At the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, an American self-published author had reserved a small booth across the aisle from us to showcase her two inspired-by-real-life fiction titles. During setup on Tuesday, we shared our extra table and a couple of chairs to help her dress up the stand a bit. She seemed jet-lagged, but after a few minutes of conversation, I could tell she was worldly and an experienced traveler. Underneath, I could see she was nervous and slightly overwhelmed about what exactly she had committed to for the next five days. She did not have any appointments lined up, nor was it clear what her expectations were of the trip.
I saw myself twenty-one years ago.
Nothing and nobody can quite prepare you for the Frankfurt Book Fair. The Buchmesse consists of millions of books in acres of stands with hundreds of thousands of exhibitors and visitors over five days every October. In 1994, the information highway on the Internet had yet to be born, so my Frankfurt lessons were learned at the school of hard knocks.
My first year, I showed up with 3,000 copies of the magazine (no books), thinking I would likely be unable to accommodate the masses I had heard about. Instead, I experienced an expensive exercise about what the fair is truly about and left 2,500 of those magazines on the shelves when I left. In fact, I missed the fourth day completely. Being so exhausted, I gave myself permission to sleep in without setting an alarm and didn’t wake up until 2:00 p.m., far too late to make the forty-minute train ride and another thirty-minute walk to my stand.
Fast-forward twenty years: Foreword hosts two of several dozen collectives where publishers can introduce their titles to the world rights market: Foreword Indie Press Collective and Children’s Books USA. That means we rent a stand, ship the books, set up a booth and organize titles by genre, take appointments with new and returning agents to present the titles, deliver any leads generated along with a post show report, distribute several hundred magazines, and archive the title metadata in an e-catalog. I also recently started Champagne World Rights Agency to help independent publishers who need additional assistance managing their foreign rights program. I do this with agents with whom I have spent twenty years developing relationships.
While we charge a share-fee for the stand, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) offers a similar service at no charge for its members, as long as they show up. The Frankfurt Book Fair realizes the potential indie presses offer to grow the event, but also understand some of the cost challenges. Besides the hard costs of travel expenses, food, and lodging, there are hidden costs, particularly, time out of the office. The fair partners with CLMP to offer presses the chance to explore the opportunities of developing a rights program.
Along with Red Hen, Akashic Books, New Vessel, and McPherson & Co., Bellevue Press publisher Erika Goldman attended this year’s fair with CLMP. “Making the trip is not for everyone. Your books should be oriented to the international marketplace. And you have to be able to afford the longer view,” she noted.
As it happens, our self-published booth neighbor became a new, dear friend. She ended up having some pretty important drop-by appointments that may turn into a rights deal or two. But more importantly, she came, she learned, and she left not only undaunted, but inspired in a magnificent fashion.
That’s what the Frankfurt Book Fair does best.
Victoria Sutherland is the publisher of Foreword Reviews. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.