Friday, October 30, 2015

Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: a view from the inside

RNA members followed news avidly as it arrive online from the recent Frankfurt Book Fair. 
Jan Ellis attended the event and has come along today to report on this important event in the publishing world.

Publishers and booksellers have been flocking to Frankfurt to sell their wares since the middle of the 15th century when Johannes Gutenberg developed moveable type and created the publishing industry.

Nowadays, about 7,000 exhibitors gather each year at the Messe where the core business is selling rights rather than actual books. Sometimes what is for sale is just a concept: a company will buy the rights to publish a novel that is not much more than a highly polished synopsis and a twinkle in the agent's eye. Most commonly, though, we meet each other to buy and sell translation rights to books that have already been published somewhere in the world.
Author event

My background is in illustrated books and it is always a thrill to see a title that I have created appear many months later with the text translated into Kazakh or Japanese!

So how does it work? Well, the publishing year is topped and tailed by London Book Fair in April and Frankfurt (FBF) in October: as soon as one event is finished, we begin thinking about the next. Was our stand in the best location? Should we change the display this year? Which of the many ideas we have discussed should we work up into a book dummy?
Penguin Random House had 140 table

Publishers start setting up October meetings in July, aiming to fill as many half-hour slots as possible over the fair. (My record was 58!) At the end of each day, there are drinks parties and dinners to attend, and this is where the best plans are concocted and deals done.

It is impossible to convey the vastness of FBF to anyone who hasn't been there, but the numbers provide a clue: there were 25,000 attendees at London Book Fair in 2015, but over 280,000 visitors to Frankfurt. Whereas the UK event is held in one place, the German show fills several massive halls.
Comic-book characters

Another huge difference is that members of the public are allowed into the German event and every year we marvel at the number of children and young people who visit. Most eye-catching of all are the fans of manga and anime who come along dressed as their favourite comic-book characters. At the weekend it is impossible to walk through the German hall, so dense are the crowds there.

Should you come if you are an author? Yes, if you want to experience the phenomenon of over a quarter of a million book lovers in the same place at almost the same time, and to visit what is a beautiful and ever-changing city. No if you expect to meet a publisher or introduce yourself to an agent because everyone is busy with meetings.  London is a
Hall 4
much better place for that, but do try to make appointments first.

It is a mad, exhausting week and we often sit around at the end of it wondering whether it was worth the time and the huge expense, but it is those late-night conversations and Sunday morning encounters with teenagers dressed as aliens or wolves that makes it all worthwhile.

Hall 3
Sunday in the German hall

Jan Ellis (right) with her German
publisher, Kathinka Nohl of
Endeavour Press, Germany
Jan Ellis began writing fiction in 2013 and has had three books published by Endeavour Press. As her non-fiction self, she has a number of roles including working for part of The Booksellers' Association and selling foreign rights for an independent book packager. You can follow her on Twitter @JanEllis_writer, on Facebook and at

Thank you for this fascinating insight into FBF 2015, Jan.

Are you planning to attend a publishing event? Why not write about it on the RNA blog? Contact us at


Unknown said...

Thanks for inviting me to share my Frankfurt report, Elaine! I hope RNA members find it interesting.

angela britnell said...

Fascinating post and I'd no idea what a huge event this was!

jill mansell said...

I had no idea it was that much more enormous than the London book fair either, nor that the public attended! Very interesting!

Rhoda Baxter said...

Thanks for this insight. I had no idea it was so big...or that the public were invited. Useful to know!

Stephanie Bisby said...

Thanks for this insight - I always wondered what went on at these events!

Unknown said...

Hello tweeps! Thanks for all the comments. FBF actually used to be bigger, but a lot of American publishers stopped coming after 911 (they were frightened of flying) and the numbers never really went back up. Now far fewer UK publishers and suppliers have stands, too. For the first time this year they closed Hall 8, where the English-language companies used to be, and squished us into Halls 4 and 6.

It is still massive, though. To give you an idea, it takes about 20 minutes just to walk from the entrance to our stand. London is weeny by comparison.

Elaine Everest said...

Thank you, Jan. I found this fascinating. I love to read what happens behind the scenes of our profession. I've attended the London Book Fair a few times as an author and also journalist for work - that was tiring! I've seen cutbacks in the press area. A press pass, goody bag and also press room with refreshments was great as we could scuttle back there for a rest and a cuppa. These days there isn't even a biscuit!
I didn't realise FBF was so large.

Unknown said...

Humungous! And no freebies. Do you get free entry as press, Elaine?

Elaine Everest said...

Yes, press do receive a pass and catalogue but I miss the goodie bags from my jour no days!

Unknown said...

No one can afford to give away freebies any more. It's very sad!

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