Book Fair Bewares

The London Book Fair is in full swing right now. Book Expo America is coming up next month. Throughout the year, book fairs draw crowds of publishers, agents, and industry professionals of all kinds to promote their products, take stock of the competition, and make rights and other business deals.

Authors are drawn to book fairs too. Some come to view the scene, soak up the atmosphere, meet with their friends or their agents or their editors. Some self-published authors buy space to sell and promote their own books. Many aspiring authors come in hopes of making connections and maybe even landing that elusive book deal (though this is largely a pipe dream; book fairs are for the book industry, not for authors). Some come at their publishers’ invitation, to help promote their most recent works (for instance, Disney Editions has arranged for Ann to sign her new book next month at BEA).

If you’re a big name, or a hot debut author, your publisher may pick up the entire tab for your book fair attendance–from transportation to admission to meals. If you’re less prominent, it may expect you to pay your own way. What it will never do, however–if it’s a reputable publisher, that is–is ask you to pay a fee for book fair presence, or charge you for the expense of bringing either you or your books to a fair. Why? Well, reputable publishers don’t expect their authors to pay fees of any kind. Just as important, selling books and rights is not an “extra” that your publisher undertakes only under special circumstances–it’s the publisher’s primary job. It’s why the publisher is at the fair in the first place.

Less reputable publishers, by contrast–many of which use the majority of their marketing power not to sell books and rights but to turn their authors into customers–may see book fairs, and the mystique that surrounds them, as just another item they can hawk. Here are a few real-life examples.

In 2009, I blogged about SterlingHouse Publisher (SterlingHouse and its many imprints offer contracts requiring authors to buy large quantities of their own books), and its BEA book fair packages, which cost as much as $9,500. True, that jaw-dropping fee included perks–a signing in the SterlingHouse booth, free books, a poster, presence in a paid ad on the cover of PW. Nonetheless, the main benefit was to SterlingHouse, which, if it sold all its available attendance packages, stood to gross over $135,000. (SterlingHouse isn’t a listed exhibitor at this year’s BEA, so maybe that didn’t work out so well after all.)

Last year, PublishAmerica attempted to auction off a seat at its table at BEA. This year, it’s offering its authors the chance they deserve–to pay $69 to present their books to foreign publishers and agents at the London Book Fair–or, if simple presentation isn’t enough, $99 to treat their books with “urgency.” Alternatively or in addition, they can pay $99 for a Book Expo America Agent, who “will pro-actively promote and discuss your book among the many thousands of publishers, agents and TV and movie producers.” Uh huh. (Note the little box that appears on all the purchase pages: “Latest News: Research shows that our average customer purchases 7 books per order.”)

Strategic Book Publishing has a whole menu of book fair charges–$199 for an individual show, $499 for “Author in Booth,” $685 for an “All Shows Package,” $111 for translation sheets to market to foreign buyers. The prices it quotes to authors in emails (a number of which Writer Beware has seen) can be even higher–for instance, for last year’s Beijing Book Fair, “Author in Booth” cost $998 (transportation, meals, lodging, and books extra). If you wanted your book in the booth for longer than the half-day guaranteed by “Author in Booth”, you had to shell out an additional $298 for the “Book in Booth” option. Strategic attends numerous book fairs each year, and charges author fees for all of them.

Book fair exhibition packages are also sold by self-publishing companies. For instance, Llumina Press offers BEA “representation” via an ad in its catalog, with costs ranging from $159 for one-sixteenth of a page to $1,299 for a full page (it also recommends that authors buy at least 24 copies of their books to use as giveaways at the show). And self-pub service Xlibris will give you a press release, a place in the Combined Book Exhibit display, and a CBE catalog listing for $999 to $1,699, depending on the show you choose. (That’s a lot of dough, especially since you can pay CBE yourself to exhibit your title, and it will cost you just $195 to $295, plus up to $150 if you want a catalog ad.)

