Monday, 20 October 2014

The Frankfurt Book Fair

Never under-estimate the power of creating opportunities for yourself. If I hadn't been on Twitter, I would not have seen posts about the Festival of Writing in York. If I hadn't have gone to York that year, I wouldn't have met the lovely author Anika Scott, who lives in Germany. And if I had not met Anika, I wouldn't have been flying across to stay with her and attend the Frankfurt Book Fair. So, the moral of this tale is, as ever, eat lots of chocolate and drink wine, because doing both gave me the sugar rush and drunken confidence to start a Twitter account in the first place.

Hooray for chocolate and wine!

But before my tale of Frankfurt starts, a quick wave and hello, as it's been a while since I've blogged (pardon me) and I'm sorry for the while it has been. I never meant to go AWOL for so long, but it is frighteningly quick to get out of the swing of blogging. So let's strike while the smell of fresh books still hangs in the air, the furry costumes of manga cosplayers are being patched up for the next event, and somewhat scarily, I can still see Moomins when I blink.

The Moomin bus!
Yes, this year I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair. The largest trade book fair in the world. Over 265,000 people attended, all of whom love, adore, and possibly want to roll around in freshly printed books. (The latter may be just me. And it might be the sort of thing I shouldn’t mention in public. Whoops.) But first a caveat. I wasn't there to pitch my novel, or leap on a startled literary agent in the manner of peckish lion joyfully sighting an antelope. Most agents are tucked away in back-to-back meetings and the book fair is seriously huge. I saw this more as a reconnoitre mission, a chance to do some market research and get a feel for the publishing industry, peek a little behind the scenes.

We rocked up on Saturday around midday, having left Essen at an ungodly dark hour clutching steaming cups of coffee, and book-dreamed as the train sped beside the trees and fairy-tale castles of the Rhine.

Can you spot a castle?
On my way!
 I started to appreciate how vast the book fair was straight from the train, as it was clear I was not only entering a book fair, but a small book city. Each hall is huge and stuffed to the gills with stands, people, and of course, books. Books fresh from the printers. Books where, if you squint, you can still see the hopes and dreams of the author surrounding them like a sparkly aura.

A quick consultation of the map and we were away. One of our first stops was the UK and USA hall, collecting rights guides and 2015 catalogues. As well as getting excited about what books are coming up, both are great for studying blurbs – seeing what words pull me in as a reader, which words excite my mind. Also both give an indication of where the market is heading. I tend to write what’s in my heart rather than what I think the market would want, as by the time the book is finished things may have moved on anyway, but it’s interesting to see what sort of trends are out there. And this is all research you can do on home soil, too – visiting bookshops and libraries, chatting to sellers and librarians – but have to say it was super-lovely to be doing it in Frankfurt!

At the book fair
Bags considerably heavier, we had so much fun soaking in the atmosphere and basically basking in books. The German publishing halls in particular were fantastic – most publishers offering first-chapter giveaways and sample stories – and the buzz was incredible. These little sample stories are such a neat idea and I don’t see it that much in bookshops in England. Over in Germany bookshops have many little sample giveaways, and these work fantastically as a selling tool – people do buy the full price book if they like the sample – so I think it should be more wide-spread. But there were lots of little interesting differences like that. Book covers were another thing – it’s interesting to see how covers change according to country. Such as the one below – I’d buy the German cover in a heartbeat. The other cover? Wouldn’t even get my fingers twitching, sad to say. It just shows how subjective the industry is, and how it is easy to unfortunately judge a book by its cover. There should be a Tinder app for books – how to do you rate this cover, swipe left for dislike, swipe right for a match!

Dear cover on the right, you're gorgeous!

Moving from covers to illustration – I was so impressed with France. Nearly every picture book and graphic novel ticked my box for otherworldly, strange, beautiful illustrations – and the books stood out in a sea of primary colour.

Ceux-ci sont belles
Sunday was a bit of an eye-opener. This is the day when the general public can buy, so as you can imagine it was heaving. The German and most international halls were doing a roaring trade, and I was excited to visit the UK / USA hall to buy a few books to take home with me, but what a surprise! Most stands had ‘Books not for sale’ signs, and several publishers had packed up already, leaving behind forlorn empty stands. Presumably there is a good reason behind it, but when people are desperate to buy, and mostly everyone in Germany speaks English, with children learning English in kindergarten, it seems odd not to stay to sell the books. However, there were some who were selling so I did buy a couple to take back with me, mostly non-fiction books about London. Ah, you can take the girl out of London for a while but never London out of the girl.

I really loved my time in Frankfurt. It was totally heartening and inspiring to see how many people love words and pictures, and how every country pulls together to celebrate their authors and artists. At the end of Saturday, giddy-excited about all we had seen, we retired to the Finnish hall balcony to toast the fair with a glass of wine and watch the sun set over the square. It was our Frankfurt moment!

Me and Anika
The best way to end the fair - cheers!