6 Things I Learned At The Frankfurt Book Fair

When I landed in Frankfurt, Germany, my birthplace as an Army-brat, the same dreary weather greeted me that had left me in Boston, MA. However, when I walked through the doors to the Frankfurt Book Fair, aka FBF, the overall feeling was “contagious excitement.”

7,539 exhibitors from 111 countries with 3,000 events and 100 publishing companies were busy assembling their booths. I compared it to the 2010 New York Book Exp America, (aka BEA) I had attended in June. According to the BEA website, it had hosted 21,919 people in attendance and over 29,000 industry professionals. The Frankfurt Book Fair looked ten times larger.

Guest column by Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos, a
two-time breast cancer survivor who penned Surviving
Cancerland: The Psychic Aspects of Healing. She
is an inspirational speaker and a mentor for We
Can—a women’s self-help group. Kathy contributes
to Cape Women Online Magazine and many other
publications/websites. She is currently working
on her second book. See her website here


The Frankfurt Book Fair is described as the biggest book and media fair in the world. It consisted of multiple interconnected building filled with languages, flags, multilingual advertisements and the hustle and bustle of fast deals. Its enormity stole my breath.

I quickly discovered that most books published by conventional publishing houses had their own International Rights Agents working the deals. However, I was attending with my self-published husband who was looking to delve into the international market. Could this hurt his chances of getting published by a U.S. company? I emailed my agent at the Scovil, Galen and Ghosh Literary Agency in New York, which has an International Rights Agent. He emailed me back with some interesting insights.

In general, selling the foreign rights to the book would not harm the possibility of selling it to a U.S. publisher. In fact if it were to generate significant sales in one or more countries abroad it would enhance the possibilities of being acquired by a publisher in the the states.

However, there is one drawback. Some publishers like to protect their “investment” by acquiring world rights to a book (and thereby sharing significantly in any revenue generated abroad). If that possibility were removed, it likely would lessen a U.S. publisher’s level of interest.

My husband had been in contact with his International Rights Agent from International Rights Inc. in Austin, Texas, months before the FBF. While they scurried from meeting to meeting, I took in the sights, sounds and information. By the end of the third day, I had learned 6 important things about the Frankfurt Book Fair, especially for self-published books:

1. Get an International Agent before you go to the FBF. It will be almost impossible to find one there. Most agents in attendance already had clients and had done the groundwork required to ensure success.

2. It is very important to have your International Agent do research and set up meetings months in advance of the Fair. With such a high level of network taking place, serendipitous meetings are not likely to happen.

3. Go with a clear purpose in mind and a game plan on how to implement it. The scope and pace of the meetings leaves less time for “chit-chat networking.” Venders are too busy to speak to anyone without an appointment.

4. Don’t take or send books. No one wants to carry them. Planes limit baggage sizes and weights. Have everything available in PDF files, put presentations on DVDs, print websites, and other pertinent information on post card sized handouts to present with personal business cards.

5. When addressing venders, speak in your native language. Most of them spoke English and had a translator present.

6. Network, network, network, quickly and efficiently. This Fair is BEA on steroids.

One of the differences between the BEA and FBF was that the booths were less about selling books and more about selling international rights. People were much more compartmentalized and unaware of attending agents or acquisition editors. BookExpo America and Frankfurt Book Fair share similarities. However, FBF’s difference can best be described as; bigger park, faster rides. So, wear walking shoes and have fun.



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