Writing about Writing: A newbie’s lessons from the Frankfurt Book Fair

A diversion from history for a moment: I’m in Frankfurt right now for the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the world’s largest publishing trade show with 300,000 people in attendance.  This is my first time at the fair.  I’m incredibly fortunate in that my location right now – Spain – is close enough to make the travel here inexpensive, and it’s a short trip, so here I am, sitting on the tram with agents and hobnobbing like a pro.  Well, not quite.  In fact, as a newbie, I’ve learned some very important lessons which I will remember when I come back.  And come back I definitely will.  Just being around the energy of this place is amazing, even if I didn’t have any meetings at all (which I did – several, thanks).

So here are my Newbie Lessons for the Frankfurt Book Fair, Should You Be Fortunate Enough To Attend.

I’ll start with logistics:

  1. Plan for delays.  I had planned to be here for 2 full days, flying in on a Wednesday night and leaving Saturday morning.  That left all of Thursday and Friday.  Yeah, except for when my plane in Malaga had technical issues, and I was rerouted to Mallorca and spent the night in Palma at a hotel overlooking the Cathedral and the Mediterranean.  Which, you know, as far as being rerouted goes, ain’t so bad, but then I wound up on a flight to Saarbrucken, nearly 2 hours from Frankfurt.  Then we had a cab ride, flying down the autobahn at 140km/hr listening to a German techno group called Blasterjaxx while the autumn colors whizzing past.  I finally got to my hotel at around 8pm.  Nearly 24 hours after I was meant to.  So if you’re trying to fit a lot into Frankfurt, be sure you leave some extra time for fun side trips like this.
  2. Stay outside Frankfurt.  I was hipped to this thanks to a friend who is a long time Frankfurt vet.  Your ticket to the book fair includes free travel on all the public transport in Frankfurt.  So you can stay way outside, near the airport, where the hotels are super cheap, and ride the tram in each day for free.  This saved me heaps of money since I’m staying at a Holiday Inn for €80/night rather than the €300 of the hotels near the convention center.
  3. There’s a mall across from the convention center area where they have a really good food court with a Chipotle, Starbucks, lots of Asian restaurants, and the mandatory German sausage joint.  You can escape the convention center madness, the overpriced paper-tasting food, catch your breath and relax in between meetings.

    buchmesse 2Now, when you’re actually at the fair…

  4. Speaking of those meetings, the Frankfurt book fair is big.  Like, really big.  Like, I can’t explain to you how big.  11 halls with several floors each of publishers, agents, technology companies, services for publishers, editors, you name it.  Most are grouped together in ways that would make librarians proud.  US publishers together.  European publishers together.  Asian publishers together.  Library services together.  But to get from hall 3 to hall 6 is a hike.  Plan for that when you’re setting up your meetings so you aren’t rushing around like a crazy person.
  5. Plan meetings.  People come to Frankfurt with an agenda, unlike other conferences where part of the deal is spontaneous interactions.  Exhibitors are all in meetings, and don’t look particularly pleased when an unannounced person shows up.  You have to set these things up in advance.

Really, the Frankfurt Book Fair seems very German, which makes sense.  It’s incredibly ordered, it runs like a well oiled machine, and there’s not a lot of room for improvisation.  If you know that in advance you’ll take time to download the app, look at maps, check who’s there that you want to see, and have a plan that you can execute.  I wasn’t nearly as organized as I should have been, being a fan of “winging it,” but I’ve learned the lesson.  Next year I shall come with a 3 ring binder and a daytimer planned to the minute.

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