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So what is the Frankfurt Book Fair?

17 October 2016

This is a strange week, in London at least. The publishing world decamps to Frankfurt for the Book Fair and the news which rumbles out of the Fair, in an increasingly sophisticated series of trade press ‘show dailies' is very much focused on the doings of big publishing groups and the latest big money book auctions.

Most authors are not very interested in either of these things, unless they relate directly to their own books, so for them there's a sense of unreality about the whole business. What authors produce - books - are at the centre of all this frenetic activity but writers themselves are not in fact particularly welcome. A few big authors are invited to attend to scatter a little stardust, but on the whole this is a rights fair and any authors who take the trouble to go to the Fair may find it interesting, but they will not have much of a role

Publishers are there to talk to other publishers about books, in fact primarily about rights in books, rather than actual physical book sales. Literary agents, who have made more and more impact at the Fair over the years, are sitting at their tables in the Literary Agents and Scouts Centre to talk to foreign publishers about the books they represent. The co-edition market is very important at the book fair, so if you are selling illustrated books this will be crucial for you.

The internationalism of the whole Fair is striking, this is not a place you come to so that you can talk to people you can meet at home, but the primary book fair for interacting with the worldwide publishing world. The London Book Fair in the spring performs the same function earlier in the year.

Subsidiary rights staff from publishing houses and literary agents will be booked with back-to-back mostly half-hour appointments and, given the crush in the aisles, it is quite difficult to race from one part of the Fair to another to keep your meetings on time.

Although there is very much more preparation done for the Fair in the weeks before it than there used to be, the face-to-face contact with editors and rights buyers from across the world is crucial to making this work. Not many decisions are made at Frankfurt, although there are always the ‘books of the Fair', which are being auctioned, but the contacts made are crucial.

If there are any interesting trends, we'll report back next week, but in the meantime writers are not missing much. And, if you're a self-publisher, you may of course not be much interested in what the international publishing world is doing anyway, although it may be more relevant than you think.