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The Frankfurt Book Fair

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Published | Rights Royalties Contracts

Peter O'Connell

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 12th to 16th 2011


Several years ago I remember heading to the London Book Fair – a city I knew pretty well and one where I could, at least, speak the language! That said, I still found it pretty daunting stepping into the Earl’s Court Exhibition centre which was roughly the size of two football pitches. How could there be that many publishers, how could there be so many tens of thousands of titles?

Fast forward a couple of years and I was feeling pretty good about myself as I managed to negotiate arriving in Frankfurt and found the discreetly advertised shuttle bus direct to the Fair. My initial confidence evaporated instantly when I stepped out into Hall 8 of the Frankfurt Book Fair. One terminal in a complex of ten – think Heathrow meets O’Hare – and everyone looked like they had somewhere to be and knew just how to get there, except me.

Fortunately, and conveniently, the Publishing Ireland was there, and still is, a landmark, lifeline and pit stop with friendly faces and experienced veterans who quickly orientate you and indicate the shortcuts that can make all the difference. Now, several fairs later, I was surprised when my friends at Writing.ie asked if I might write something on Frankfurt – I am not sure of my pedigree or my insights but hopefully one or two of the notes and thoughts below might help you if you are going – or thinking about it in the future. (I have to thank my colleagues in Publishing Scotland whose ‘notes on a book fair’ really helped me with this piece.)

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Getting to the Fair simply as a visitor can be a pretty pricey affair – between flights, accommodation (inflated for the duration of the event), admission ticket, meals and entertainment as well as the cost of any materials you develop to bring with you.

To go further and be an exhibitor, even a co-exhibitor, is significantly expensive. So it is important to think seriously about how productive attending the Fair will really be? And if it is a good use of your time and resources?

I am not sure if Frankfurt benefits individual writers well who attend seeking to find a publisher or to sell rights to overseas publishers. My impression is that most of the meetings and business happen in a business to business sense – publisher to publisher, or agent to publisher. However, this may be changing with the increased penetration of digital editions and print on demand versions. What is paramount is that you have identified your target(s) and ideally have an appointment with the relevant parties you wish to meet.

Who will be there?

International publishers, international rights agents, overseas distributors, booksellers, librarians, publishing service providers, printers and photographic archives – it is great to see what the rest of the world is doing – FBF is a great inspiration.  What is essential to ask yourself is which of these exhibitors do you need to meet, and more fundamentally will they want to see you?

If you decide to go, does your author contract grant you the overseas rights?

– Is there real potential overseas?

– Is there support for translation?

– Have you researched the key issues in selling rights?

– Are you seeking a publisher or an agent or a distributor?

If the answer is YES then:

– Put together good information

– Pitch an advance information sheet to your potential market

– Localise/contextualise the info to the target

(eg ‘The new Stieg Larsson’ / ‘Part Tintin and part Harry Potter’)

– Potential contacts? Get in touch ASAP, well before the fair. Appointment books fill well in advance of the fair – don’t wait until the week before to get in touch with the agent or publisher you want to see.

Do your research

The Frankfurt Book Fair website is essential and extensive. It is tedious and time consuming but a key resource!

Get in the loop

– Newsletters via the Book Fair websites

– Sign up for trade magazine email newsletters (The Bookseller run features on fairs)


Start planning as soon as you have decided to go! Start planning for 2012 now and book hotels as early as you can



– Focus: what are your key objectives? What new relationships do you hope to forge?

– Research: what you are doing now! But also use the Fair website to check if there are specific talks/events to attend, the seminar programme is extensive but can be pricey, although some are free

– Look at the profile of overseas publishers

Look into the Publishing Ireland stand – is it an option for you

What is offered, space, passes etc

Can you avail of grants, support from the Arts Council or Culture Ireland or County Enterprise Boards?

Travel / Accommodation

– Ask someone who has already been there

– Do you have friends in reasonable commuting distance?

– Get advice on hotels/accommodation

Making Appointments – the most important thing you do.

– Keep a schedule: do a spreadsheet, more importantly, just keep it bang-up-to-date with time and date, correct name of contact, meeting location/stand number and Hall number, allow time for travel between halls! Sometimes you have to catch a bus between halls!

– Basic e-mail approach: explain who you are, that you are attending the fair on specific day(s) and would like to meet. Include your auto-signature and your website

– Confirm appointments by email the week before and keep a hard copy

– Those selling rights usually have meetings at their stands, but if you are not established you may need to carry all your material to the other person’s booth, again, allow time for travel between halls!  There are buses to the further halls!

