Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Missed the Frankfurt Book Fair again? Yeah, so did I. Seems like most of the New York publishing world makes a beeline for Germany every October, and the authors always get left behind, wondering what goes down when 150,000 book people gather together for schnitzel and J├Ągermeister.

But never fear! This year I plucked the intrepid Liz Parker, foreign scout extraordinaire, away from her groaning post-Frankfurt inbox and sat her down for a few penetrating questions about the Fair, the state of the book market, and just how much lager the publishing industry can consume in a single fevered week.

1) So who are you, Liz Parker, and what's your role in the publishing industry?
I am a scout with Maria B. Campbell Associates, a firm that helps foreign publishers shape their translation lists. In many ways we serve as their eyes and ears in New York (and periodically in other places as well), notifying them of projects on submission and then keeping them apprised of a book’s development. As we aren’t directly involved in the negotiations between foreign publishers and rights holders we’re able to more objectively position a given project. We also serve as the literary representative for Warner Bros. feature and television departments, helping to bring them material to be potentially optioned into a film or series.

2) What's the big deal with the Frankfurt Book Fair? Who goes and why?
The FBF (as locals reference it) is the largest book fair in the world, attracting tens of thousands of people to come and sell, buy or talk books. This year approximately 150,000 industry folks showed up. It’s an opportunity to get your projects seen by editors and publishers outside your everyday circle, and also learn about those books you might have missed when they first went on submission. For the cynic, it’s an absolute chaotic mass of people enduring a week of back-to-back meetings and non-stop social engagements. For the optimist (and those who haven’t attended many fairs), it’s an incredible sight to see a convention center filled to maximum capacity with people who all care about reading.

3) Seriously, though, isn't it all just an excuse for the industry to booze and schmooze on the corporate dime? How much business actually gets done?
It all depends who you are and how well you tolerate said booze… I do think that while a few years ago witnessed more actual book deals being made, now much of the “business” is networking and meeting people in order to extend the circle of contacts. So much of publishing is a social, more personalized business that it’s crucial, especially when you’re starting out, to put yourself out there. And what better social lubricant than German lager at the Frankfurter Hoff?

4) The industry has seen a tough time in the past few years. Any dropoff in attendance and deal flow? How's the mood among attendees?
According to the numbers this year was up from 2009, and the overall mood definitely seemed heightened. While the face of books is certainly changing, the wave of digital attention is sending the message that publishing isn’t dying. It’s simply evolving into a different sort of muscle. A lot of the fair paid due to e-books, royalties and digital marketing – three things extremely relevant to editor, agent and author alike.

5) What's the big buzz this year? Any exciting projects getting talked up?
It was interesting that a YA/Crossover novel swept up a lot of the early-fair buzz as that genre has been the talk of the industry for the past year. There weren’t any major surprises submission-wise, but it was exciting to see that everyone (publishers and agents) had something to show. But I must say that a lot of attention was paid to all-things digital. I think people are starting to think more in terms of a book’s entire package – not just the book’s actual content, but if it could thrive in another format (film, television, enhanced e-book) or grow into a series. This all goes back to how the current climate is forcing publishers to flex their creative muscle in order to remain indispensable. I don’t see publishers becoming dispensable anytime soon, but I do notice everyone is actively trying to think outside the box. All in all, the fair was upbeat and cheerful, and I think offered an encouraging message that books aren’t going anywhere.

So there you have it! Big thanks to the fabulous Liz for the rundown. (Next year, the apfel streudel's on us.)

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