October 22, 2019
Welcome to our annual post-show report from the floor of the 71st Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) held last week, October 14-18th. Highlights of the fair, from the fair, can be seen here.
Part I: General Overview of the Fair
As you are most likely aware, Frankfurt is known as the top international publishing event because of its size, length (five days), and longevity (since 1949). This year, the FBF encompassed more than 150,000 square meters of floor space divided between four massive halls, each with several levels. Fair officials cited a “significant” increase (5.5%) in total attendance at 302,267, including a 1.8% jump in professional attendance, and almost 10% in weekend attendance, when the fair opens its doors to the public. Exhibitor numbers were slightly down at 7,450, and 355 agencies from 35 countries were involved in the Literary Agents and Scout center.
In his opening remarks, Director of the FBF Juergen Boos noted how surprisingly stable the book industry was in a world of political instability and technological challenges. “I think the fair is getting more like it used to be….when we had all the big names and literary events. It’s not only about rights or distribution business, it is a chance to identify the opportunities and major strengths of the industry,” Boos said. But, he also noted, despite the growing importance of audio, movie/film, and streaming services, the fair will always center around the book.
This year, the fair presented a feature program called Create Your Revolution inspired by the United Nation’s Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. The program was about the importance of culture, and the responsibility of the individuals to stand up. “The more our politics fail, the more trade agreements fail, the more important the role of the cultural and creative sectors,” said Boos.
Photo Credit: Frankfurt Book Fair
A keynote address for the Fair’s opening press conference was given by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, named last week as the Nobel Prize-winning Laureate for Literature. She wrote the 2018 Man Booker Prize-winning novel Flights, and her latest novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead will be translated into English soon. “I believe in literature which ties people together, that highlights what people have in common, despite the differences—color, sexual orientation, or anything which may separate us on the surface,” Tokarczuk said. “I believe in a kind of literature which makes clear that, at a deeper level, below the surface, we are tied together through invisible but existing threads. A kind of literature which talks about a lively, ever-changing world of unity, of which we are a small but not insignificant part.”
Photo Credit: Frankfurt Book Fair
The FBF hosted dozens of other “celebrity” authors including Ken Follett, Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Maja Lunde, Elif Shafak, and Bela B. Felsenheimer. Norway, 2019’s Guest of Honor, brought nearly 200 authors including current bestsellers Karl Ove Knausgard and Jo Nesbo. Their Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Manit participated in the opening ceremony of the fair.
Audio continues to garner attention as its growth remains robust. The Frankfurt Audio Summit was a new program created this year to address the biggest trends and challenges in audio publishing. Held Thursday afternoon, topics of the summit included a global market overview, big data and analytics tools, content and marketing strategies, and business models for streaming and subscriptions. Luisa Wagner, our fair contact, related this was one of the most anticipated additions to the FBF schedule, and participation was standing room only.
Netflix also sent a representative to participate in the fair. Kelly Luegenbiehl, VP of International Originals defined Netflix as a “streaming service endeavouring to bring great stories to people around the world and to remove all barriers.” She shared that Netflix spends more than ten billion dollars on content development every year. They look at publishers and editors as partners and collaborators, noting that their search for a series from sub-Saharan Africa will hopefully come from a book.
Part II. The Foreword Independent Press Collective: As We See It
Many tens of thousands of 30-minute meetings take place over the course of the Frankfurt Book Fair. It may be said much of the rights business can be done via email instead of face-to-face in the twenty-first century, but there is no denying the effect of friends and business associates reconnecting in person and sharing the joy of titles with one another. Reflecting on my 25th year at the fair, I can affirm it never gets boring or old, even in the quiet years.
I hosted the Foreword Independent Press Collective at booth D-5 in Hall 6.0 this year with Michelle Schingler, our managing editor. Alongside hundreds of other English-speaking exhibitors in three levels of Hall 6, we entertained visiting agents during appointments made prior to the fair, as well as introduced displayed titles to “window shoppers” on their way to other appointments. Independent publishing still excites foreign publishers who miss out on the bestsellers offered by the larger houses. Agents, media scouts, and general attendees are heartened to see that indie publishing is thriving in the US.
We had a great group of books with us this year that we were proud to showcase: fiction and nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade and adult trade. Our goal with the collective is to provide a professional environment for independent presses and authors who could not attend the show on their own. I am a rights agent, as well as the publisher of Foreword, so I can help our clients with any rights transactions in an educated fashion, whether it be passing along any leads or shepherding the book through the entire sales process.
The genres that attracted the most interest at Foreword’s Independent Press Collective this year in Frankfurt included middle-grade novels, biographies, history, leadership and literary fiction, as well as the perennial fave—children’s picture books. Award-winning books also caught the eyes of international publishers intrigued by the seals on the books and special placement we provided for INDIES Book of the Year finalists and winners.
Part III. What’s Next?
We are in the process of dissecting and distributing contact information for agents to participating clients so that review copies and follow-up can be initiated. We have dozens of inquiries, so thank you in advance for your patience as we transcribe our notes. You may also be contacted directly through our online catalog or 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 for information on your title, along 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 introduced to them by Foreword staff at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019. 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 Book Fair, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take advantage of some programs. The 71st annual Frankfurt Book Fair will take place October 14-18th, 2020.
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 next month, November 15-17, 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.
Very Sincerely, Victoria Sutherland, Publisher Foreword Reviews www.forewordreviews.com