A general guide to enjoying a book fair

Jan Guillou holds court.

Jan Guillou holds court.


I may be slightly slow, but until I decided to switch careers and dedicate my working hours to writing, I had never seriously considered attending a book trade fair. With hindsight, this was probably due to the half-baked notion that book fairs are fundamentally aimed at the publishing industry, and while this may well be true to a certain extent, it’s by no means the whole story. Book fairs are for everyone with an interest in reading and books. The general public is not only welcome, there is a good deal for non-publishing industry visitors to see, hear and enjoy.




Last month I attended the annual Gothenburg Book Fair for the second time. Having advanced from freshman to sophomore in terms of running the book fair gauntlet, I was better prepared: light clothing because so many people under so many lights gets hot, comfortable shoes for roaming up and down the aisles, and absolutely nothing in my handbag that I didn’t absolutely need because books weigh and – given the special fair prices – I would probably be buying a ton.

Once inside, it was business as usual. All Swedish publishing houses were represented, as were several international publishers, domestic book stores, magazines, newspapers, bookbinders, office suppliers, audio books, e-book readers, DVDs, fancy paper goods, t-shirts, etc.

In short, a zillion stands ranging from teeny tiny to large enough to hold a decent-sized stage and seating were stuffed systematically into several exhibition areas. Only I never understood the system. The larger stands, home to the bigger publishing houses, are relatively easy to spot. The problems start when you use them as mental markers for the location of other stands you wish to return to, only to realise the marker stand is square and uniformly visible from all four sides… Grab a programme with a hall layout. The art of map reading will never die until there is a sat nav app invented for trade fair navigation.

Perusing the programme beforehand is always an excellent idea, but the programme is small-print intensive and impossible to fully grasp who is speaking about what, where and when. Ring in and remember the agenda items you definitely wish to prioritise, but leave ample time to wander through the halls and discover talks and presentations on the way.

If you would like to meet a favourite author, a book fair is a wonderful opportunity to do so. Many well-known authors are scheduled to attend on at least one day during a 4-day fair, some simply to sign their latest publications, others to combine a signing with a short 20-30 minute interview by a representative from their publishing house. Check the programme to find out where and when they are appearing. Get to the stand in good time and, if you would like a book signed, buy it well before the interview begins to avoid having to queue twice (to first pay and then to meet the author) afterwards. Signings are time stealers, so choose wisely.

Many smaller stands have two-man stages and, in my opinion, this is where most of the interesting action takes place. It’s fun to celebrity spot and listen to successful writers discuss their craft and publications live, but these writers – some of whom are household names – can also be heard and appreciated via other media throughout the year. The smaller stages offer an opportunity to listen to lesser-known writers speak about books I had never heard of. One of the more worthwhile presentations I happened upon was held by a medic who spoke passionately about the mechanics of organ donation. Her book dealt with the need of organs, donors, and the whole process from an organ becoming available to the recovery period of the patient. Questions were asked and answered. Another small stage interview discussed the question of Hype. Who makes a book a bestseller – the author, the readers, the publishing house or the media? I have bought the book and will read it with keen interest.

Eight hours at a book fair have proven to be my limit. It’s hot, intensive, loud and exhilarating.

And heading home in the cosy seat of a high-speed train surrounded by a stash of new books evokes the truly delicious feeling of a day well spent.

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