An author's just-in-time strategy for the Frankfurt Book Fair

OK, it's a well-known fact among my friends that I (Rachel) am going to the Frankfurt Book Fair. (Along with 280,000 others.) My excuse: New Zealand is the Guest of Honour and my excellent, outstanding, frivolous book Scarlet Heels: 26 Stories About Sex is in the New Zealand Society of Authors' catalogue.

What's my strategy? It's been slippery but finally, two weeks before the event, I'm getting my head straight.

  • Have a great time and go with the flow.
  • Stop, look and listen: the Fair is an information machine.
  • Find a publisher or agent or both for Scarlet Heels, but never mind if I don't.
  • Gather information relevant to Global English for Global Business.
  • Get over myself!

I tend to make a meal out of every professional conference by over-preparing. But a trade fair is not a conference! This one is a smorgasbord of 7,000 dishes. Not surprising then that that my stomach had started churning and my plan became a waist-high midden of printouts, Evernotes, Read-Laters, notebooks, cards, flyers and folders.

It's big, this Frankfurt Book Fair

"When you said you were going to a book fair, I imagined a suburban garage sale," said one friend. I wish! The circuit is 35 kilometers. Think 7,000+ exhibitors and 3,000+ events. Intimidated by scale, I had laboriously pre-selected certain publishers' stands and mapped a route over three days that skimmed them all.

So earnest. Bad idea. Doomed to failure. Doing my head in. Start again.

My schedule at the 3-day Frankfurt Book Fair

  • I will meet with a very interesting publisher. Fascinating!
  • I will meet a literary agent with a successful record in China, Germany and Italy. Fantastic!
  • Wednesday 1.00 PM, I'll do a 10-minute meet-the-author session at the NZSA stand: Hall 8.0 Stand J 941. Cool!
  • Friday 9.00 PM I will help at the Playmarket forum at the English Theatre. Enough.

Now, back home in Wellington I wouldn't be mad keen on a schedule any heavier than this. I would prefer to give each appointment its due.

So why did I imagine I could achieve ten times as much at a ginormous, disorienting book fair in a foreign city? What was I thinking? I'm not a professional marketer. The Frankfurt Book Fair is no place for authors and I'm just a cheerful author along for the ride.

Instead I will take pleasure in my commitments, cruise a few of the massive halls, hang out at the New Zealand Society of Authors' stand, and see what happens.

What I take for granted about fiction, books and money

  • Writing fiction for me is pure pleasure and I will never stop. I have no wish to impose a rigid business model on this private adventure.
  • Twenty years ago I experimented briefly with writing to meet an (apparent) market. The process was interesting, the learning useful—and the results were laughable.
  • Writing fiction brings a modest income stream. In today's publishing scenario, I can't see that changing.
  • Getting a new literary agent outside of New Zealand would be interesting. Getting another book published outside of New Zealand, ditto.

Being Contented at the Frankfurt Book Fair

I go to the fair burdened with numerous assumptions that may all be completely erroneous. Here's an opportunity to do some market research.

  • What's the market for books on business communication, if any? (I assume small, very small. Not a sexy topic.)
  • Who wants quick tricks for better international communication in English? (I assume people who have been burnt or who see they could do better.)
  • Who wants a book on the topic? (I assume some EFL and ESL teachers.)
  • Who wants an online course on the topic? (I assume some large multinational companies.)
  • Which countries want corporate training on the topic, if any? (I assume China, Malaysia, Singapore, and India.)
  • Which countries don't give a stuff? (I assume that in the US, UK and the rest of Europe only the most enlightened will care.)

Bag, ticket, books and strategy: check

Right, sorted, pretty much.

Final mystery: what do you wear to the Frankfurt Book Fair? Comfy shoes, for sure—but how warm are those enormous warehouses? This week Frankfurt could be 23 degrees C. in the day time, 3 degrees at night. Videos show people in T shirts and more people in warm jackets. OK, I pack.

JiangXi Publishing Company strategy for 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair
Average weather in Frankfurt for October
Photo of crowd at Frankfurt Fair downloaded from ZombieTime.com


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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