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Frankfurt Book Fair 2015

One of the more unique elements of the book publishing sector is the importance of the various Book Fairs that take place around the world. The biggest, and most important, of these is the Frankfurt Book Fair that takes place every October.

This year our intern Nicole Gordon was lucky enough to be invited to attend. In this blog, Nicole describes the ins and outs of this important book fair. You can follow here on Twitter on @nickysgordon.

The sheer magnitude of Frankfurt Book Fair means that it is widely regarded as the hub of the publishing industry. To give you an idea, the event organisers Frankfurt Messe estimate that over 275,000 people from across the world, including 9,000 journalists and 7,300 exhibitors visit the Fair each year to showcase new books and establish partnerships, which makes it one of the most important events in the international publishing calendar.

During the three days that I assisted on the Macmillan stand, I set out to discover who attends Frankfurt Book Fair, what happens there and its importance as an international cultural exchange for movers and shakers in publishing.

My first day at the Fair began with an early morning pick up at 4.15am en route to Heathrow Airport. Once in Frankfurt I set myself the challenge of getting to the Fair by train, and used my exhibitor’s pass to take the S-Bahn to the exhibition centre. The congregation of business suits, travel cases and smartphones on the station platform was a good indication that I was heading in the right direction, and I figured that if I needed to ask for directions it would be a good opportunity to practise my German.

Many of the hotels in Frankfurt are fully booked during the Fair, and one of the highlights was getting to stay at the impressive Villa Kennedy Hotel, which was renamed after a visit from US President J. F. Kennedy himself in 1963. Even the hotel shared in the wide-spread enthusiasm for Frankfurt Book Fair, and on entering my room I was welcomed with a brownie decorated ‘FBF15!’ and the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper featuring Marlon James’ Man Booker Prize win the day before for his latest book A Brief History of Seven Killings.

On the Macmillan stand at the Fair various meetings were taking place as editors and sales managers met with industry contacts to expand their lists, promote their books and negotiate new partnerships.

Most notable was the friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere on the stand as publishers enthusiastically greeted colleagues from Macmillan’s sister companies abroad, and welcomed new international associates.

On reception I banded together with fellow assistants from across Macmillan, organising the influx of individuals for appointments on the hour and locating their respective contact. Although it was challenging initially, I quickly developed a good awareness of each person on the stand. One of my highlights was an impromptu appearance on the Pan Macmillan vlog-channel Book Break, developed by Lena Normington, for Frankfurt Book Fair where I cheerily shared my experiences of assisting at the Fair for the first time.

For many of the publishers the evening relaxes into dinners with colleagues and the restaurants in Frankfurt are live with chatter, clinking glasses and baritone waiters expertly balancing steaming plates of elegant food. As the Fair closed for the evening, I was invited to attend a customer dinner with international sales managers and buyers at the trendy restaurant Die Leiter. During the dinner many entertaining stories were exchanged, and from the experience I realised that publishing centres not only the important business deals but longstanding rapports and free-flowing cultural exchange.

The final two days of Frankfurt Book Fair are open to the public. A real surprise was seeing the array of young people in cosplay in their hundreds as they ventured from a nearby exhibition centre. Numerous costumes referencing video games, films and anime characters ventured into the book fair, and my favourite costume was a duo dressed as the Jellicle Cats from Cats the Musical. The publishing stands are also quieter towards the end of the fair, and assistants from across the different publishers visit stands and swap their latest books. Charities also play a crucial role in gathering books from the publishing stands for schools and families in the region.

Overall my first book fair was hugely insightful. It was great to witness the variety of publishing in the industry and the collective enthusiasm for producing literature. I also realised that the juggernaut force of the publishing industry is sustained by the collaboration of passionate individuals eager to share their ideas and widen the reach of literature.
If you’d like to find out more about Frankfurt Book Fair, this episode of Book Break is definitely worth watching!