by Lionel Bender


As a regular visitor to many major conference exhibit halls, book fairs, and publisher exhibits over some 28 years, I firmly believe that these events provide unique and unequaled opportunities for children’s book authors and illustrators to learn about their industry, the marketplace, and to network with publishers, freelancers, and others on whom they depend for successful careers. However, I am aware that many authors, editors, and illustrators don’t realize they can attend these events; believe that, if they have an agent, they don’t need to attend; are dissuaded from going; or believe the investment of time and money is not worthwhile.


In the States, there are national and regional book fairs and exhibitions held throughout the year organized by the American Library Association (ALA), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), National Council for Teachers of English (NCTA), American Association of School Librarians (AASL), International Literacy Association (ILA), education boards, and others. There is also Book Expo. Internationally, there are major book fairs in Bologna, London, Frankfurt, and Beijing. Attending the major book fairs may be costly for travel and accommodation, but local or regional fairs are easily accessed and affordable—entrance fees for the exhibit halls are usually less than $50. [Some publishers and publishing people do attend book festivals, but few if any of the following opportunities arise at such events.]


At book fairs and in conference exhibit halls you can achieve all or some of the following:


1. see what publishers have produced and, in many cases, are about to publish;


2. discover the most likely publishers for your work;


3. identify the editors or art editors you need to approach and get their contact details;


4. determine publishers’ procedures for submissions or applications;


5. collect publishers’ catalogs and sample books or have them sent to you or your school;


6. identify non-traditional outlets for your work;


7. attend author signing sessions and get an insight into book marketing and social networking;


8. sense new trends and get ideas for new projects by reviewing what others are doing;


9. see some digital developments on display and test them out;


10. attend workshops, presentations, and panels given by industry leaders;


11. network with other authors, illustrators, and freelancers and share information and experiences.


Do bear in mind that you can’t just turn up and expect success. You need to prepare in advance; have a plan of action on the day; and follow up after each fair. Also, you need to respect and acknowledge the business of fairs, and be friendly, polite … but a little pushy and firm! If you decide to visit a book fair, do find out about the format and focus of the fair before you go, and do seek as much advice as you can about how to try and achieve the maximum benefits. I find each and every book fair rewarding and, in one way or another, well worth the time, effort, and expense.


For details of key conference exhibitions and book fairs see the following websites:


Lionel Bender is an author, editor, and director of book packager Bender Richardson White (see:, which produces children’s illustrated nonfiction. His company offers an in-depth guide on maximizing opportunities at book fairs and conference exhibit halls. For details to purchase this contact Lionel at

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