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Get Set for Success at Frankfurt

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by Polly Andersen, Vice President of Finance & Administration, Meadowbrook Press

What makes your publishing house stand out? Its line of new titles? Its key accounts? Its cutting-edge packaging or prestigious authors? In terms of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the answer to that question is simple: It has to be you. Having exhibited at Frankfurt more than 10 times, I know that what you do before, during, and right after Frankfurt can substantially add to your company’s bottom line. However, as a chummy Mitstreiter (comrade in arms) of mine likes to say, “It’s a whole other thing to actually do it.”

Start your homework early. During the first half of the year, keep your list of publisher contacts up to date. Include names of editorial directors and publishers working in foreign firms with books or related products similar to yours. If you’re building a list from scratch, use the prior year’s Frankfurter Buchmesse Catalogue. If you can’t find one, visit the Frankfurt Book Fair official Web site (book-fair.com), which maintains a catalog online. A third option is to get your hands on the most recent edition of International Literary Market Place.

Do a mailing to your list in June. There’s no “correct” way to connect; the mode of correspondence isn’t as important as creating interest in your company and what it can offer. You can send an email blast that includes your catalog as a PDF attachment. Or you can send an electronic sales piece that highlights your most successful translatable titles. Or you can even snail-mail your catalog with an explanatory letter printed on letterhead (still the staple of formal business correspondence).

Do what feels right to build relationships that will strengthen over the long term. If you’ll be attending the fair for the first time, be sure to play up your enthusiasm. If you’re a returning attendee, highlight your familiarity with the fair and your experience with international deals. In either case, mention that you’ll be filling in your fair appointment calendar over the summer.

Send an email blast in July. No formal letters at this point; just a short, one-paragraph invitation for an appointment. I think it’s most professional to BCC: your recipients and make your note breezy yet warm. You’ll receive replies over the next several weeks.

Begin preparing your presentation materials in August. What do you want to present at the fair besides your books? Perhaps some banners or signs. You’ll also need a sales kit that highlights your frontlist, perhaps those titles just published and those slated to be published in the next six months.

Your presentation materials are key to developing relationships, so put a lot of effort into creating them. Utilize your marketing and publicity departments’ skills, and draw upon their creativity and flair. Network with rights directors at other publishing houses in your area. Share ideas and invent new ones together. There are myriad ways to highlight your newest and latest titles, and each way will succeed on its own merits.

Always keep your audience’s English-language abilities in mind. As you design your sales kits, create your presentations, and draft your correspondence, be alert for communications pitfalls. Your potential clients may speak English as a second language, so make yourself easy to understand. You may want to consider options such as using large type and strong graphics in your sales pieces.

At the fair, remember that you’re not just projecting an image of yourself. You’re also projecting an image of your company. Be authentic, yet relaxed. Keep your style professional, yet low-key, friendly, and patient. When meeting with people whose native language isn’t English, talk slowly and clearly, and choose words you’re confident will be understood.

Become knowledgeable about the business customs and manners of various countries. In some, including England, it’s considered rude to ask personal questions until you’ve met with a person many times. In others, such as Brazil, talk of family is often an integral part of the first meeting. Knowing and respecting someone’s customs and manners will go a long way toward ensuring a successful conversation.

Plan each scheduled meeting for 20 to 30 minutes. In that short time, ask questions about the company of the person you’re meeting with and about what role that person plays there. If the conversation flows easily, you may ask more personal questions.

Depending on the person’s culture, you may want to ask about family, home, or professional background. Regardless of culture, everyone enjoys being thought interesting, so make that work in your favor during meetings. Let your counterparts tell you what they know, and let them be in the spotlight. Communicating comfort and ease, along with the belief that you understand their future challenges, is sure to make you memorable and to make your books register as more important.

Once you know a bit about the person you’re meeting with, present your sales kit. Ask direct questions about the appropriateness of your titles. Take notes while chatting, writing down as much as you can while maintaining an easy conversation. (You’ll use these observations to compose meaningful correspondence after the show.) Try to end each meeting with a summary call to action by reviewing what you’ll do for your counterpart.

Make room for chance meetings. Unscheduled meetings can be fruitful. Skip lunch and stay active in the hall as much as you can. During your downtime, visit other publishers’ booths and do some meeting and greeting. Or just take a breather and stroll down one or two aisles, stopping to ask questions along the way. Get to know as many people as possible. If you’re in need of sustenance, invite potential partners to enjoy a glass of wine with you. Make the connections that would never happen through written correspondence.

Be wary of apparently chance meetings. Potentially significant contacts can seem to happen almost by accident, especially if you’re new to Frankfurt. For example, a suave agent may saunter down your aisle, strike up a conversation with you, and before you know it, you’re ready to sign a contract that sells the rights to your company’s book for 8 percent of list, a handsome escalation, and well over half upfront.

Not so fast, first-timer! Don’t agree to that contract yet. Buy yourself some time and make the deal well after you know everything there is to know about how your valuable book will fare in the agent’s country. Continue to shop it around at the fair and determine whether you’re able to generate competitive interest from more than one publisher, so you can negotiate more favorable terms.

Back home, try to complete follow-ups within a week. As you enter the last, post-Frankfurt stage of your rights push, you may savor a feeling of relief, but burn the midnight oil if you must to follow up quickly. Promptness will set you apart from the crowd. And that’s what it’s all about: making you and your titles memorable so you can harness contracts and dollars.

The Pleasures of Pushing That Special Title

To me, the most rewarding part of Frankfurt is the effort I put into selling one high-odds title, chosen for its translatability and social significance, in countries where it will work well.

For example, if I have a Sarkozy-like author who has fresh, authoritative advice on how to transform French citizenship, I bring it up when I’m talking with anyone from France—agents, authors, sales people. I show them a one-page sales piece on it and ask which publishers they think I should take it to. Armed with their responses, I stop by the stands of my targeted list. It’s incredibly rewarding to receive responses of genuine interest, and these opportunities probably will not happen if you’re not proactive.

Good luck, and I’ll see you at the fair!

Polly Andersen is vice president, finance and administration, of Meadowbrook Press. The company’s books are sold throughout the United States and have been translated into more than 20 languages. To learn more, visit meadowbrookpress.com.

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