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Manila International Book Fair Survival Guide

It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiime of the yeeeeeeear—and I’m not talking about the four-month-long Christmas season in the Philippines!

I’m talking about the Manila International Book Fair: the largest and longest-running book fair in the country. And MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE EVENT OF EVERY YEAR. I look forward to it more than anything else once the ber months kick in; surpassing my birthday, semestral break, and Christmas combined.

I’ve been going to it every year since I was six. It’s a long-standing tradition with me and my family, and in recent years, my friends and miraculously geeky boyfriend. Every MIBF is both wonderfully different with its offerings, while at the same time, comfortingly familiar in its patterns.

If you’re new to the MIBF scene, or if you’re looking for tips to make your MIBF trips more high-yield and efficient, here are ten humble bits of wisdom that I dare to impart:

1. Make a list and a budget.

I take MIBF very seriously, so seriously that this is a year-round step!

When I was younger, I tended to buy first then read and regret later. Nowadays, to save money and precious bookshelf real estate; I read digitally, borrow, or browse open copies in bookstores throughout the year. Then I pick my favorites to buy come September.

Making a list keeps me on target with regard to what I should prioritize now and what can wait until the next major bookstore sale.

2. Be prepared not to follow your list and budget.

It seems counterproductive to make a list and not follow it. But hey, the geek life doesn’t always go according to plan! Sometimes what you want isn’t available. Sometimes you find something you didn’t know you wanted more. Two pro-tips:

  1. For Fully Booked: If the book you want isn’t available in the MIBF booth, go to the customer service table by the cashiers and ask if it’s available in the Conrad and MOA branches. Both branches are also on sale during MIBF week! There were years I actually had two hauls: one from MIBF and one from Fully Booked – MOA. No shame.
  2. My general rule is: bestsellers you can buy anytime, anywhere. But that rare history book or Latin dictionary might never come around again no matter how hard you look for it. And you don’t want to live with that regret for the rest of your life. So take your chances when they’re handed to you!
lessons learned mibf
Books I found at MIBF and never saw again anywhere else!

As for budget, I tend to go above mine almost every year—minus 100 adult points for me! I justify that with the fact that I refrain from buying books the rest of the year so I can get them here; so I hope that balances it out.

lessons learned mibf

3. As much as possible, pre-game!

I know, those of us who work or study full-time don’t have the luxury of flitting down to MOA then back again multiple times a week. But for those of us who do, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND DOING THE BULK OF YOUR SHOPPING ON THE FIRST AND SECOND DAY.

MIBF starts on Wednesday and ends on Sunday, and is usually open from 11AM to 8PM. For as long as I can remember we’ve always done our shopping on the weekdays, even if it means coming in the evenings. It beats battling it out on the weekends with the payday shoppers, MOA sale crowd, and the con-goers.

Some advantages to pre-gaming on Wednesday and Thursday:

  • All the stocks are fresh. You get first pick of rare and unusual books, series have a better chance of being complete, and all the books are crisp, undamaged, and placed neatly on the shelves they’re supposed to be on. Come back on Sunday and the displays will be disorganized. You also get to take inventory if you’re coming back later in the week.
  • There are less people. Less people in all the lines, less people to get annoyed with you. This is important when you’re trying to make up your mind between two gorgeous Renee Ahdieh covers. And less chance of someone fainting in the line in front of you (something I actually witnessed during the weekend of MIBF 2013!).
  • You can focus on enjoying the weekend events. I’ve never tried, but I can’t imagine it’d be fun to squeeze through narrow aisles in full cosplay. Or to chase down cosplayers for a photo while weighed down by a bulky backpack like I’m Quasimodo. This is a completely personal choice, but I’d rather go to the book fair when it’s time to go to the book fair and to a con when it’s time to go to a con.

4. Bring your own bag.

Story time: When I was younger I used to revel in carrying as many bags from as many stores as possible from MIBF. It was like my own glam geek version of the Confessions of a Shopaholic movie poster.

As I got older—and more environmentally-conscious—I switched to bringing roomy backpacks or sturdy canvas bags, and declining individual plastic bags. That decision made for less clutter once I got home, and less chances of misplacing or losing smaller packages. Plus, going to MOA means submitting to bag checks at several points within the mall. Having a half a dozen different packages makes that very trying for everyone involved.

My ultimate dream is to go to MIBF with a wheelie bag to save my posture at the end of the day. I’ll let you know how that works out when it happens!

5. Know where to go inside.

Some years I go around aisle per aisle to take stock of what’s available, then double back to the stores that interest me. Other times, I secure the most important items on my list first, then go around aisle per aisle to see what else I can take home. Covering ground in an orderly way during my pre-game also prevents me from getting overwhelmed in the weekend crowd.

