Friday, October 25, 2013

The Frankfurt Book Fair, Part Two

My first Frankfurt Book Fair post was about the business side of the fair. That’s only half the story! The social aspect of the fair—networking at drinks, dinners, parties, and hotel bars—is just as important.

One of those hotels, the Frankfurter Hof, has been the unofficial social hub of the book fair for years. Some publishing people actually stay at the Hof, but regardless of where you hang your hat, you’ll end up there at some point. People make business appointments at the Frankfurter Hof, do lunch, and drink in the lobby or linger outside until 4:00 in the morning. I'm not cool enough to stay out quite that late, but some scouts and foreign editors even have to show their bosses a receipt for drinks to prove that they were there until a certain time, partying networking the night away. 

On Tuesday, before the fair has formally begun, some people take meetings at the Hof. It’s crazed and crowded, and you never know who you’ll bump into while trying to find your next meeting. It’s often the first time you'll see someone you haven’t seen since, well, last Frankfurt. Reunions abound! This year we arrived at 9 a.m. to snag a coveted table on the terrace just outside the hotel. Just like at the fair itself, we had meetings every thirty minutes, but in a much nicer setting, and with wine (we waited ‘til 3:00, okay?). The editors we met with were happy to have a glass, and I swear our meetings were 99% more entertaining and productive after that.

What you do after those meetings can be just as key as what happens during them. Frankfurt is one of the few times when we’re able to meet with our co-agents in person, though we’re in communication with them every day. (Quick co-agent primer: we partner with literary agents on the ground in every territory. They get 10% of every foreign deal. They rock.) There are only a handful of really great co-agents in every territory, and tons of US agents. When we have a longstanding, productive, and exclusive relationship with a killer co-agent, we want to show them how much we love and appreciate them. Agents often take their co-agents out to dinner and/or drinks to say thanks. (The pic to the left is a popular outdoor drinks spot.) It’s good for our relationships--and our business--to get to know each other offline.

We also want to get in some social time with the editors who publish our clients’ books abroad, and the scouts with whom they work. We see them at various publisher-hosted parties, and again, sometimes at drinks or a dinner. A typical day in Frankfurt can involve meetings from 9-6, then probably a drinks meeting, then a dinner function, then some kind of shindig until the wee hours. If you don’t have anything else to do, you might end up at the Frankfurter Hof (again!) just to see who’s around. There's some hot gossip, bookish and otherwise. Though you’re not always talking business, you’re always on the job – and always on, so for super-introverted book people, it can be an intense week of late nights and early mornings. So, when your agent comes home from Frankfurt, don't assume he or she has been taking anything resembling a vacation for the last week. They probably feel like a beer-soaked, exhausted lump of potatoes and schnitzel, and are only capable of speaking in pitches. 

This is getting a bit long for one post, but next time, I’ll address some trends we’re seeing in international rights. Questions? Comments? Let me know!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Frankfurt Book Fair, Part One

Last week, my client Kristen Lippert-Martin took a trip to Disney World. I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair with my amazing colleague Melissa, with whom I co-direct Folio’s Foreign Rights Department. Though some might call me crazy, for me, the two trips aren't that different. Frankfurt is my Happiest Place on Earth. Despite the jet lag, the less-than-beautiful city, the exhausting schedule of 160+ meetings, the days that begin with an alarm clock at 6 a.m. and don’t end until you collapse into your hotel bed at 2 or so in the morning, it’s the event I most look forward to all year.

Frankfurt is the one place where everyone in publishing all around the world gets together. There’s this simmer of excitement, a sense of literary history unfolding around you, of books being made, that permeates the fair. There are editors and agents and publishers who have gone to the fair for 30 years or more, who have seen our book world made and remade over and over. I’m always in awe at how lucky I am to be part of something so big—bigger than just U.S. book publishing, even. I kind of feel like Will Smith in Men in Black walking in there every morning. There’s some serious damn-I’ve-got-some-great-books-to-unleash-on-the-world swagger going on.

So what happens at the Frankfurt Book Fair? While pitching books is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive aspect of the fair, we’re really there for the networking. If you’re going to be a major player on the literary scene, especially on the adult publishing side, it’s important to have a presence there. (Bologna is great, but it’s only for children’s books, doesn’t draw as diverse a crowd, and lasts just three days; London is big, but it happens in the spring, before the Big Fall Books have emerged.) Frankfurt is where it’s AT.

To give you a sense of how many agents attend, here’s a picture of the Literary Agents Center (from last year, I forgot to take one this year!).
Each agency has a table. You can see where they begin, behind the wall of the cafe: there are hundreds! This year, Folio’s tables were nestled between other American agencies, an agency from India, and one from France.

A typical day for us at the fair begins with a 9 a.m. meeting and ends with a 5:30 or even 6 p.m. meeting (we start scheduling these meetings in June, so a lot of prep work goes into them).  During the day, meetings are scheduled every 30 minutes, with editors hailing from all over the world, who are looking for everything from picture books to adult literary fiction. Every 30 minutes, a different editor from a different country comes to my table (pictured here; you can also kind of see Melissa’s table to the left).

Depending on how well I know the editor and where they’re from, a meeting begins with a handshake, cheek-kiss, or hug. The practice for exchanging business cards varies by territory. Then we begin with the requisite small talk: how the fair is going, what the big books are, and sometimes more personal things if we know each other from previous fairs. I ask what’s working well for them and what they’re looking for now (though I’ve already researched that prior to the fair and have taken extensive notes), then select a handful of books I think would fit their needs and (hopefully) pitch them like there’s no tomorrow. It’s better to pitch just a few books than too many. Editors should feel like you’ve tailored your list and pitches specifically for them, their publishing house, and their market. We don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks (you could do this, and some territories are too polite to say no, but others will look at you like you’re a crazy American). 

Folio represents hundreds of titles across all genres, and at any given time it’s important to be ready to pitch most of them at the drop of a hat (yup, we read them all). A pitch can include the, well, pitch, but also the US publisher, when it publishes, any awards it’s gotten, the print run, copies sold (if it’s already published and the numbers are impressive), what countries it’s sold in and to whom, as well as information about the author. A foreign rights person has to be able to adjust pitches on the fly to suit different markets, too. You’ll pitch a book a bit differently depending on which country an editor is from, because you know what aspect of a book is going to be most important to them. We also need to shift seamlessly from pitching one genre to another, which, all told, can make you feel a little schizophrenic by the end of the day. We practice our pitches quite a bit before a fair.

In short, the Frankfurt Book Fair is sort of like trying to tap-dance while morphing between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for a week straight. In some meetings it is appropriate to shout about the hilarious book we have involving giant, retractable duck penises, and in some, it decidedly is not. In some meetings I did a weird bird-like dance to illustrate a point; in others, I sat stoically for thirty minutes. But that’s the beauty of the fair. There’s nothing like the high you get from a string of really great meetings and successful pitches. It’s exhausting and insane, but a hell of a lot of fun.

In the next Frankfurt blog post: What happens after-hours! Trends! And more! If you have any questions about the fair, please feel free to leave them in the comments.