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The London Book Fair: Another Lesson

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What the heck, I thought, might as well go to England and attend
the London Book Fair. Might learn something. I can stay with the author of
a book we’re publishing and can maybe even sell some foreign rights to
some of the books we’ve already published. Or at least I can find a United
Kingdom distributor for our books. I mean, how hard should that be? Our
books are in English, after

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I got prepared:  I
checked out the Web site ahead of time, and that helped a bit. It let me
know where and when it would be held and how much it would cost. It also
let me know there’d be a hundred or more foreign presses looking for
rights to publish books in their country, another hundred or more trying
to sell rights to others. And I learned there’d be regular seminars about
publishing on the Web (a hot topic, for sure), about marketing and selling
books in Africa, about reaching the children’s market, about copyright
problems internationally, and about self-publishing. This was no PMA
Publishers’ University, but it didn’t sound bad.

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And as a PMA member, I thought I’d check to see if I could get into
the show under the association’s name (agreeing, of course, to help in
their booth). And it worked. PMA Director Jan Nathan told me to come on in
and she’d put me on the pass list. So I helped her (a wee bit, to tell the

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I’d been to regional book shows, and I had even attended the Book
Expo America last spring in California, but I certainly wasn’t prepared
for this. Here’s some of what I “shoulda done”:

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  I shoulda realized
that the UK isn’t really hungry for books from a small literary press like
ours. If I could get an author
to tour England, then maybe I
could pick up a distributor for that book. But <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>why would Brits walk into a
bookstore and want to buy a book by one of our authors who they would
never have heard of? I’d have to be willing to do some serious promotion
over there if I wanted to do
any serious selling.

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  I shoulda made sure
I’d had appointments for foreign rights buyers if I really wanted to sell
to them. In fact, I wouldn’t have even been allowed into the foreign
rights section if I hadn’t met the <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Publishers Weekly representative
who let me use his name tag to get into that area. Guards were posted at
the gates.

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  I shoulda known that
publishers in Germany aren’t that interested in buying rights to a book of
ours which was initially published in a run of 1,000 and which hadn’t sold
out in over two years.

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  I shoulda spent more
time designing a special catalog for the show which would emphasize the
marketability of the books, which would have given <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>some clue as to why a publisher
might want to translate one of our books into Norwegian, or Spanish, or

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So let’s see. What’s the bottom line here? My ticket cost me $418
round trip. The Book Fair program cost me $25. Underground fare for the
three days from my author’s place to the Book Fair was about $15. (Lucky
for me I had a place to stay in this rather expensive city.) Food at the
fair was about $15. That was it for my costs. I got off cheap. And what
did I get for my investment? Well, I do have some publishers who have
expressed some interest in
seeing a couple of our upcoming publications. And I got a lot of work done
on the book I’m doing with my British author. And I learned a lot about
what foreign publishers are interested in by hanging around the PMA booth
(and more importantly, by talking with Jan Nathan during the lulls in the
action). And it is a kick, I gotta admit, to walk around such a big book
fair and see the displays, talk with the people, listen to the various

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All in all, I probably “shoulda” stayed home. But London really is
a pretty cool place to visit, and besides the implosion of the Kingdome, I
really didn’t miss that much in the Northwest. I think other presses with
more specific niche audiences might be able to do much better than I did.
New Age seemed to be hot. So did health. And business. And computer
technology. Military history also appeared to me to be of great interest.
Oh, and sex.

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I gotta admit, though, that these aren’t exactly the kinds of books
my press publishes. Maybe we should.

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor June, 2000, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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