October 22, 2018
Welcome to our annual post-show report from the floor of the 70th Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF). Year after year, Frankfurt reigns incontestably as the top international publishing event because of its sheer size, length (five days), and longevity (since 1949). In total, the Fair encompasses more than 150,000 square meters of floor space divided between four massive halls, each with several levels. This year, the Fair hosted 7503 exhibitors from 109 countries, and attracted 285,024 visitors representing more than 150 countries—similar numbers to the 2017 fair, though the number of exhibitors was up by a couple hundred.
The keynote address for the Fair’s opening press conference was given by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and she decisively challenged the publishing industry to increase the gender diversity of their company employees, in addition to signing more book contracts with writers of different genders. She also chided male readers for reading mainly male writers. “It is time for men to read women,” she said. Her standing-room-only address was attended by German President Frank Walter Steinmeier; Juergen Boos, director of the FBF; and scores of top publishing dignitaries.
Brexit, immigration concerns, President Trump, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, newly seated US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, China’s growth, and global relations overall were the dominant show floor topics in 2018—not to forget the glorious Frankfurt weather all week. John Sargent, head of global trade publishing at Macmillan, mentioned during his CEO Talk speech during the fair that he was very concerned about threats to freedom of speech in democracies and dictatorships around the world. As the publisher of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, he squared off with lawyers for President Trump, who attempted to halt the book’s publication with a cease and desist memo. In the speech, he wryly admitted that his first reaction to the threat was, “We are going to sell a shitload of books.” Violence towards journalists around the world was also a frequent conversation piece at the fair, in addition to how various governments are gaining expertise in the creation of fake news to keep their citizens in a state of uncertainty.
The handful of show guides handed out each day of the fair provide a great deal of publishing industry chatter fodder for attendees. Another handout on French Publishing 2018 caught my attention because of a report on the emerging popularity of narrative nonfiction. People need help understanding the craziness going on around them, explains Thomas Dartige, and “the book, through its materiality and permanence, provides the chance to slow down the flow of images and signs, to bring depth and meaning, and to stir one’s critical mind.”
Lastly, audiobooks are on everyone’s mind. They continue to sell robustly.
As I mentioned last year, FBF always provides me with a reminder of the sophistication of Europe’s publishing industry, as well as the closeness between European Union nations. It’s a fact that books from the UK and EU are beautifully designed. There’s a sharpness to their marketing materials. Everything being equal, the quality of the books coming out of Europe is much higher than that of the typical book you see from the United States. It’s plain to see that the European publishing industry places a higher value on design and packaging than its American counterpart.
And, year after year, I’m always mesmerized with news of the deals that are struck in exceptionally unexpected ways—say, between Cambodians and Georgians, Panamanians and Greenlanders, and yes, even Russians and Americans. Walking the aisles of Hall 4 and 5 offers an exotic view of publishing in places like Asia, Iran, South America, Africa, Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Arab world. Hearing numerous languages on the show floor surely adds a great deal to Frankfurt’s appeal. Laughter is the common language. I also make an annual visit to a large area in Hall 4 devoted to the sale of antique books—perhaps, thirty or so venders minding stands with exquisite books from the past several hundred years, from medieval illuminated manuscripts to illustrated copies of Les Miserables in French from the early 1900s to how-to manuals for taking good mechanical care of your 1933 Porsche.
Many tens of thousands of brief meetings take place over the course of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Friends and business associates reconnect, in some cases performing the same song and dance over permissions and rights as they have for twenty-plus years. And while it’s commonly understood that the FBF is a rights fair for the international publishing trade, it’s fascinating to look at the various configurations of the deals negotiated. The following examples showcase the main reasons publishers and professionals attend Frankfurt. (It’s important to realize that most attendees make appointments with prospective partners far ahead of the show. And please forgive my creative license ((below)). I was hoping to make these examples a bit more compelling to read than a bare bones description of each type of right.)
So, you live in Nepal and publish books on all the Yeti sightings in the Himalayas. You know that Bigfoot is a big deal in the United States so you want to find a publisher to buy the rights to translate and publish your books in the US.
Or, maybe you live in French-speaking Cote d’Ivoire and publish books for kids. You’re busy and don’t want to sign more authors to write books for you, so you’d simply like to find additional children’s books in French to reprint and sell in Cote d’Ivoire.
