Frankfurt Book Fair is the place to be!

–A peek into the Frankfurt Book Fair by Sudhanva Deshpande


This wasn’t my first visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair, but I still felt a little bit like a newcomer. That’s natural, I guess. In India, one grows up with the idea that book fairs are places to browse and buy lots of books, many at bargain prices.

Frankfurt isn’t like that. Certainly on the first three days it isn’t. When I first visited Frankfurt Book Fair back in 2006, I had no idea what to expect. I can’t remember if I’d made any appointments in advance – but probably not.

I do remember that I walked around wide-eyed for the most part, mouth agape. I did manage to fix a few meetings, but quite honestly, I didn’t know the first thing about rights. I was lucky to have run into an editor from Zed Books (London) who I knew because he had visited the New Delhi World Book Fair in Delhi a couple of years before, and we had been in touch since. In fact, the very first sale of rights that I had ever done was to them. Since I knew nothing about negotiating rights – in fact, I was pleasantly surprised that anyone would even want to buy rights from us – I simply accepted the terms they had offered.

I was lucky that Zed is a progressive, radical outfit, and my interlocutor was a good guy. I realised later that he had offered me very generous terms. So it was my good luck once again when I bumped into him soon after reaching the Messe grounds. We fixed to meet for coffee, and he then made it a point to introduce Frankfurt Book Fair is the place to be! –A peek into the Frankfurt Book Fair by Sudhanva Deshpande me to some of the other publishers he knew.

Nothing much came from that first visit though in terms of business. This was natural. Veterans of FBF all say it takes several, and repeated, visits for it to start bearing fruit. I next visited FBF five years later. I was going to be in Europe for something else, and decided to work in FBF into my schedule.

This time, I fixed up a few appointments, but I was also doing cold calling. I was a wee bit smarter now, so I had prepared a small, four page booklets of each of title I was hoping to sell. Armed with 4-5 such booklets, I tried to hawk rights. Despite interest, none of the conversations resulted in an actual deal.

But I realised that I was on the right path. Meetings are short in Frankfurt, there’s an overload of information that everybody is dealing with, so it makes sense to direct your interlocutor’s attention to only those titles you feel they may be interested in. Nobody wants to wade through a bulky catalogue or endless cover images.

My next visit was last year. Again, I was in Europe for something else, and was lucky that the dates for FBF worked perfectly for me to spend the first two days in Frankfurt. By now, I was much more experienced, having sold (as well as bought, on occasion), rights for several titles over the years. I also knew some people already, so setting up meetings was easier.

And – I’m not sure how I got on the list – I was invited to a ‘Lefty dinner’ with other publishers. As all Frankfurt veterans tell you, much of the connection building happens outside the formal hours, in the evenings, as one meets people over a drink or dinner. Attending the Lefty dinner was perfect for me – everybody that I’d have wanted to touch base with at FBF was under one roof!

This year, again, the invite came my way, and I got to meet some of the people who I was meeting for business, in an informal and relaxed atmosphere at a Turkish restaurant. As a general (unspoken, unwritten) rule, nobody discusses business here. The idea is to hang together, talk about what’s happening in the world and, if you know people personally, then at the personal front as well. It was a most enjoyable evening.

What was striking about the conversations in Frankfurt this year was the focus on the rise of the Right wing. No matter what one’s own political views might be and irrespective of what one publishes, I guess publishers all over the world see the rise of the Right as a threat to our own existence.

Everybody realises that the best publishing happens when there’s freedom of thought and utterance, and the Right wing militates against that. The second round of the Brazil presidential elections were around the corner at the time, and the lead that Bolsonaro had got in the first round looked very troubling. As we all know, the worst that one expected has since come to pass. Another extremist strongman has joined the league of strongmen who govern some of the most important nations on earth. Trump in the US, Erdogan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Modi in India, Obran in Hungary, and now Bolosonaro in Brazil, among others, are all carbon copies of each other. It was natural, then, that nearly every conversation ended up being about this disturbing trend in world politics.

This was the first time I was going to Frankfurt two years in a row. I realised immediately how beneficial that is – I met almost all the people I’d met last year, and for them as for me, memory of each other’s catalogue and list was still fairly fresh. One didn’t have to spend any time introducing what one does, or trying to understand the others’ publishing programmes and lists. One could cut immediately to the chase. Will I go again next year? Yes, most likely!

70th Frankfurter Buchmesse:
International participation increases

The 70th Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 10-14, 2018) ended with an increase of 0.8 percent in visitors at the weekend and a slight decrease of 1.8 percent during the trade visitor days. A total of 285,024 (2017: 286,425) visitors attended the fair, 0.5 percent less than in 2017.

Overall, international attendance increased at the fair this year, both in terms of exhibitors and trade visitors. With 7,503 exhibitors from 109 countries taking part at this year’s Frankfurter Buchmesse, the fair experienced a slight increase. The Literary Agents & Scouts Centre (LitAg) also grew once again, with 528 booked tables (2017: 500 tables), 795 agents (788) and 337 agencies (321) from 31 countries, including 19 new agencies. A total of 3,000 people took part in the conferences and workshops in THE ARTS+ area, while 125,000 people visited the innovative area in Hall 4.1. The BOOKFEST events in the Frankfurt Pavilion and in the city attracted 25,000 visitors.

“We saw a noticeable increase in the need for political participation; the desire is increasing to represent one’s own position and participate in the public discourse. A number of topics predominated during this year’s activities, including the importance of human rights, along with displacement and migration, populism and civic engagement. During the trade visitor days, the focus was on international book markets and industry trends,” said Juergen Boos, Director of Frankfurter Buchmesse. Many trade publishers said of this year’s fair that business was strong, from the connections they made to the titles they bought and sold. Speaking of Guest of Honour Georgia, Boos said, “Georgia’s presentation touched the hearts of the fair’s visitors – a presentation that expansively showcased the Georgian alphabet with elegance and ease, one that included performances, music, culinary discoveries, readings and, above all, an impressive range of literary voices.” Following a literary talk with the Georgian author Zurab Karumidze and the Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, the role of Guest of Honour was handed over to Norway.

Another highlight was the new Frankfurt Pavilion, which was opened by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. World-class authors turned Frankfurter Buchmesse into a literary festival: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie set the tone with her impressive speech on highly current topics such as migration, racism and women’s rights. During the five days of the fair, authors such as Paul Beatty, Dmitry Glukhovsky, Maja Lunde, Laksmi Pamuntiak, David Sedaris, Nguyen Ngoc Tu, Meg Wolitzer and many others thrilled their audiences.

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