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Notes from the Frankfurt Book Fair, Part II

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In my last article, I reviewed key tips on pre-planning your trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In this article, I’ll review more tips on making your trip to Frankfurt as productive as possible.

Ordnung Ist Das Halbe Leben

(Order is Half of Life)

When you visit Frankfurt, you’ll understand exactly what this old German saying means. It means that city sidewalks are swept clean every week by the local citizens. It means that the trains are always on time. But most of all, it means that you need to be extremely organized to properly work the Fair.

Here are some important tips to get your life (at least as it applies to the Frankfurt Book Fair) in order:

Tip #1: Prepare Your Sales Materials in Advance

If you’re fortunate enough to look like Cindy Crawford or Mel Gibson, you probably won’t need help attracting attention during the Fair.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, we need to bring along sales materials to get the job done. Sales materials can be broken down into two major categories: (1) Sales materials you should pack, and (2) Sales materials you should ship in advance.

1. Sales Material You Should Pack

Your Appointment Schedule: Your appointment schedule is your lifeline, and it will be the key document to keep you on schedule, in charge, and in control.

In Frankfurt, appointments are generally 30 minutes long — no more, no less. That means that you can pack in a lot of appointments each day. Most people use some type of daytimer or computer spreadsheet to keep track of the incredible myriad of publishers, people, and titles.

Here’s a sample appointment schedule to get you started.

October 8th, 1997 – Wednesday

Time Publisher Country Contact Stand
Titles to

8:30 AM Spinder Austria Angelika
Halle 8.0,
9:00 AM Primo Italy Norma
Halle 8.0,
Kids Titles

Presentation Kit: Your Presentation Kit provides your first and most important opportunity to pitch your titles to foreign publishers.

Here’s one version of a presentation kit you can try. Use a professional-looking, three-ring binder with clear plastic sheets. On the left-hand page, slip in sample covers for each of your titles. On the right-hand page, slip in pitch sheets for each corresponding title.

The pitch sheet should include the following information:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Brief description of the book
  • Retail price

Optional information can include:

  • US Sales figures (Note: While big sales numbers in the US will be noted by foreign publishers, don’t assume that your best-sellers will be of the greatest interest to foreign publishers. Pitch all your titles and see how the market responds.)
  • Foreign markets previously sold
  • International sales hooks (i.e., contributions from foreign authors, editors, photographers, and/or information on international stories, locales, etc.)
  • Review quotes (Only major reviewers count)

You might be saying to yourself, “Hey, I paid a lot of money for my five-color, matte-laminated die-cut book catalog!!! Why do I need to carry around this dopey three-ring binder?”

I personally think the Presentation Kit is a better sales tool because it allows publishers to quickly see and evaluate the two most interesting aspects of your booklist (cover design and content) in a single glance.

Even though foreign publishers will inevitably change the design of the book cover if they acquire your title, their first impression of your book will be its cover. And, yes, most publishers — at least at this initial stage — do judge a book by its cover.

Your book catalogs are great to use as leave behinds but a presentation kit will help you generate more interest and enhance your chances to set up an appointment at your booth where publishers will review your titles in more detail.

Another advantage of having a presentation kit is that you can use it to pitch titles you haven’t even published yet. Using only cover art and a pitch sheet, I received requests for three titles that we were publishing for the following season.

Mini Office Tool Kit: You’re not in Kansas anymore, which means that you are cut off from raiding your secretary’s desk for office supplies. Rather than waste time and money buying office supplies in Frankfurt, plan ahead and bring along small office items to make your life easier.

Your Mini Office Kit should include a yellow highlighter, scissors, tape, paper, pens, manila envelopes for business cards, stapler, business cards, letterhead, paper clips, package opener or small knife, etc.

2. Sales Material You Should Ship

Through PMA’s Frankfurt Coop Program, you will ship your exhibit materials to Frankfurt using Academia Book Exhibits. These nice folks, based on the East Coast, will consolidate all your shipments and make sure that they arrive at the Fair before you do. Note: Because shipments are sent by boat, you need to get your material to them by the end of August, almost five to six weeks prior to the Fair.

