Tuesday 9 September 2014

How to Make the Most of Overseas Book Fairs

My spot at Le Livre Sur Les Quais Book Fair 5-7 Sept 2014
by Caroline Lawrence

My first overseas book fair was a bit of a disaster. I was newly published and when I received a letter inviting me to a Séance de Livres near Cannes, I thought it would be very glamorous. I ended up paying my own airfare and found myself in an industrial park outside Nice in a large warehouse sitting behind a small selection of my books in French. There were dozens of other authors there vying for the attention of very few buyers. Nobody spoke to me, much less bought a copy of any of my books. It was a depressing (and expensive) experience. My publishers could have warned me if only I’d asked, but I didn’t yet know how these things were done.

Tasja Dorkofikis (centre) with Caroline (right) at GEMS 
Last weekend I attended Le Livre Sur Les Quais in Switzerland. They paid my airfare, put me up in a lovely boutique hotel and – thanks to my gifted co-ordinator, Tasja Dorkofikis – got me gigs at two excellent bilingual schools before the Book Fair even opened.

The Book Fair itself is held in big tents in the picturesque town of Morges on the edge of Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman as the Swiss prefer to call it. In addition to giving panels, readings and seminars, authors sit in front of cartons of their books and behind trestle tables and make themselves available to sign books. I only signed a handful of books during a couple of hour-long slots, but because we’d had excellent sales at the two schools the day before I was very ‘zen’ about it. 

My only regret is that the timing wasn’t quite right for me to enjoy one of the literary cruises or attend many of the other events. For another author’s take on Le Livre Sur Les Quais, read Marina Sofia’s delightful post on this year’s event.

A literary cruise ships for Le Livre Sur Les Quais in Morges

In the meantime, here are some of my best tips for kidslit authors invited to international book fairs like the one in Morges.

I went to La Côte twice in one day: once to talk, once to sign!
1. Try to get a few school gigs before the book fair opens. That way you know you’ll have the chance to reach teachers, pupils and – most importantly – parents.

2. Make contact with someone who is au fait with your books as well as the local schools. Tasja found me – not the other way around – and I’m very glad she did. She matched me with two ideal schools: GEMS Academy in Etoy and La Cote in Aubonne.

Giving a talk on brand new equipment at GEMS Academy
3. Be flexible about audio-visual. Have at least three backup methods of displaying your show, including a low tech version of your talk. (I always bring my ancient Roman version of toilet paper: a sponge-on-a-stick: poo transcends space and time.)

4. Many children attending international schools don’t have English as their first language, even if it’s a British or American institution. So remember to speak clearly and slowly. Use body language, mime, slides and props as much as possible.

Bring books to give as prizes and gifts
5. Bring extra copies of your books in the relevant languages to give away as prizes to teachers for answering questions correctly. They will feel affirmed and they might even use your book as a class reader!

6. Believe it or not, some schools forget to tell their librarian that an author is visiting. Personally invite him or her to attend your talk and promise them a free gift as well.  

Be sure to sample the local delights!
7. Take the opportunity to see the local sights, enjoy the local cuisine, sample the local wine. Don't miss the opportunity to explore a new place. An industrial park can be as fascinating as a touristy street market and a croque monsieur as satisfying as foie gras

8. BUT... be willing to give up some sightseeing time to go back at the end of the school day to sell and sign books when parents arrive.

9. Children at both the schools I visited displayed the perfect balance of good behaviour and enthusiasm. However, some countries impose draconian behaviour rules on their pupils, while others allow kids to run wild. Keep in mind my made-up Latin motto: flexibilitas in omnibus!

10. There may be delayed flights, misunderstandings and small turnouts, but don’t be discouraged. Learn from them and chalk it up to experience or grist for the writer’s mill... and ENJOY!

Le Livre Sur Les Quais book tent

Caroline Lawrence is the author of 30+ books for children, mainly history-mystery stories.  


michelle lovric said...

what a powerhouse of energy you are, C! How your publishers must love what you put into these things too. These events are not for weaklings or shrinking violets. Bravissima

Ruan Peat said...

As a school librarian can I thank you for number 6! normally I do our organiseing but occasionally I find out when staff ask for pupils to be free at the right time that day! or even when they leave!!!!

Caroline Lawrence said...

We kidslit writers LOVE librarians! We will definitely resolve to pamper you more often! :-)