Self-pub companies at least are straightforward about their business model, but whether their book fair packages are a good investment is another question. Has any author ever sold rights or books as a result of buying one of these packages? I’ve never heard of any. Traditional publishers do acquire self-published books, but when this happens it’s usually as a result of strong sales, media exposure, word of mouth, or serendipity–not listings in book fair catalogs.

Publishers and publishing services aren’t the only ones seeking to make a profit on book fairs. Writer Beware knows of a number of dodgy literary agents who sell catalog space or charge their clients extra for book fair presence, and there are consultants and coaches–some qualified, some less so–who for hefty fees offer special book fair representation to unpublished and self-published authors.

In all these cases, the objective isn’t to represent you or to further your career, but to make money on you. It’s not about finding new markets for your work, it’s about finding new ways to turn you into a customer. By all means, attend a book fair if you want–but the only fee you should pay is for admission.


  1. er, I was the last Anonymous and I posted before seeing the antics of the other, less savoury anon. I hope you don't disable anon posting, because…I'm actually from a vanity press ^^; and they wouldn't like me posting these things AT ALL.

  2. My opinion of BEA is that IF you do not have to pay travel expenses AND you get in free, it's a great exposure to the vastness of the book industry and this year's trends. But if you are a micropublisher–whether it is with a subsidy press or your own company–forget about making any actual sales. Your table will be in the self-publishing "ghetto" and your books will just look pathetic.

    Frankly, you can just stay home, read other people's summaries of trends shown at BEA, and get about as much benefit. OK, sure, you can pick up a bunch of free ARCs at BEA, but there is probably not enough value in those to cover your travel expenses.

  3. Notice that Robert Fletcher has now changed his addresses to Houston and Ct. in his "introduction" at the London Book Fair. Also the extraordinary number of books he reports that he sells monthly in addition to other false information. How does this guy stay in business?

  4. >Boy is the IRS DUMB for letting this go on so long.<

    Anon honey, boy have you got me confused:)
    First of all, from what I've heard the US IRS ain't dumb, they are scarey and dangerous and if there is something to dig up on a high profile "charity" non-profit org, they will find it.
    Secondly, I looked up this Lisa's blog but all I could get from Google is some sort of Celtic site and didn't see any writing advice. Perhaps there is more then one site/blog, no idea, she's not high enough profile perhaps to turn up in a random g search.
    I know your getting more internet time then you should but you are entertaining:)

  5. Anonymous, SFWA is, like the AMA and the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors and a bajillion other professional advocacy and benefit groups, a nonprofit"business league" which is not subject to taxation. Here, I've Googled it for you.

    Since you're clearly not a member yourself, why do you care what the SFWA does with its funds any more than you care what the AMA or the Chicago Chamber of Commerce does with theirs? (For those who might consider being members, a reminder that the SFWA provides aid to members in crisis through the benevolent fund, legal assistance to members through the Griefcom, and information to members and all writers and readers through its website and publications–not to mention the Nebula Awards. Seems like pretty good use of an organization's dues from where I sit.)

    As for the ridiculous suggestion that Ann and Victoria get big slush-fund payouts from SFWA, puh-lease. Are you really suggesting that SFWA's officers–John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Robert Howe, and Eleanor Sterling Casil–are mismanaging the funds for which they have a fiduciary responsibility? To what end?

    Of course you're not actually suggesting that. You're just looking for mud to hurl at Ann and Victoria. You're only embarrassing yourself, you know.

  6. Anon @ 11:51 AM, do you think that all SFWA does is run Writer Beware? If so, I'd encourage you to do a little more research.

  7. I can honestly say book fairs are a waste of money. Having attended two Harlem Book fairs (2009 & 2010) I lost $700 trying to promote my self-published books.

    I get e-mails for all types of promotions like CushCity,($49 and they'll announce your book to a crowd and give it away, $69 to display it on a table., and one done through Lulu for $150 to display a book on a table) Delete, Delete Delete.

    The scams here fleece authors for more money than I lost attending those fairs. A rip off is a rip off and the advice here will save an author some money and time. There are more effective and cheaper ways to promote a book than a book fair. As another commenter posted, book selling is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time for a book to find an audience and paitence and preparation to build the word-of-mouth to get those sales. Sometimes it may be YEARS before people pick up and buy a book they saw somewhere. That's book sales, and authors need to understand that.

