a table, so being able to scribble notes quickly on your lap is always handy.
  • You’ll also be given leaflets and other free stuff so I’d recommend taking a tote bag so you have somewhere to put it all! There are occasionally free tote bags at the fair but they tend to disappear quite quickly so don’t rely on that.
  • At the start of the day, get a map and a badge holder from the information desk, which you’ll walk past on the way in (if you don’t see it, just ask someone!). It’s always useful to have a floorplan to hand and your badge should be visible so people can see who you are.
  • There is a cloakroom available inside near the main entrance where you can leave your bags/coats. So if you have a suitcase, don’t worry that you’ll have to carry it around all day!
  • There are plenty of toilets around for use throughout the day.
  • It can all be quite overwhelming, as there will be a lot of people and it can get quite loud. It might also look like everyone else knows what they’re doing and that they all know each other already, but I promise you that’s not true! Be friendly, be approachable, relax and have fun! It’s a very rewarding experience. So just enjoy it!

Specific tips for translators:

  • As a translator, your visit will probably be organised around the Literary Translation Centre (LTC). There are plenty of talks and events on every day and there will always be a number of translators around to talk to, so if you’re feeling a bit lost then head over there and meet some friendly faces. The talks are great, though sadly the benches for the audience aren’t the most comfortable in the world!
  • The LTC events programme is already available online, so check it out in advance and make a note of what you want to go to. There are also various English PEN Literary Salons, which are also very worthwhile, so you might want to go to some of them.
  • If you do plan to spend time at the LTC, which is on the ground floor at the back of the hall, it’s worth knowing there’s a handy coffee cart and some toilets right by it. There are also a few tables where you can sit and chat, but it’s usually pretty busy so you might not always be able to rely on getting a table there.
  • You’ll have your badge on you, so make sure you keep that visible. It may be too late if you’ve already printed it, but be aware that when you order your LBF ticket, the information you enter will be printed on your badge. I’d recommend writing your name and then ‘Literary Translator’ as your job title, and then ‘Freelance’ or perhaps even your language combination as your company. Don’t write your name or ‘translator’ in the company box as well, or that will appear twice on your badge!
  • As well as meeting lots of lovely translators, it’s definitely worth walking around the whole fair and soaking in the atmosphere. Go and visit the different sections and publishers’ stands. The children’s section upstairs is always worth a visit, and you might want to poke your head into the International Rights Centre (IRC) upstairs. This is where the literary agents and scouts are. It’s hot, overcrowded and loud, the ceiling is too low and the tables too close together, but the people are fantastic and there’s always a brilliant buzz. There are also a couple of charging points for your phone or laptop, though again these are always very busy so don’t rely on being able to recharge during the day.
  • There are stands for individual countries as well, where there will be publishers/rights directors, example books (don’t take any off a publisher’s stand unless you’re given them, or unless it’s Thursday afternoon and people are trying to get rid of them!) and leaflets etc. There are often drinks receptions planned at these country stands as well during the week, so if you’re not sure if/when your relevant country is having theirs, go and ask on Tuesday. (There is a big joint stand for Germany/Austria/Switzerland and there will be drinks so if you’re a German translator feel free to contact me and ask for details.)
  • There are also drinks planned one evening after the fair for translators from all languages, organised by the Emerging Translators Network (an online forum for budding literary translators). Again, if you think this might be something for you, get in touch and I can give you more info on the benefits of the ETN and how to join.
  • Be aware that publishers and agents are extremely in-demand and will probably have booked up their schedules weeks ago. As an ex-editor I can say that many of them will probably have a good 15 half-hour meetings each day with one or two toilet breaks at most, and will be completely overwhelmed! So don’t turn up to an editor’s stand expecting to be able to just have an impromptu meeting with them. If you do pop up to the IRC and catch a foreign rights person in a break, you might be able to drop off your business card as you walk past their table, but be aware they might not be able to ask you to stop and chat! You could walk round and make a note of who is there though, which publishers have stands/books that appeal to you, or which agents from your source language country are there, so you can email them afterwards and introduce yourself.
  • Don’t be shy! Translators are lovely people and you can make a lot of valuable friends by attending these events and chatting to other freelancers. Chances are you’ll then meet them again at future events, so you know there’ll be familiar faces next time!

If you’d prefer to network with translators in a smaller space, there’s always the annual Translators Association (TA) Symposium too. It takes place the day before LBF starts, so it’s often referred to as LBF-1, or LBF minus 1. This year it’s on Monday 11 March and the title is ‘It’s Time to Talk’. More info and tickets can be found on the Society of Authors website. It’s a great way to start your LBF week and chat to other translators, and the panel talks are really useful too. There’s a discount available for members of the SoA (Society of Authors) or the ETN (Emerging Translators Network).

I think that’s probably enough tips for now! Don’t be daunted by the fair – it’s all very exciting and is a brilliant experience, and can be extremely worthwhile. I hope this has inspired you to come along, and I look forward to seeing you there!

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