I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time last October and
sauerkraut will never be the same. But more on that later.
The Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest convention in the world where 8,000+
international publishers from over 100 countries go to sell and buy foreign
rights for book titles.
Our company, which publishes a line of professional film and video books, has
been fortunate enough to receive several inquiries from foreign publishers
during the past few years. Flush with positive feedback and a few foreign
rights deals under our belt, it seemed like a good idea to go to Frankfurt to
check out the international market.
The following article is the first in a series which reviews important tips
you should consider before and during your first Frankfurt Book Fair. This
month’s topic is pre-planning and budget tips.
In March 1996, I began gathering information about the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Seeking advice from publishers who regularly attended the fair, my research
led me to Jan Nathan (PMA), Larry Rood (Gryphon Publishing), and Bruce Davis
(Academia Book Exhibits), all of whom were most gracious with their time and
insightful in their comments. Here are some important tips I learned from
Tip #1: “Think of the Frankfurt Book Fair as a long-term investment, not a
These savvy publishers considered the fair to be an important part of their
overall marketing plan, NOT a way to raise shortfall cash. Most publishers
were pleased to have their books distributed into new international markets
and to make an additional 10-15% sales revenues from foreign sales.
Of course there are monetary benefits, but foreign rights requires long-term
commitment, patience, and follow-up (something not easy to accomplish if you
think this fair is just another swap meet).
Tip #2: “If you do decide to go to Frankfurt, do your homework.”
Doing your homework means gathering as much advance information as possible
about your potential customers in foreign markets. It’s Marketing 101. Ask
yourself: (1) What specific need or niche does my booklist serve? (2) What
foreign publishers produce similar types of books? (3) What is the best way
to locate these potential customers?
There are three excellent sources for this type of information.
a) The Frankfurt Book Fair Catalog: This big directory lists all the
publishers who attend the Frankfurt Book Fair and gives contact names, areas
of interest, and phone and fax numbers.
You may purchase this catalog from the Frankfurt Book Fair for about 35DM
(approx. $25 US), but probably the easiest way to get a copy is to find a
publisher who attended last year’s book fair and ask to borrow theirs. Note:
One of the perks of attending the Frankfurt Book Fair is getting your company
listed in this valuable directory. Who knows? Somebody may be looking for
b) The International Literary Market Place (ILMP): This even larger
directory lists publishers by country and subject. Don’t be discouraged if
you see 75 publishers who publish the same types of titles you do. This, in
fact, isn’t your competition so much as your potential customers. These
publishers may be looking to increase their booklist by translating and
acquiring your titles.
By the way, it works both ways. You can review foreign titles and acquire the
rights to their titles too. The ILMP is available from R. R. Bowker
(908/464-6800) for about $190. If you just want to get a taste of the foreign
market, you can also look for the ILMP in the reference section of your local
c) Your Fellow Publishers: That’s right. It’s time to get on the phone, fire
up the fax, and jump start your e-mail. You need to network with your
publishing contacts. Ask to swap lists and names. It’s a big world out there,
so don’t be surprised when people are willing to share information if you do
Tip #3: “Set up appointments with foreign publishers BEFORE the fair begins.”
Unless you have been going to the Frankfurt Book Fair for some time and have
already established a network of foreign contacts, you need to begin to
schedule appointments as early as possible.
You can do this using the following method. In June, a full four months prior
to the fair, send short letters to foreign publishers. Briefly tell the
a) What types of books you publish (Include your book catalog.)
b) What target market you serve in the US market
c) That you are interested in selling foreign rights to your titles
d) That you are planning on attending the Frankfurt Book Fair and would like
to schedule an appointment
e) Follow up any initial contacts with these publishers by fax. Note: Most
foreign publishers do not have e-mail at this time, so fax is the most
efficient means of communicating. However, look for major changes in the next
few years as foreign publishers plunge into cyberspace.
If you receive any kind of feedback, this is a good sign. If you don’t
receive any interest, don’t be discouraged. Most foreign publishers take a
long time to get back to you even when they want to do business with you.