    Exposure- no one really cares about POD and self-published ones. I can tell you from experience that authors can get a few looks, but for the most part people will just pass your table by. For the price of the tables and supplies to stock those tables for those two fairs, I coulda bought a nice LED TV.

    Listen To Ann and Victoria and save your money. There are so many scams out there to take a writers' money

  8. Section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code provides for the exemption of business leagues which are not organized for profit and no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

  9. I am confused.So SFWA pays no taxes on its $500,000 assets and the $250,000 it collects each year from the writers? I thought money flows to the author. Why don't you pay to the Internal Revenue Service like we do? Where exactly did the charity money flow? To Ann and Victoria's home remodeling projects? If you belong to SFWA then you are paying no taxes on the fees and royalties they collect to run Writer Beware? Boy is the IRS DUMB for letting this go on so long. Visit Lisa Spangenberg's blog for great writing advice. Mike Gave

  10. Thanks for the good wishes on my Pirates of the Caribbean novel, JS.
    I sure hope readers who enjoyed the films will want to read the novel.

    And, in case anyone has forgotten, I am the resident EXPERT on "lizard people," courtesy of having written three V novels (including the novelization for the original miniseries) back in the 80's.

    I'll have to remember to pack either my ray gun or my cutlass when I go out. Those pesky lizard people could be lurking anywhere!

    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

    -A.C. Crispin
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
    Disney Editions
    May 17, 2011

  11. I think we can all see who knows what's up and who has an incoherent hate-on going. (Remember, everyone, SFWA is bad because they don't pay taxes and also Writer Beware and Absolute Write are the same thing and Victoria was on the grassy knoll and LIZARD PEOPLE.)

    Congrats on the BEA signings, Ann! I hope the book does brilliantly.

  12. Hmm, learned something new today. Granted, I think a lot of this stuff is common sense, but in the excitement and confusion, people have a tendency to not think, yeah?

    Got to say, all of Anon's comments and the replies to them were more entertaining than the article. Anon, you should really straighten out your argument and figure out what exactly it is you're trying to say. I'm not a Writer Beware poster, I clicked on the link sent from a friend, and I agree with a lot of other people who were kinda dissin' on you. Your argument lacks substance.

  13. As always, you do a wonderful job of informing us about all the horrible traps out there. And I'm very grateful to you!
    I just tweeted about how interesting this post is!

  14. Christine, you're right.

    I go to BEA most years, and I've seen the authors you mention, in the POD portion of the enormous hall, and it's very sad.

    If you walk by the booths and pause, some of the smarter authors will practically pounce on you in the hopes that you're a publishing industry pro, a real literary agent or an editor who works for a commercial publishing house. They want to give you their book, in the hope of salvaging something out of what they are realizing is a debacle. Those big foreign deals and subsidiary rights deals they were promised aren't materializing.

    Here they've spent money paying a literary agent upfront, and then their "literary agent," (and they don't make the connection because of the liberal use of aliases) finds them a "publisher," and they have to pay again.

    Then they paid AGAIN to come to the book fair. And they realize they're not signing in the "official" autograph area with authors whose names they recognize. Nope. They're stuck in their publisher's booth, with their stack of books, their brochures, and their bookmarks. (All of which they paid for.)

    It's no wonder some of them start to get a desperate look in their eyes.

    It's sad, but all Writer Beware can do is keep the information out there, so if they search for the truth, they'll find us.

