Editor’s note: The 2002 Frankfurt Book Fair is October 9-14.
The Frankfurt Fair is both the beginning and the culmination of a year’s work for me.
I book a room near the Buchmesse (Book Fair) a year in advance and begin to set up appointments. This involves dispatching e-mails to friends and colleagues in Russia, Estonia, Bratislava, London, New York, Lisbon, Brazil, Oman, Osaka, Beijing, and many other places I have never visited.
It takes a monumental effort after a long flight to adjust to the sudden foreign signage and the heavy Deutches spellings at the Frankfurt Flughaven. My smattering of German wouldn’t get me across the road, but most Germans can speak excellent English. I find the German people to be helpful, friendly, and accommodating.
It’s a snap to get marks (EUs since January 2002) from one of the ATMs at the airport, and I look for the elevator that will take me down to the trains. You need to purchase a ticket before you get on the train or tram–every time. A one-way ticket to the main station–Hauptbahnhof (HBH)–is only six marks, and the trip is quick and feels safe.
From the HBH, it’s a short walk to the hotel. Prices are usually double this time of year because of the Buchmesse. Yet, in this part of town, plenty of reasonably priced choices are readily available. The locals say, “Just turn right outside the Hauptbahnhof.”
The Frankfurt Fair is spread over several buildings, and every building is choc-a-bloc with booths and meeting rooms on three or four floors. It is easy to get lost, frustrated, exhausted, found, exhilarated, and lost again in the course of a day’s work. There’s the sheer size and energy of the fair, the rush and bustle and the throng, people shouldering bags of books and posters, languages and words everywhere. Foreign and relentless, it can be overwhelming and downright disconcerting. Soon, after a few hours in action, a dim familiarity dulls the pain.
Getting One’s Bearings
The first thing to do is pick up the Fair catalog. For the uninitiated, German words can be difficult to grasp. A word like Katalog is obvious, but understanding Taschenführer: Aussteller nach Ländern can be a struggle. This Taschenführer, or Pocket Guide, lists exhibitors by countries in two volumes, and it is a very important ally during the fair and for follow-up long after.
As for the Katalog, it has a detailed list of exhibitors in alphabetical order. At the back is a similar list detailed by hall and floor. There are eight halls, each with several floors. Read the up-front sections of the Katalog, and you will learn almost everything you will need for the fair. Begin with “General Information”–the where, what, when, and how–related to your stay. Pay particular attention to the section marked “Service Facilities.”
Take the shuttle bus to conserve energy and shoe leather. It’s possible to walk from Building 1 to Building 8 in a matter of an hour or so. Expect huge crowds on the grounds all day.
I like to start with the international publishers, which means a shuttle to Building 8. I know I will meet friends and acquaintances from all over the globe here. These people include Jean-Pierre, John and Hans, Simona, Anna, Tatiana, Steve, Eric, and Chenile.
Meetings & Deals
The first order of business is to confirm a long-standing arrangement to meet at 6 p.m. at the Rainbow Garden: Ihr Treffpunkt für Thailandische Ebkultur. John says (every year) that this is the best Thai food in Frankfurt. Before John invited me into his circle, Frankfurt was a chilly and precipitous place. Through him, I get asked to some great parties. He has been doing Frankfurt for the best part of 30 years. Even though at times he seems not to be busy, John invariably pulls off a coup with a good deal.
I prepare for a number of meetings at the Literary Agents and Scouts Center. I must make time to walk the floor and meet new contacts and leads. I pick up a daily edition of the Fair News and head to the e-mail center to check in with my office. On the way, I drop off press kits at the Press Center and mail a postcard to my daughter.
In the evening, we get back to the HBH and walk around the corner to the Thai restaurant. Later we share a taxi to the old part of Frankfurt and wander through the Sehenswürdigkeiten (Sights) in Sachsenhausen. It is still warm outside since we are experiencing a typical late blast of Central European summer.
Sometimes all the good business deals happen early in the show. On Day Two, I meet an agent who offers me a “scary read” about a deliberate act of biomedical terror. The author, a Ph.D. in molecular toxicology, is a scientist working in Nairobi with direct knowledge in horrific medical trauma. Soon after, I meet with a buyer from the U.K. who is “very interested” in our “Waldseemüller Book,” Terra Incognita: The True Story of How America Got Its Name. I can understand his desire to have this title since it’s a story about how it wasn’t the Italian explorer Vespucci but an Englishman who named America. Meanwhile, another European publisher is bidding on the British and Commonwealth rights also. So I let them stew for a while.
The next two days are intense, involving mostly legwork. There’s no real deals. But that is OK. Days are filled with endless walking from hall to hall, riding shuttle buses with standing room only, and waiting in long lines for bratwurst at lunch. On the third day, I sit outside with John for an after-lunch chat, and we let the sun soothe our aching bones. We talk about the buyers we met from Romania last evening at the Ingram party. John offers me advice about a deal that is pending. When we get up to go inside, there are 10 weary people eyeing our seats in the sun. We arrange to meet at the IPG party later in the evening; John has to take a client to the bar first.
As suddenly as the adventure begins, it is over. Another Frankfurt finished. But the follow-up work will continue for months. I feel revitalized by the trip. After days riding the trains, it’s a breeze to get to the airport, rent a midsized Eurocar, and head south to Bavaria. The German autobahn is a driving experience not to miss, and our “Waldseemüller Book” had a map in it–a map with a history. By coincidence, the sole surviving copy of that map had been found in a castle, nestled near a small town in Bavaria. The Library of Congress had just purchased the map for $10 million.
The Teutonic settlements, rolling hills, and the deciduous forests already turning in late fall remind me that I am a long way from Seattle. I am secretly planning my itinerary for next year after the fair. Trieste seems to be in the offing, as is Bratislava or Prague. A new colleague has invited me to Estonia. They have undertaken to translate one of our titles into Estonian. I head back to the Frankfurt airport.
Educare Press is small. Our office is no bigger than an English telephone booth. A visitor once jeered, “You couldn’t swing a dead cat in here.” But our reach is worldwide at Frankfurt.
Because of the Fair, three of our titles have been translated into Chinese–NorthFlame and Honey-Bun, which are both children’s books, and Aging:On the Way to Over the Hill, which looks at aging with attitude and grace. And our Dictionary of Geography is a standard used in schools across Romania today. But the big break came with Terra Incognita. After some easy negotiations, we sold British rights to a prominent U.K. house, and it comes out this summer. Meanwhile we are busy with the “black plague” import–Springof Fever–outof Ebola country in Africa. We will take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair this October.
Kieran O’Mahony is Publisher of Educare Press. He was born and grew up in Ireland, but moved to Seattle 20 years ago. O’Mahony considers it a dream fulfilled to have been able to follow his lifelong love of letters and publishing. For more information, visit