Most of the European publishers at the fair tend to book their appointments
on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. These are probably the most intense days
of the fair, and it is a good idea to try to book an appointment at your
stand during this time. You can try to book Asian publishers during Friday
and Saturday, when many of the big European publishers are ready to break out
the beer steins and go home.
For my first trip, I made only about a half a dozen appointments before the
fair. However, I was also building up my database and getting familiar with
names of foreign publishers. By the time I got to the fair, I could look up a
publisher in the Frankfurt Book Catalog, recognize their name, and make a
beeline for their booth. And voila, I made an appointment on the spot.
Tip #4: “Wear comfortable shoes.”
No kidding, this was the most frequent comment I received from publishers
from three different time zones. This fair is ten times larger than the ABA.
To set up your appointments and really work this show, especially as a
neophyte, you MUST walk the halls.
I walked the halls all right and at the end of the first day my feet were
hurting so much I thought I’d never tap dance again. On the second day, I put
on my suit and my Nike Air Walkers and strolled comfortably and confidently
from meeting to meeting. Remember, you are going to be walking several miles
a day: (1) To the book fair, (2) To your train or hotel, and (3) From hall to
hall. Your feet are your two best buddies; treat them well.
Tip #5: “Don’t stay at a hotel…. go native.”
Aside from air fare (approx. $600-$900, depending on where you are in the US)
and stand cost (a reasonable $1,100 from PMA), one of the biggest expenses
associated with the fair is hotel accommodations.
Frankfurt is the biggest convention in the world and German hospitality,
while quite genuine, can be pricey. Hotel rates often triple during the fair,
so I recommend that you check out their Privatzimmer (Private Home)
Using this option, you are staying with local families in or around the
Frankfurt area. This option is much cheaper and gives you a wonderful
opportunity to mingle with the locals. Of course, unlike the staid
predictability of a hotel, the atmosphere at private home accommodations can
be a bit varied.
One publisher I met was staying with a woman named “Ursula.” His initial
vicarious thrills about sharing space with a Teutonic temptress were quickly
shattered when Ursula turned out be a 70-year-old grandmother who kept
feeding him bread rolls until he wanted to pass out.
My experience was much better. I had a simple room to myself within walking
distance of the book fair. I went out to dinner in the neighborhood and had
sauerkraut with the locals. I like sauerkraut even better now and I will
never think of German food quite the same way again.
Here are the newly posted 1997 rates for a single room:
1) 70DM per night (approx. $50) (mit fl. Wasser) (with running water)
2) 80DM per night (approx. $57) (mit Bad und WC) (With bath and toilet)
When contacting the Frankfurt Book Fair, ask them for a Privatzimmer close to
the fair if you don’t want to take a metro or train into the city. If you do
land up within the few trains stops from the fair, no need to fret. The
German rail system is one of the best in the world and the trains will whisk
you to your destination with unbelievable efficiency.
Tip #6: “Get to the fair early so you can get in the groove.”
Under ideal conditions, you should plan to arrive a few days prior to the
fair. For first time attendees, there are several advantages to getting there
a little early.
a) You can recover from jet lag.
b) You can set up your stand and orient yourself to your new “office” where
you will be spending the next few intense days.
c) You will have access to the new Frankfurt Book Catalog which will give you
an opportunity to put together a comprehensive hit list. This is a big book
which will require a lot of time to study.
By the way, the 1997 Frankfurt Book Fair will be from October 15 to October
Hopefully this article will give you some general ideas of how to decide if
the Frankfurt Book Fair is right for you and how to preplan your trip. In the
next article, I’ll review how to work the fair and get the most out of your
foreign rights adventure. Until then, auf Wiedersehen.
Ken Lee is Vice President of Michael Wiese Productions. MWP’s professional
film and video books are sold throughout the United States and have been
translated into Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, French, and German. Lee was
also the writer and producer of Kids on the Internet, a PBS program which
sold over 52,000 units. MWP also provides consulting services to a variety of
clients including publishers, video companies, and independent producers. Lee
can be reached at Michael Wiese Productions, 11288 Ventura Blvd., Suite 821,
Studio City, CA 91604, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
phone 818/379-8799, and fax 818/986-3408.