    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

    -A.C. Crispin
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
    Disney Editions
    May 17, 2011

  15. I made my living for many years covering trade shows like BEA. The first was the 1969 Frankfurt Buchmesse, while I was still in the Army. Such event are always a crap shoot. Currently I am represented at the London Book Fair by International Titles, which has also represented me at Frankfurt, and having them do it is a lot less expensive than doing it myself, in terms of both time and money. All advertising and marketing, which this is,is hard to quantify in terms of direct results and even with a traditional publisher there has been very little effort shown except for those books designated for the "bestseller" track. Big firms have pushed the promotional effort back on authors for about 20 years now. This is why so many went over to self-publishing; if we have to do that, why not do it all? It came to me recently that if I had gotten a traditional publishing deal with a big publisher. "The Shenandoah Spy" would be out of print just when, because of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is most salable. Instead we will be at the West Virginia Book Fair in October,with a booth. We will be at the Fleeting Pages pop-up book store in Pittsburgh next month and we will always be available, in over 100 nations , on Amazon Kindle. Selling a book is a marathon, not a sprint and it requires making sales a priority.

  16. Anon, I am struggling to figure out what you think is so wrong with a web site or organization asking for donations? I'm not saying all of the ones you have listed do or do not but "donations" are optional. Not sending money to a web site does not limit your use of it. On the other hand many, MANY writers organizations charge a membership…. so your point is? eg:SCBWI, CANSCAIP (Canadian).

    Your posts make no sense and have nothing to do at all with fake "publishers" charging their poor naive writers huge sums of money to put a book on a shelf at a book fair. They are leading their book buying customers (the writers) to believe having a presence at a show or fair will further their career and sell their work. Right, at a booth at the very back of the show hall, in the self published area where NO ONE GOES!

  17. There's a corollary to the concept that "All money flows TOWARD the author." That is, if and only if you are traditionally published. I actually do not work for PA and I've been a faithful devotee of Writer Beware and the SFWA. If your faith has been reaffirmed you're missing a lot of facts and issues that you should be questioning. Unfortunately, I have lost faith in these organizations.

  18. Anonymous tax record guy, two words for your feeble attempts to sling mud about Writer Beware and SFWA: EPIC FAIL. My guess is you work for Publish America or one of the other people they expose as the frauds and ripoff artists they are. You comments are trying to divert the conversation from the need to understand the basic rule of publishing (All money flows TOWARD the author). You can tell a lot about people by the enemies they make. Thank you for reaffirming my faith in the work Writer Beware does. Due to your "efforts", I trust them even more now. 😀

  19. In 2009, attended BEA in New York City and opted for the T-shirt with my book info and cover on it. I had a meeting with an agent during the day and attended the Children's Book Author Breakfast.
    I received no offers, my agent meeting was uneventful and although I passed out loads of fliers promoting my new book, I couldn't track a single sale related to BEA. Nonetheless, BEA2009 was a huge success for me for several reasons.
    1: It was my 1st exposure to the world of publishing (the retail side of it) and I learned a great deal about the self-publishing revolution and its rise in the retail book market.
    2: I confirmed to my own satisfaction after numerous discussions and several gatherings at BEA2009 that my decision to go self-publishing was both correct and somewhat prescient. POD is the way of the future and I am in the forefront of that wave.
    3: I got to go to NY city for the 1st time!!! What a hoot! I had a blast in the days leading up to BEA2009 and the days following it. I stayed with a friend in Brooklyn and the train fare from Indiana and back was reasonable, so I got to go somewhere amazing for little expense.

    Overall, I would highly recommend attending BEA if at all possible, although if you do, go in with your eyes wide open and know that BEA will solve nothing, no doors will be flung open at your appearance and you will leave exhausted and spent. Still though, much can be gained and learned from networking with fellow authors and NY city is always the place to be… at least for a few days.

  20. "Writer Beware is the public face of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Committee on Writing Scams. We also receive sponsorship from the Mystery Writers of America….Writer Beware does not ask for, or accept, donations….we even refuse donations from writers. " I get it. It's just channeled from the mother ship.

  21. A very good set of advice. Flows along the business idea that it should be them paying you, not the other way around.

  22. RWA, SFWA, MWA, et al are non-profit trade organizations…I guess I'm not quite understanding the suspicions voiced by some posters here. How is buying an ad in "Romance Sells" or in the RWR comparable to the pseudo-services offered by the vanity presses mentioned in Victoria's post?