– Notes: prepare for meetings when making the appointments – list any previous business and key discussion points next to the appointment’s name/title

– Create a word doc for each meeting (1 page) with text boxes for key notes

– Update these notes after each meeting, while the discussion is still fresh in your mind


– Block out time: clear your schedule for any lectures/events you’re attending

– First appointment: work out when you’ll arrive at the Fair; give yourself time to get sorted

– Duration: each meeting lasts 25–30 minutes

– Gaps: allow at least a few of these to pick up appointments from people who drop by or have tracked you down

– Block out some time in advance for scouting and seeing other stands

– Breaks make sure you have time to eat during the day, and always a bottle of water to hand


– New contacts: look through fair directories and Publishers’ Lunch, talk to scouts, walk around the Fair

– Ask agents before the fair to recommend editors etc. you should see

– Make new contacts at each fair – different countries have stands and have parties and go along

The International Rights Centre

This is mainly used by literary agents who stay there all day. If you want to meet with someone there, you must make an appointment – no drop-in really works. Look up agents in advance to make appointments. Some publishers have tables there – it’s a less expensive alternative to taking a stand, but you can’t display books.



Do your research before you go – fair brochures, publishers’ websites and info, know where you are going, where it is and how to get there from your hotel. If possible, get there a day early to make sure everything is arranged before you begin your meetings.

Appointments – talking the talk…

  • Courtesy – offer a seat, some water or coffee, give them time to settle before launching into a pitch. Don’t waffle, and let them talk too.
  • Use your research, check your appointment notes – key issues to discuss?
  • Research publisher websites before the fair. Relate your titles to titles they have already published.
  • Take notes – have a notebook and pen (spare pens!) to make notes from your meeting. Keep business cards, in the back of the book and write duplicates of all notes. Staple their business card into the notebook, add the titles they were interested.
  • Make use of every contact – even if their particular area is quite specialist, ask them to let you know who to contact in their company regarding the other categories you are presenting. Background info on them/their company, make an action list of what you’ve agreed to send them or that they have agreed to send you.


– Speak slowly and clearly, (esp. to people working through a translator)

– Keep a hard copy of your schedule

– Be ruthless with catalogues – tear out what you really need

– Parties – go to them, you get a great chance to meet new people

Yes I know its obvious stuff but…

– Get a good night’s sleep before you fly out to the Fair

– Don’t forget your passport and your Fair pass

– Tank up on vitamin C before you go, carry cold and throat remedies

– Flat shoes

– Bottle of water

– A constant stream of snacks … vital if you can’t dash off for lunch


The most important part of the Fair!

After the Book fair, do follow up all meetings, however tentative, as they may come back next time.

– Follow-up should acknowledge the discussion that you had, any action points agreed or material you promised to send, or requested (confirm if you are sending, how you have sent it – either sent by post or attached as a pdf)

– If you missed an appointment and couldn’t pick it up, write and apologise, pick up any discussion points you wanted to bring up

– Timing – most people are swamped by information when they return from a Fair, especially those buying rights. Make your follow-up clear, helpful and short

About the author

 (c) Peter O’Connell October 2011

Peter O’Connell is Vice President of Publishing Ireland and works as a book publicist and also as a writer’s agent for non-fiction titles.

Publishing Ireland Options for Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 (these will give you an idea of costs/options for 2012)

All options include:

–          Passwords for uploading company details to FBF website

–          Inclusion in FBF Who’s Who

–          Entry in official FBF catalogue

–          Delivery of books and materials to the fair (not return)

–          Publishing Ireland to manage Ireland stand set-up and take down – each exhibitor to organise own individual displays

–          Carpet, spotlights, locker for display and storage (locker key on request)

–          Shared branding with Irish national exhibition

–          Publishing Ireland to staff the stand on all five days, exhibitors free to come and go

–          Publishing Ireland to manage message-taking service for all exhibitors

–          Invitations for you and your clients to the Irish Reception

It is possible to share an Option with another publisher. If you are interested in doing that please let us know as soon as possible so that we can match you up to another company.

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

Option 4

Option 5

€1,500 plus VAT

€1,600 plus VAT

€1,700 plus VAT

€3,500 plus VAT

€2,500 plus VAT

Meeting Table





2 small






4 + 2 stools

Floor Space (W x D)

2m x 2m

2m x 2m

2m x 2m

4m x 2m

3m x 2m

Back Wall Shelves






Partition (Side) Walls


1 x 2m (end of aisle)

1 x 1m + 1 x 1m

1 x 1m + 1 x 2m

1 x 2m (end of aisle)

Partition Wall Shelves






Exhibitor Passes






Official FBF Catalogue







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