Diary from the Frankfurt Book Fair

Diary from the Frankfurt Book Fair

BAEF Member distributes our brochure and reviews scene from this renowned marketplace

October 30, 2004
Reported by Gerhard Brostrom

I'm so tired from my red eye flight that I decide I'm not going in to the book fair today at all. Feeling slightly guilty, but deliciously autonomous, I put out the do not disturb sign and stay in my hotel bed and sleep nearly all day.

Early in the morning at what works out as 3:00 am west coast time, I take the special book fair shuttle bus to downtown Frankfurt from my hotel hear the airport. The enormous book fair halls are moderately crowded; I'm glad the general public hordes, which triple the number of visitors each year, are only allowed during the weekend. Looking for Jon, I go immediately to the far end of Hall 6, which is one of the eight multistory, cavernous halls where 54,000 trade visitors are exhibiting books, negotiating licensing deals, and meeting old acquaintances from across the far-flung book world. Jon and his sister Janet, who run the sprawling catch-all Combined Book Exhibit, have graciously agreed to let me leave some of our handsome color- photocopied BAEF brochures on a small table and to put one up on their display racks. Most publishers pay $80 to display one title, or $500-600 to display up to ten titles, but when I send an e-mail days before the fair begins explaining that BAEF hasn't budgeted for display space, Jon e-mails me back that I should drop by and that he'll see what kind of space we can have.

Again, I hang out mostly today in Hall 6, which is the main English-language publishing venue, though I go to several other halls where I explain BAEF to interested-seeming publishers reps or industry figures from India, Korea, Singapore, China, Holland, Finland, and a half a dozen other countries. Two agreeable sales reps from India are glad to hear I've been to India, and they work their way up to asking if I'd consider fronting for their outsourcing firm in the U.S. I learn by asking questions that their company reproduces books online from original typeset editions sent to India where they're shot in facsimile by low-paid employees using scanning equipment. I smile, and tell them about my interest in reverse offshoring. We amiably exchange business cards.

Minutes later, when I introduce myself and mention BAEF to Kerry of St. Martin's Press, she apologizes for having run out of the 500 business cards she had printed for the fair, but she gives me her e-mail address and says she'll put me in touch with the firm's editorial director. She says, in a voice hoarse from nonstop talking, that he usually comes to Frankfurt, but that he and his wife just had their second child, so he didn't come this year. She tells me that although she's had meetings every half hour with a succession of buyers and negotiators--and in spite of attendance being up by almost four percent this year--in fact less business takes place each year at the book fair, due to the availability of top-quality online book catalogs on the Internet. She explains that people used to come with their checkbooks and say I'll take this and that and that. Now with electronic catalogs, though, she says half of the people we do deals with have already seen all our books online before coming here and their buying books here is a mere formality.

Promising new contacts I meet today include a score of helpful and informative U.S. publishers and editors and industry figures from all across the country--including the proprietor of Book Expo New York who takes a half an hour to critique our brochure and offer advice on cost-effective outreach efforts by BAEF in the Big Apple. Minutes later, after looking closely at the BAEF brochure, a Monterey publisher--who tells me his firm is in the process of hiring two editors--goes on to say that BAEF and its online data base of editors and writers seem ideally suited to help his company hire qualified editors when jobs open up. He says his firm has had trouble finding qualified editors locally, and he seems quite glad to keep our brochure.

Moments later, a couple of aisles away, two publishers in educational publishing are also visibly happy to learn about BAEF. One, the New Jersey-based executive director of an educational publishers association, says her membership is ideal for our BAEF outreach effort, since it's made up of many publishers who have books that she thinks would benefit from our talents and expertise. She says we should send an electronic copy of our brochure and that she'll get word out to the members of her association. She and her companion, a cheerful gray-haired man who says he's been coming to the fair for 30 years, agree that BAEF specifically, and hands-on editors generally, should have a more prominent and conspicuous role at the book fair. The association head and her companion, whose business card identifies him as an executive of KnowledgeQuest say that they think that hands-on publishing and editing professionals should have a formalized presence--possibly modeled after the translators, who have had a translation center at the book fair since 2003, or the librarians, who have a big separate meeting and display area at the fair. They say I should also come to the other big European fair they go to each spring in Bologna, and they offer to let me share a booth with them there next year.

Despite some tiredness, as the book fair ends, I feel pretty good as I realize I'm gradually learning how things work here. I have an invitation to meet a publisher at his club in London next week to talk about his new e-learning company, and I've met dozens of fascinating new people. I've got plenty of new ideas too. Next year, for instance, I tell myself I'm going to set up lots of meetings with agents by making appointments well before the book fair starts. I'm encouraged to take this approach by one of the bright young women at the Literary Agent receptionist desk who yesterday agreed to deliver BAEF brochures to the mailboxes of selected New York and east and west coast agents--after checking her lists to make sure they are still at the book fair. This morning, from my hotel room, I have followed up with e-mails to eight of the agents I left brochures for, saying I'm still able to meet with them if they contact me. Next year I tell myself I'll also hang out more with the translators, who with their mostly Germany-based membership guilds and online listings of members and specialties, are a lot like BAEF. A number of translators think it's a good idea to pursue a continuing dialogue with BAEF and other transatlantic editor groups, as well as with the fair managers, about how hands-on editors can take on a more prominent place in the book fair along with their business-related and rights negotiating publishing colleagues. As I leave the cavernous hall, stimulated by the many new promising directions opening up, I don't mind hefting the heavy briefcases bulging with pamphlets, catalogs, and business cards, as I go out into the cool Frankfurt late fall afternoon where I board the crowded tram bound for the hotel and then on to the flugelhaven.



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