Curtis Brown literary agent Cathryn Summerhayes shares her top tips for surviving London Book Fair and what makes it so exciting.
Oh my god, LBF creeps up on you, doesn’t it? This is my (unlucky for some) 13th fair and it falls just before my 40th birthday—so I feel both old and excited!
You get to see the big picture at LBF. International publishing is eclectic and fearless and occasionally eccentric, but never dull. I have been in a few rights centres and I like London’s, because the coffee is better than Frankfurt’s.
It’s the chance meetings that make LBF exciting and terrifying. You might meet that Dutch publisher who has a secret passion for Venetian food and you happen to have a book on the subject. Or you might bump into the person you’ve been hiding from since you sold a book they were dying to buy... to another publisher.
I always love bumping into Miguel Aguilar, the wonderful PRH publisher from Spain, and Ravi Mirchandani from Picador—always good for gossip and a consoling hug. Also Liz Kerr from Norton and Lisa Baker from Aitken Alexander, the most glamorous and friendly women in publishing.
LBF is a proper chance to connect, to really get a feel for what people want and how books are being published all over the world. I also still believe that certain books are made by the fair if primary publisher and agent combine to really sell, sell, sell.
One of my first memories of LBF is not realising that each table at the rights centre was specifically allocated to a different agency, and setting up my paperwork, grabbing a cup of tea, sitting down and then swiftly being moved on by an angry Turkish sub-agent!
My top tip for surviving the fair is don’t assume each of your meetings has to run to exactly 30 minutes. If you have one thing to pitch, have a little chat, pitch it, then suggest a cup of tea. Breathe, be honest, and keep it short and focused.
The one thing you need with you is Berocca. Life-saving. If you can add a nip of vodka to it, all the better. But always have a corkscrew— you never know when you might need to celebrate.
My favourite place for coffee is anywhere that’s outside of the fair. Try to get outside at least once a day, or you will end up looking like a mole as you emerge blinking into the light after 20 meetings back.
The best bars or restaurants are the one all your lovely friends are in. Some of those just outside the fair are awful, but if you’re surrounded by the best in the business, you can ignore the smelly toilets and just feel grateful that you chose books as your career.