  23. Writer Beware isn't part of Absolute Write. Writer Beware and Absolute Write are two entirely separate entities.

    Victoria and I post on Absolute Write, just like thousands of other people, but that's our only connection to the site.

    Absolute Write DOES ask for donations…that's fine for them.

    Writer Beware does not ask for, or accept, donations. Gee, Anonymous, you must never have looked at our site to make such a mistake. We suggest you do your homework next time, Anonymous.


    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

    -A.C. Crispin
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
    Disney Editions
    May 17, 2011

  24. They claim that they do not accept donations. Yet, they encourage them on the Absolute Write site. "This is what you use if you want to become a Benefactor Member. In short, it costs us several hundreds of dollars a month just to host this website (not counting salaries, writer payments, newsletter hosting, etc.), and we're usually just getting by each month. If you can afford to contribute toward the cost of the boards, we'd really appreciate it." If someone want's to remain anonymous that is an option you have granted on this site. It still doesn't excuse you avoiding the issue presented. It's much easier to attack the anonymous individual to make yourself appear credible.

  25. Anonymous (and yes, I do know that the last 3 Anonymi are all the same Anonymous), your comments would carry more weight if they weren't, well, anonymous. Easy to sling mud when you don't use your real name.

    Jenny, I didn't know that RWA charges fees to members who want to sign in its BEA booth. Obviously RWA isn't a publisher–but in my opinion, if writers' groups want to provide signing opportunities for members, they should work with publishers to provide the books, and provide signing space for free.

  26. Phoenix Pick, Strauss' reprint publisher, isn't a listed exhibitor at this year's BEA either. How many employees does this conglomeration have? Their typesetting service looks awesome.

  27. RWA charges a fee to authors who are memebers to sign books at its BEA booth. Do you think this falls into the same category.

    RWA also charges hefty to authors fees for advertisements in publications it sends to members and, separately, to bookstores and librarians.

    The bulk of RWA's income comes from aspiring authors who pay these fees and its many contest fees.

    Where should the line be here?

  28. To Rogue Mutt: You may not get away with the sandwich board, or a chicken costume, or giving away branded chicken sandwiches, but you could certainly wear a T-shirt that shows a giant image of your book cover. Try VistaPrint or Zazzle. My wife sometimes sleeps in one of my book cover shirts — HOT!!

  29. Traditional publishers do acquire self-published books, but when this happens it's usually as a result of strong sales, media exposure, word of mouth, or serendipity–not listings in book fair catalogs.
    Exactly! I just had this happen to me; Permuted Press approached me with a book deal (that I've signed) to write a trilogy of books for them based off of sales of two self-published novellas (that will make up the bulk of the first of the three books); I was sitting on Amazon's Bestsellers' in Horror list for over a solid month in the low twenties, plus word of mouth had started to spread. I did not submit to them; they approached me. And it's only because I self-published eBooks on Kindle and Nook; I did not purchase listings for book fairs or anything and really hardly spent any money at all. 🙂 And Permuted hasn't asked me for a penny and never will.

  30. I'm not surprised that the person who accused Writer Beware of charging fees and "assessments" posted anonymously.

    Writer Beware has never charged a sou to writers, and have fun trying to prove we have. (Everyone needs a hobby, even trolls.)

    As Victoria said, we even refuse donations from writers.

    Trolls…bleah. The eczema of the internet.

    -Ann C. Crispin
    Chair, Writer Beware

    -A.C. Crispin
    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
    Disney Editions
    May 17, 2011

  31. Anonymous, what has SFWA, taxes, and membership fees to do with publishers that charge their authors money for book fairs?

    BTW, Writer Beware charges no fees or assessments. We don't even accept donations.

  32. WHy isn't SFWA paying any taxes? How dare you say don't pay fees when you collect fees and assessments and do not pay taxes on them. You should talk, you hypocrites! The only charity you take is for YOURSELVES

  33. Though it'd be even better if I wore a chicken costume and the sandwich board. Still cheaper than $9,500 and just as much publicity, especially when the police have to taser me and it gets on YouTube.

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