Perhaps, you’re a Finnish publisher of beautiful, full-color books on glaciers around the world. Money’s tight, so you’d like to find a publisher from another country in Europe to split the cost of producing the book. You sell the books in Finland and your co-publisher sells the books in their country.
You work for Disney and your boss wants you to come up with some ideas for new fictional characters to develop into a movie series, along the lines of Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio. So, you attend the FBF because you’d like to see thousands of new illustrated books, hoping one might have a memorable character.
Maybe you’re a literary agent from Uruguay and you’ve discovered a young author who’s written a novel you think is every bit as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude. You’re looking to meet with literary publishers from around the world to buy the rights to the new title to publish in their country—the more countries the better, obviously, because you’re paid 15 percent on each deal you sign.
Guest of Honor
The Frankfurt Book Fair’s Guest of Honor in 2018 was the country of Georgia, with a motto of “Georgia—Made by Characters,” a reference to the thirty-three characters in the Georgian alphabet, in addition, obviously, to the colorful personalities of the Georgian people. Long under the shadow of Russia and the former Soviet Union, the Georgian authors in Frankfurt were particularly thrilled that the Guest of Honor role at the fair will position Georgia “as an independent state with its own unique alphabet and language, with its own literary past and vibrant presence.” Next year’s Guest of Honor will be Norway. Canada will be fêted in 2020.
Part II. The Foreword Independent Press Collective: As We See It
Foreword Publisher Victoria Sutherland and her husband, Matt (that would be me), hosted the Foreword Indie Press Collective at booth D-5 in Hall 6.0, alongside hundreds of other English-speaking exhibitors. Levels 6.1 and 6.2 above us also included mainly English speakers. Level 6.3 hosted the Literary Agents & Scouts Center and Publishers Rights Corner. Small indie publishing still excites people, so that important aspect of Foreword’s collective stand is appealing to Frankfurt’s international publishing set. Agents and scouts and general attendees are heartened to see that indie publishing is thriving in the US.
A foreign rights agent herself, Victoria has been attending the FBF for 24 years, while I’ve been coming to Frankfurt for more than 20 years. In addition to old and new faces stopping by our booth, and during my bathroom and coffee jaunts away from the Foreword collective, I had many moments to chat with friends and acquaintances from a great many small and midsize US publishers and university presses in the aisles near Foreword.
Here’s a few bulleted snippets of happenings and sightings at the Fair from the Foreword perspective:
The Permanent Press’s Marty and Judy Shepard maintained a booth a couple hundred meters from us, as they’ve done for many years. We’ve reviewed dozens of their titles in Foreword Reviews over the years. Once a day or so during the fair, eighty-four year old Marty wandered over to chat about his books, politics, etc. Victoria and I joined them for dinner at his favorite Indian restaurant in Frankfurt, Taj Mahal, on Friday night. They both tell the most interesting stories about their authors and how the books they publish came to be.
We had the pleasure of introducing Aaron Silverman, president of SCB Distributors, to Joe Matthews, CEO of Independent Publishers Group, at the Foreword Collective over a glass of wine. We’ve been friends with Aaron and Joe for years, as both have northern Michigan connections. It was cool to see the two influential distributors banter about Amazon’s crazy-making rules, warehouse frustrations, and IPG’s purchase of Midpoint Trade.
Steve Rosato, a past executive director of Book Expo America (he’s now with Overdrive), is one of those pinball-like presences, bouncing around the fair tirelessly shaking hands and talking biz. Without a doubt, Steve is one of the nicest guys in publishing, even if he was a little glum about the Yankees recent loss in the MLB playoffs.
QC Fiction Publisher Peter McCambridge stopped by our booth to thank Forewordfor reviewing so many of their titles over the past couple years (five of seven they’ve submitted). Songs for the Cold of Heart, one of those QC Fiction titles we recently reviewed, was just longlisted for Canada’s prestigious 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Ironically, McCambridge did the translation of the book into English, so he stands to earn 30 percent of the prize should he and author Eric Dupont pull off the win.
