10 Things I Learned At The Frankfurt Book Fair
BY HELEN LEWIS
In October 2017, I flew over to Frankfurt for my second Frankfurt Book Fair experience. It was as busy, crazy, exhausting and meetings-packed as the previous year, but this year I blocked out some time to attend a couple of seminars, and even wander around the many, many halls to check out the books that will be hitting our shelves in 2018 and beyond. I had a chance to look at the cover designs, spot some recurring themes and trends, chat to some authors and publishers, literary agents and publishing suppliers, and get a snapshot picture of what’s happening in the booky world right now.
I could write pages and pages, but I don’t have the time to write that much and you don’t have the time to read that much, so I’m condensing it into ten things I learned in Frankfurt…enjoy!
1. Yellow is THE book cover colour for 2017-2018. It’s also my favourite colour, so that’s nice, but it was just so prevalent. It felt like almost every publishing stand had at least one block colour – yellow – cover design. It kind of makes me want to publish a yellow book at Hashtag Press just to be part of the cool kids’ gang.
2. Literary agents are lovely people. I met with so many literary agents during my time in Frankfurt. Not just pre-arranged meetings but during networking and at seminars, or in the bar…One thing they all had in common was their openness to answer questions and share their experience. The literary agency world can seem like a mystical beast to newbies. I always thought I would like to be a literary agent one day – when I grow up – but didn’t fully appreciate all the work that goes on behind the scenes. It’s a fascinating job.
3. One of the key points I took from one of the most helpful literary agents I’ve ever met – Kate Hordern – is that the job of an agent is to sell a book idea to a person, not a publishing house, or a brand, but to a person.
4. We had a wonderful chat about the role of social media, a writer’s experience and involvement in the writing world (networking, prizes, previous writing experience, published work in other areas), and their ‘online platform’, which can include PR but in the world of fiction, how ‘famous’ you are is not as important as a brilliant idea and a unique and strong writing style.
5. Another literary agent, who I had a drink with at the end of Friday’s busy day, is Susan Mears. She has a lot of clients in the non-fiction sector and getting deals for them is not just about a stellar idea, it’s about the person behind the book. Their profile, their online platform, their media coverage, their talents in their ‘specialist subject’ are all hugely important.
6. The traditional publishing houses are on top of what is working and what isn’t in terms of book sales and trends, and they are not averse to the idea of taking on a book/author who has proven a concept already via self-publishing. In fact, if anything, because of how the market is going, it seems to me that this is a huge benefit of the explosion in self-publishing: authors test out a concept by putting all the risk in for themselves, prove that they’ve managed to reach XX number of people and that it’s a sound business proposition, and then with the help of a bigger organisation could reach more people with either a different/better idea or, simply put, a second edition!
7. Currywurst and pommes is quite delicious, particularly when eaten outside, perched on a wall, chatting about books with a lovely editor.
8. The children’s book market is more buoyant than ever before and finally, finally, finally, this mammoth category is being broken down into smaller groups by age/interest. From ‘playful non-fiction collections’ for 2-5 year olds to a hugely popular YA fiction market for those tweenage years. It was also great to see a number of fab looking cookery books for kids and teens too.
9. Mindfulness is infiltrating many areas, from cookery to learning, sleeping to parenting, and is not just for health and wellbeing anymore.
10. The cover is still so important and yes, I darn well did judge books by their covers in Frankfurt! The following really stood out for me.
11. I know, this is supposed to be 10 not 11 things I learned in Frankfurt but I had to add this in: Paula Hawkins is a lovely lady who comes across incredibly graciously and is still hugely passionate about writing fiction. It was a pleasure to hear her talking about her incredible author journey.
Overall, I felt that the Frankfurt Book Fair experience was so much more inclusive, fun, inspiring and eye-opening than my London Book Fair experience earlier this year…and I wonder whether it’s the omnipresent work-hard-play-hard atmosphere in Frankfurt that made the difference, or the bigger mix of different nationalities, or the sheer scale of the event…it’s beyond massive. Either way, I loved every minute – even when running from one hall to another with a bag full of paperwork!
If you were in Frankfurt I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it went for you, what you learnt/picked up on and if you want to share any of your pearls of wisdom with us, please do @theauthorschool @literallypr.