Book fairs and literary festivals are both important events in the publishing world, but is there a difference between these two literary exhibitions? Before learning more about publishing and becoming the rights manager at Ooligan, I had always assumed they were interchangeable. In my mind, fairs and festivals were just two different ways of saying the same thing: an event for readers, authors, publishers, and more to come together and celebrate reading. While this remains true, there are a few key distinctions between these events that are helpful to know as a reader, author, and/or publishing professional.
Book or literary festivals are geared mainly toward readers and fans of books. They can last anywhere from a single day, such as our local Portland Book Festival, to up to three weeks, such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival. These festivals usually feature author speaking events, where authors and sometimes publishing professionals give talks about books, the writing process, and more. Readers get the chance to learn more about their favorite books and authors, and ask questions. Afterward, there are usually author signings, where attendees can get personalized, signed copies of their favorite books. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, publishers will have giveaways for advance copies of their upcoming releases or other kinds of giveaways—the amount of tote bags I’ve gotten from festivals is insane! Festivals for younger audiences, such as YALLFest, also often have fun games, food trucks, and more. The main purpose of book festivals is to serve as a fun gathering for all book lovers to come together and celebrate the joy of reading.
Book fairs, while also serving as a gathering place for book lovers, tend to differ in their main purpose. While some book fairs have an option for readers to come and visit, there usually aren’t any events such as talks, signings, or giveaways. These fairs are mainly for people working in publishing to promote themselves and/or their books. Publishers from around the world set up booths with their information and upcoming titles, and meet with other publishers to buy and sell rights. Fairs such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest book fair in the world, only have a few days that are open to the public to visit. The rest of the fair is spent facilitating meetings between literary agents, publishers, and editors. As Schoko Press writes, there might also be “Workshops and seminars . . . presenting topics on trends and industry news and developments.”
Book fairs are the best opportunity to meet more people in the industry, especially those in other book markets across the globe. Walking around these fairs, you’ll see industry professionals greeting old friends, pitching their books or authors, and meeting to collaborate on new projects. It’s basically a massive networking event for the publishing industry.
So, if you didn’t know, then now you know! Book festivals and fairs may seem similar, but they each serve a different and important purpose. If you’re a reader who’s looking to hear from your favorite author or get a signed copy, then you might want to stick to festivals. If you’re an author wondering about the difference, you’ll most likely be attending festivals to give talks and sign books, not the fairs. If you’re new to publishing and curious about the exchange of rights and networking in the industry, then a book fair might be the best bet! However, both provide amazing experiences for any lover of books and publishing, and if you get the chance to attend either, it will be an amazing experience you won’t forget.
If you would like to learn more about fairs and festivals or what events might be near you, here is a great article from Books Make a Difference that dives deeper into fairs and lists when and where they take place, and here is a great list of literary festivals from The Reading Lists.