Gibbs Smith’s CEO Brad Farmer, another nominee for a friendliness award, visited our booth to talk about some of their 2019 releases. We’ve always found their cookbooks and children’s books to be some of the best in the industry.
Motoaki Tanaka, sales manager of PIE International, came by with his company president to present us with a copy of their 2019 spring and summer catalog. They were especially excited about Yokai Storyland, an April 2019 release. We recently published a review of their title The Art of Fantasy, Sci-fi and Steampunkin the pages of Foreword.
Sarah Miniaci of Smith Publicity, one of the most professional, effective publicists we know, sat with us for an hour to talk about, among other topics, a consulting service she’s developing for Smith. She said many new authors and publishers “need so much more than publicity,” and the conventional publicity model simply doesn’t work for them. She was very complimentary of Foreword Reviews, and said “Foreword alone fills the indie-press coverage space.”
Charlesbridge’s Megan Quinn, senior director of sales, said hi and mentioned that Foreword‘s use of the artwork from one of Charlesbridge’s titles, Like Vanessa, on the cover of the magazine drove a lot of book sales their way.
My wanderings around the show floor took me to the booths of Shambhala, MIT Press, Red Chair Press, New Society Publishers, Peachtree Press, Sourcebooks, and countless other quality publishers. This industry is plump full of friendly, thoughtful people.
To be sure, Frankfurt is a vital gear in the publishing world’s economic engine. As a publisher of any size, being part of the scene is sound business. The bottom line in foreign rights is to strengthen relationships with as many publishers across as many territories as possible. For lesser-known titles, authors, and publishers, visibility at Frankfurt is an important first step onto the global stage.
Several dozen agents (it’s difficult to estimate) visited the Foreword Indie Collective, with Victoria or me fielding questions and pointing out titles of interest. Most of the visitors were taking advantage of time in between appointments to “window shop” the books we hosted, which were displayed face-out by category. This genre arrangement makes it easy for them to get directly to the types of titles they’re interested in. Many left business cards and requested additional information and contacts for specific titles or houses. Some of them may get in touch with you directly in the coming days and weeks, based on our conversations and information supplied during their visit to our stand.
The genres that attracted the most interest at the Foreword Collective this year in Frankfurt included young adult, biography, health, how-to, and literary fiction, along with children’s picture books. Award winning books also caught the eyes of international publishers intrigued by the seals on the books. Asian publishers, especially, ask about children’s and YA books in series. Many were looking for books with a moral lesson. Some asked for nonfiction projects, ideally, science related, and other books with hard knowledge. Immigrant and indigenous stories have earned a great deal of attention recently, in all parts of the world. It’s about time we, as an industry, starting listening more closely to their world view.
Part III. What’s Next?
We are in the process of dissecting and distributing contact information to clients so that review copies and follow-up can be initiated. We have more than fifty inquiries, so thank you in advance for your patience. Historically, scores of publishers are directly contacted after-the-fact through catalogs and online leads from the FBF. Please follow the instructions in your lead report, which will most often direct you to first email a confirmation of their request with a digital copy of your catalog or sales “sell sheet” attached as a PDF. In your email response, please reference that your title was shown to them by Foreword staff at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2018. Most will then ask for a watermarked PDF copy of your title sent to them for review .
Thank you in advance for the courtesy of promptly letting interested agents know if you are NOT interested or cannot pursue a contract. If you don’t at least acknowledge a contact, it reflects negatively on all the publishers participating in Foreword’s collective stands.
Part IV. In Closing
There are literally thousands of workshops and classes scheduled during the Frankfurt Book Fair, many of which offer immeasurable value for improving one’s expertise in all aspects of publishing. The opportunity to meet with and learn from experts is unbelievably valuable, and, should you be able to attend the next Frankfurt Fair, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take advantage of some programs. The 71st annual Frankfurt Book Fair will take place October 16th to the 20th, 2019.
Our staff will continue to work diligently on your behalf to showcase your titles to rights agents around the world. Our next stop is the China Children’s Book Fair in Shanghai this November, and our sister company, Children’s Books USA, will be one of the largest real estate holders from the United States. The Chinese market remains voracious. Let us know if you’d like to have your book displayed.
P.S. We also have a sell sheet production service available for publishers and authors who need a one page sales sheet. Please visit here for more details.