If you’re a first-timer, I totally recommend looking at the map before you start. Here are some places you can expect to shop at:

  • Fully Booked and National Bookstore will probably take up the bulk of your shopping and so they occupy the biggest booths, one on either side of the hall
  • C&E Publishing, Goodwill Bookstore, and Rex will be your go-to’s for schoolbooks
  • Adarna, Vibal, Visprint, PSICOM, and Precious Pages and its sister companies are worth the visit for local literature; authors often come on the weekends for signings and events
  • Summit Media will be there with back issues of your favorite magazines, and their impressively ever-growing collection of books
  • Publishing houses from universities often have booths, saving you a trip to the actual universities for their books
  • Diverse religious stores
  • Various stores selling mountains of children’s books at bargain prices—perfect for giving the gift of wisdom to your godkids for Christmas!
  • Stores selling music pieces, art books, history books, and coffee table books
  • Encyclopedia booths that will hopefully turn more kids into geeks like us (I know that’s where I got my start!)
  • Interactive booths on robotics and software
  • Pilot and other manufacturers of art and writing materials
  • Online stores selling teaching materials like maps, educational toys, and teachers’ aids

6. If you’re bringing a car, come early. Especially on the weekends.

I personally prefer to commute, when I’m not lucky enough to go with my family who are totally fine with dropping me off at the entrance and braving the parking lot madness on their own.

But if you’re your own chauffeur, I cannot stress this enough. COME. EARLY. As in, opening time early. If MIBF opens at 11, it’s best you be there by 10:30. Or else you’ll be spending 30 minutes in line for parking, and—like in the case of 2017’s FandomFest—another 30 minutes in line for the entrance, plus the line for the tickets inside if you don’t have free passes. That’s a lot of time wasted that you could be spending looking at books instead!

Addendum: I know the entrance fee is only P20 (or P15 if you’re a student, teacher, senior citizen, or PWD), but don’t take free passes to MIBF for granted. Snagging a free pass the week before can mean one less hellish queue to stand in!

lessons learned mibf
That time I went to MIBF three times–each time for free!

7. Secure your money.

Usually I have a small bag holding my valuables, and my huge shopping bags are really just for the shopping. That way, I don’t have to dig through everything else I’ve bought for the day whenever I need to pay for something new, and I only have to keep an eye on that small bag whenever I’m trapped in a crush of people.

If you feel you’re responsible enough to pay with your card, I’d recommend that too! You do NOT want to be chasing dropped change around oblivious, stampeding feet while carrying a bulging backpack of books. Not that that has ever happened to me, no, nope. walks away whistling innocently

8. Eat outside.

Not that MIBF catering isn’t good (because it is). But as a broke adult who just blew your budget on books, spending on expensive fair food isn’t the best idea. Besides, it’s MOA! There are way better places to eat nearby for less money.

Make sure you eat before you go in so you don’t get tempted to grab a bite inside when your hunger catches up to you. Or take a break mid-shopping to eat in the mall—I promise you, MIBF isn’t going to vanish back into Narnia if you decide to step out for a bit to feed your body and just come back later to nourish your soul.

9. Bring a buddy!

Like cons, MIBF is another one of those safe places where geeks can unabashedly gather and be themselves. Bring a friend with you!

Take turns holding each other’s places in line, stop each other from spending too much, and help each other decide on your purchases (“Don’t get the special The Wrath and the Dawn cover, Reina, you know you’ll only resent yourself later on when your set doesn’t match.”)

Just make sure they know what to do when you get sucked into a wormhole!


10. Evaluate your buys.

For me, this goes further than just putting up pictures of my haul the following week. It’s another year-round task. One that prepares me for making my list for next year to make it more high-yield and efficient!

One time I bought way too many pens and markers that I didn’t actually get to use for the rest of the school year, so I stopped buying pens in bulk there. That freed up my budget for more books instead!

Another time I got trigger-happy and bought a lot of books I’d never seen before and they mostly sucked. I decided to stick to my list the following year and be a little more cautious with trying new things out.

My boyfriend’s MIBF lesson in 2017 was that he should have bought more Pinoy comics instead of western books, because he’s rarely able to visit events that sell Pinoy comics but we’re always at Fully Booked anyway.

lessons learned mibf
Haul evolution: 2009, 2011
lessons learned mibf
Haul evolution: 2016, 2017

It’s an ongoing process, because you’re a different reader every year and what you’ll need from MIBF will be different every year too! To get the most out of MIBF, you’ll need to pay attention to how you’re developing as a reader, and be more deliberate in using MIBF to grow in that direction.

Which I think is the most important lesson I’ve learned from all the years of MIBF, and which is why I’ve been able to come up with this list.

Got any personal tips to share about your own experiences at MIBF? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.

Many thanks to Shelly Soneja for the beautiful featured image!

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally titled “Lessons I Learned From 17 Years of Going to MIBF”.

Reina Bambao
In full: Her Radiance Rhaena Targaryen Malfoy, the Dauntless, Kapitana of the Ruscats, Grandmaster of Ylisse, Khaleesi of Slytherin House, and Queen of England.

In brief: Reina. Nerd, nurse, writer, witch. Keep her writing on and reading on Bibliofeline!

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