Greetings, PW readers! I’m Andrew Harwell, a senior editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where I focus on middle grade and young adult fiction. Earlier this year, I was honored and humbled to win PW’s second annual Star Watch award, which includes an all-expenses-paid trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I took notes and pictures throughout my week in Frankfurt, and now I am delighted to share them with you. Think of it like an all-expenses-paid trip, minus the jet lag!
Monday, October 17
My overnight flight arrives in Frankfurt around 11:30 a.m., and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your POV), my in-flight reading, A.S. King’s Still Life with Tornado, kept me from getting much sleep. I stay standing just long enough to get through customs and get to the hotel, then crash for a long nap, waking up just in time for: The Coma Dinner.
This is apparently an annual tradition of our sub-rights team—so named because it’s meant to be the last moment of stillness before the fair begins—and the team kindly lets me join them for delicious Italian food. We discuss what books they’re excited about, and how great it is that Madeleine Roux’s House of Furies was just bought in Brazil and Spain because those pre-fair deals can generate interest at the fair. I stagger back to my hotel room, still a bit jet-lagged, and go over my presentation for the next day.
Tuesday, October 18
After a quick breakfast and email check-in, I head over to the Radisson Blu for the Harper Global Publishing Programme editorial summit. Publishers, mostly from the various adult divisions of the international GPP offices, will be presenting on the market trends and editorial strategies of their groups, and I’ve been asked to present on YA trends in the U.S. market.
I am excited to hear every group mention diversity and multiculturalism as an area of focus for acquisitions; clearly, the spotlight on the issue goes well beyond what I see every day in the children’s book world in the States.
After all the presentations, I walk over to the Frankfurt fair grounds, where publishers are still setting up their booths across six giant halls (seriously—picture BEA happening in one hall, then picture another BEA for each other region of the world, spread across five other halls).
The Harper booth is looking great, though on the whole, I can see there’s a lot of work still left to be done, so I leave the hall to head to dinner with my fellow International Young Talent winners. While I’ve won the award from Publishers Weekly for the U.S., there’s a marketing manager from Brazil, an educational publishing editor from China, four editors from the Netherlands (the guest country at Frankfurt this year), an editor from London, plus an editor from Germany who won’t be named until the next day at the fair.
We have an amazing schnitzel dinner at Pielok, and I make it back to the hotel late.
Wednesday, October 19
My meetings start in earnest today. I feel like I am literally globe-trotting as I hustle from one hall to the next, meeting some people with whom I email regularly and others whose books just happen to catch my eye as I am passing their booth. I spy some familiar names with not-so-familiar “faces,” and take far too many photos thinking that I’ll be able to come to some conclusions later about why some covers were changed for an international market while others were not, but here I am still staring at those photos, and the conclusions still elude me.
In the early afternoon, I have a panel with Minghui Ma from China about our Industry Visions, and what our challenges and hopes are in our different countries. Each of the International Young Talent winners will have a panel like this during the course of the week, and I attend all the ones that I can, soaking up how some of our concerns are similar, while others are quite different. For example, Minghui speaks during our panel about the need for educational publishers in China to provide an ongoing service to customers as much as a finished “product” in the form of a book, and this strikes a chord with me, thinking of our online teen community, Epic Reads, and how we’re striving to foster a whole reading lifestyle, above and beyond our books. But later in the week, hearing the Dutch editors speak about how challenging it is to get Dutch readers to wait for their translated editions when the English editions are available sooner—and when reading in English is considered cool anyway—I realize that we don’t have anything close to that challenge in the U.S. market.
Finally, in the evening, all the young talent winners, now including Daniel Beskos of Germany, are gathered together for photo shoot and a reception. Common in our thank-you speeches is the knowledge that we are all lucky to be here, gaining this eye-opening international perspective.
