Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014 - Fotoart by Michael von Hassel

Frankfurt Book Fair/Michael von Hassel (Verlag te Neues)

This year, I attended FBF14 wearing two hats – author and journalist. (Look out for my articles in December’s Words with JAM on Marketing for Authors and Global Trends in Self-Publishing.) Several things surprised me: the sheer scale of the fair, the pace & passion of the attendees, and the number of people who looked like Jeff Bridges.

The Dude Abides, mostly round the sausage stall.

But the biggest eyebrow raiser was what an enormous disappointment some authors found the experience. I spoke to several people who were lost, confused, angry and frustrated by what they saw as a waste of time. With one exception (bad manners), this was due to insufficient preparation.

So here are five tips to maximise your book fair experience as an author.

Tip 1 – Do Your Research

Hall 8.0, Frankfurt Book Fair

Hall 8.0, Frankfurt Book Fair

A writer and artist spent his one day in Frankfurt wandering around the religious, spiritual and tourism non-fiction section when he’d come with the specific purpose of learning how to crowd-fund his comics. Comics were on the level above, the relevant Ignite! event took place in another hall and by the time he found the crowd-funding company’s booth, they’d already packed up and gone home.

Not only are the halls and sections specific to languages/genres/ages/formats, they are huge. Programmes of events for particular interests might be taking place over various venues. Find out what’s happening where and make an itinerary for yourself.

Tip 2 – Meet the Right People

A group of authors had flown from New Zealand and Japan to sell their foreign language rights. They visited all the publisher booths to try and interest someone in buying, but everyone they met was selling.

Deals for foreign rights are rarely made at publisher booths but happen on the literary agents’ floor or in private meetings. Appointments with agents and publishers need to be made months in advance and thoroughly prepared to maximise the brief opportunity.

Tip 3 – Understand the Scale

In the ladies’, I met a tearful children’s author and an illustrator applying plasters to her feet. They’d organised several appointments back-to-back to promote their picture book, but unfortunately, they were 15 minutes walk apart. Time is so precious, people won’t wait if you’re quarter of an hour late for a 30-minute meeting.

Be realistic about how much you can achieve. This is the biggest event in the professional publishing calendar. For five days, the entire industry is present and working stupid hours to get the most out of it. It stretches over a vast area – think Heathrow Airport, not Earl’s Court – and shuttle buses run constantly to ferry people around. Wear comfy shoes.

Tip 4 – Use Your Moment

Triskele Books postcards

Triskele Books postcards in book-shaped holder

A non-fiction author published a year ago and now seeks assistance with reviews, marketing and connections. He joined a seminar group to ask advice. He had zero promo material, wrote his email on a torn out page of the catalogue and when asked what the book was about, rambled vaguely about a family history in hosiery. (Might not have been hosiery, but something equally forgettable.)

Networking is an essential aspect of the fair. Be memorable, professional and contactable. Polish your elevator pitch, have postcards, bookmarks and business cards to hand (not at the bottom of a copious handbag). If you have more than one book, or you’re a group of writers working together, produce an author catalogue.

Tip 5 – Be Respectful

At a book launch, one of the invited was also a fiction writer. She talked to everyone about her own book, distributed how-to-buy information and even offered to sign copies there and then if people wanted to pay cash. Piggybacking on another author’s event? Needless to say, blacklisted by hosts and guests alike.

Each event or programme is sponsored by an organisation. They have leaflets and promo material on display because they paid for that space. Adding yours to the table or shelf is extremely rude. (I asked permission to display The Indie Author Fair catalogues at the Publishing Perspectives International Self-Publishing Programme and they were happy to do so as it was relevant.)


In short, at a publishing fair for pros, behave like one. Know why you’re there and what you want to achieve. Be prepared and be practical. Respect other people. Listen more than talk and when you do speak, make it count. Follow up your contacts and share what you’ve learned.

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014, Frankfurt Book Fair 2014

Frankfurt Book Fair 2014, Marc Jacquemin

Five Things I Did Wrong

  • Neglected to check data roaming on smartphone. No email.
  • Packed modest amount of promo material. Ran out.
  • Only brought map of fair, not Frankfurt. Got lost.
  • Assumed driver who pulled up only wanted directions. He didn’t.
  • Ate chips. Enough said.