Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair

Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Toronto has had big book events in the past, of course, but these have been for people in the book industry. What's new about Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair is that it's a consumer fair with stands set up by industry players--mostly publishers, but also associations and ancillary businesses--and that the general public can not only attend and meet authors but also see them at events on-stage and buy copies of their books.

Though Publishers Weekly and comments from some of the other publishers at the book fair are positive, not everyone is happy, as Steven Beattie reports in a measured piece entitled "Inaugural edition of the Inspire! book fair was both 'positive' and 'deflating.'"

Which is what prompted me to respond this morning with some of my own thoughts about what one could expect from a first outing--and about why such a book fair matters. My comment is reproduced here:

"Appreciate the thoughtful commentary, Steven, and yes, there were sluggish periods. The secret at this stage is programming that attracts the crowds, as on Saturday especially. One suggestion would be to do more to publicize the events at the book fair: not just those of the Margaret Atwoods and Chris Hadfield’s but also those of the lesser-known.

Publishers, authors, and the book fair itself could all do more to get the word out–publishers and authors on social media prior to and during the fair, at their stands, etc., and the book fair by providing information in the published programme (and not just online) about authors and their events and by prominently displaying a daily list of what’s on that day in several key locations on site. Last weekend, the principal method of publicizing author events seemed to be a handful of publishing juniors parading around the fair with head shots of their authors on sticks.

Speaking for LLP, which sold a few hundred dollars worth of books at the fair, I can assure you I’d have been glad to make more of an ROI, but I didn’t really expect that. It’ll take many of us to make this fair work, and we need it to work. Every time a bookstore closes, we lose an opportunity to show readers what books we’re publishing–and to sell those books. With so few books getting reviewed or even mentioned in the media any more, readers have little idea what’s out there. Online discoverability is all very well, essential even, but there’s no substitute for bookshelves and for the chance to talk with people who believe in the books they’ve written and published.

It might take a year or two for Toronto to warm to the idea of a consumer book fair; that wouldn’t be surprising. For events to catch on (as I have reason to know from my Blue Metropolis experience), time is needed as well as the active participation of all concerned.

We need good news in the book world about now, and the Toronto book fair is the best news there is. The Inspire team is to be congratulated on a well-organized and enjoyable first fair.

Text and photos © 2014, Linda Leith

Photo: Judith Lermer Crawley

Montreal author and publisher Linda Leith is the owner of Linda Leith Publishing and editor of Salon .ll. Her most recent book is Writing in the Time of Nationalism (Signature 2010), now available in French as Écrire au temps du nationalisme (Leméac, 2014; translation by Alain Roy).

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