Then it’s off to another dinner with the Harper Children’s sub-rights team, this time including our international sub-agents representing Korea, Italy, Poland, Japan, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. This dinner manages to feel relaxing and fast-paced at the same time; I get the sense that this group knows one another well enough to exchange information and anecdotes about what they’ve been seeing in their meetings quickly—they all have the same shorthand. The dinner also reinforces something I started to pick up in my own meetings today—that while there are certain overarching trends, like high fantasy in teen and humorous illustrated novels in middle grade, which have managed to “translate” in both senses into many countries around the world, there are still many cultural sensibilities that differentiate our book markets. While some of our talk in this vein is about adult nonfiction titles like Marie Kondo’s or The Hidden Life of Trees, which may or may not translate to other cultures for all numbers of surprising reasons, we do talk about children’s books as well, and the challenges that more conservative markets have with books that wouldn’t be as controversial in the U.S.
All of this certainly brings into sharper clarity what my job is as an acquiring editor for a major publisher. We so often talk about falling in love with a voice or a character when reading a manuscript, but here is a group talking about the importance of an idea resonating with a national culture. Certainly, I think books that move the proverbial “conversation” forward have a way of being publicity lightning rods, and this dinner—and the whole book fair—allow me to see better what that means.
Needless to say, between the meaty conversation and the four-course meal, I am pretty exhausted by the time I made it back to the hotel! Another recurring motif.
Thursday, October 20
Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. I come away from my back-to-back Thursday meetings with a lot of notes about manuscripts I will soon be seeing from agents and international publishers, and also about artists whose work I want to keep in mind for future books, even if I don’t think a particular book I see would be right for our lists. I also have a chance to meet the aforementioned publishers who will be publishing House of Furies in Spain and Brazil; they are excited to see how the interior layouts are shaping up!
The highlight of the day for me is the presentation of the White Ravens, an international Children’s Book List put together by the International Youth Library. Each member of the awards committee picks a favorite title from the list to discuss (auf deutsch, so I am glad I brushed up on my German), and then they take requests from the audience for other books on the list to discuss. There are so many unique and eye-popping books on this list, from a Slovenian picture book about a boy in kindergarten who may or may not be gay, to a French graphic novel that imagines a near-future year under the potential presidency of Marine le Pen.
I don’t have any special dinner plans on Thursday night, and that is for the best, because after two days of meetings and dinners, I definitely have some emails to catch up on and some jet lag to battle. I grab wurst from one of the many food carts outside the fair and head back to the hotel.
Friday, October 21
I have a panel this morning on the Publishing Perspectives stage, together with Zeta Jones of Quarto Publishing and moderated by Erin Cox from the fair, about the children’s book markets in the U.S. and the U.K. Zeta speaks to the picture book side of things while I discuss middle grade and YA, and then afterward, I talk with a number of the panel attendees who have stuck around with questions. I have a few last meetings in the early afternoon, then find myself with a solid chunk of free time before the last (unofficial) outing of the international young talent winners, so I head over to a nearby mall to buy a few presents—and of course browse the bookstore. My editorial group at Harper is well represented, and of course Red Queen reigns supreme in a market where fantasy is every bit as popular as it is over here. With luggage already full to bursting, I restrain myself and buy only two books—one, a beautiful collection of letters Rilke wrote to his mother at Christmas every year, and the other, a movie tie-in paperback of Die Mitte der Welt, a coming-of-age and coming-out story I remember being translated and published by Random House many years ago, but that clearly has a huge fan base here in Germany (the book is everywhere).
Finally, when the last Industry Vision panel of the week is complete, the young talent winners head out for drinks, dinner, and a culminating symposium—by which I mean fun gossip about our lives and our books.
Saturday, October 22
Because our hotel for the week is on the north side of Frankfurt, I spend Saturday finally exploring the town center.
I do see a number of landmarks, but I spend most of the day on more gift-shopping and bookstore-browsing, and having a coffee inside when it starts to rain. Somewhere in the middle of that coffee, the blur of books I saw and the whirlwind of meetings I had this week start to slow down and untangle, although I can already tell that things will be coming back to me in fits and snippets in the days, weeks, and months to come.
When I head to the airport early the next morning, it’s with an excitement to get back to work—to find books that will resonate with America as a culture (whatever that culture might be, a question that haunts me in the weeks before an election), but maybe also some books that will bring a new, foreign culture to America, too.
The email follow-ups will start before my plane even lands in New York. But while email is always frenetic that way, now I can feel the whole energy of the Frankfurt fair in that fact, too.