Here’s a list of material you should ship ahead:

  • Two exhibit copies of each of your titles
  • Book catalogs. (Approx: 300) (Remember to print up labels which list your stand number and put them on all your catalogs. That way, publishers will have a way to locate you more easily if they want to meet with you)
  • Posters and signs. (While PMA does a nice job in providing you with basic signage at your stand, it’s still up to you to make people stop and take notice. Blow up some of your best covers, mount them on foamcore, and use them as posters.)

Tip #2: Create a Hit List for Yourself

When you arrive at the Fair for the first time, one of your top priorities should be to get your hands on the current Frankfurt Book Catalog. As an exhibitor, your complimentary book catalog will be waiting for you at your stand.

By now at the Fair, you should have already developed a database of potential publishers you can meet to discuss your titles. You may even have been fortunate enough to set up some appointments in advance.

But since the real action happens at the Fair itself, you need to prepare a Hit List of ALL the publishers who you would like to see.

First, use a yellow highlighter to note all the foreign publishers who might be interested in your titles. Second, transcribe these publishers onto separate pieces of paper broken down by Hall Number, Floor Number, and Stand Number. You can even do this faster with a laptop if you have one.

(Note: It will take several hours to go through this book, especially if this is the first time you have attended the Fair.)

By organizing your Hit List by hall, floor, and stand number, you now have an organized plan to walk the halls systematically. Without some type of game plan, you’ll lose time, get disoriented, and eventually have to be escorted to the medical suite for treatment for exhaustion.

Note: I like to walk the halls in the morning to set up appointments for the afternoon. In the morning, I kept walking and pitching for several hours. In the afternoon, I sat at my booth, gave my feet a well-deserved rest, and allowed my appointments to come to me.

Tip #3: Don’t Be Shy … Let It Fly

With so many people at one venue, now is not the time to be a wallflower. Get out of your stand and use your hit list to beat the bushes. Of course, having a hit list doesn’t mean that you have to be so rigid that you pass up opportunities when they are presented to you.

When I came across a publisher who I hadn’t noted in the book catalog, I simply added them to my hit list and started my sales pitch. If I came across a publisher who had no interest in my titles, I asked them and/or their Publishing Association (i.e., The Spanish Publishing Association) for a recommendation.

Use every encounter to further your business. I spoke to one publisher while standing in line waiting for bratwurst. Another time, I stumbled upon our European distributor and got him to shorten our payment schedule by 30 days. Two days after the Fair was over, I bumped into another publisher while walking through the medieval city of Rothenburg.

Tip #4: Learn a Little Bit of Foreign Language

Because It’s a Small World After All

I think one of the biggest thrills about the Frankfurt Book Fair is walking the halls and listening to the mellifluous sounds of Italian, Korean, Japanese, German, Polish, and French bouncing off the walls.

If you’re like most Americans, the closest you get to speaking a second language is when you order Fettucine Marinara at Big Tony’s down the street.

Thankfully, English is spoken by almost everyone at the Fair. If you are having trouble communicating, you can always smile and start flipping through your presentation kit. Believe me, someone at their stand will be able to peruse your material and say “Yeah” or “Nay” very quickly.

However, to really connect to people, stand out from the crowd, and even have some fun, it’s a great idea to learn a little foreign language.

For quick study, I recommend purchasing a simple French, Italian, and German phrase book. These pocket-size books have enough phrases to allow you to order lunch, ask for directions, and use the international code for good manners (i.e., thank you, please, excuse me) in three key languages.

Tip #5: Fly Home and Follow Up

This fair is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. You can meet hundreds of potential contacts and make dozens of pitches. However, none of it will matter if you don’t follow up when you get back home.

All interested publishers will request that you ship them review copies to their home office. It will take months for them to review your material. Send samples quickly, give people reasonable deadlines, fax them follow-up notes, and put information into a database before your memory fades.

The 97 Frankfurt Book Fair runs from October 15-20th. Is your leben in order?

Ken Lee is Vice President of Michael Wiese Productions. MWP’s professional film and video books are sold throughout the US and have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, French, and German. MWP also provides consulting services to 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 kenlee@earthlink.net, phone 818/379-8799, and fax 818/986-3408.

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