We aren’t sending anyone to Frankfurt this year, but we’re hopeful for the spring fairs,” said Heather Baror-Shapiro, an agent who also oversees foreign rights for Baror International, when asked about plans for the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair. “Then again, we were hopeful about Frankfurt 2021 last year, too.”
Like most Americans in the international literary rights community, Baror-Shapiro is skipping Frankfurt this year. And though she has no concerns about getting her job done, she, like most, is hopeful that an in-person event is on the horizon. When that will come, however, is anyone’s guess.
For Baror-Shapiro and other agents and rights professionals, work for this year’s Frankfurt, which is taking place in person beginning October 20, is largely being done via Zoom. Business that usually happens at the endless line of tables in the rights center at the show, or in cafés and bars near the Frankfurt fairgrounds, is being conducted via video chats. For many, this year was about improving upon existing approaches to selling foreign rights virtually.
While no professionals who spoke to PW said they enjoyed doing a virtual show, some admitted that there are benefits to the approach. Others added that it’s even led to some innovations.
Linda Kaplan, director of foreign rights at DeFiore & Company, said that after experiencing “Zoom exhaustion” from doing back-to-back virtual meetings during the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair, she decided to spread things out this year, scheduling her meetings over a two-week stretch. (With the in-person show, most foreign rights directors and associates cram all of their meetings into the four days.)
Kaplan has also found other ways to take advantage of the situation. She’s been conducting live webinars, open to multiple clients (unlike Zoom calls, webinars do not allow attendees to see each other), where she goes over her titles. She’s also had a few authors record videos about their books. “That’s been really great,” she said.
Melissa White’s approach to her virtual Frankfurt this year has been all about finding the most effective way to schedule her Zoom meetings. White, who is v-p and director of international rights at Folio Literary Management, said that for last year’s show, she did meetings “all of September and October.” This time around she and her colleagues reserved time in early September to meet exclusively with their co-agents, saving their time early in October for meetings with international editors. “We are being really economical about our meetings because we know everyone has Zoom fatigue,” she added.
While there’s no question that books—and the foreign rights to them—can be sold virtually, all the professionals PW spoke with say they are longing to see colleagues in person. The question of returning to international shows in person is one of when, not if. And the answer to that question seems to depend on how hopeful one is about the world returning to some level of normalcy soon—or how comfortable one is plowing ahead even if it doesn’t.
A number of agents, like White, said they are hopeful about returning soon, while acknowledging that the future of Covid is uncertain. “I really hope to see all my colleagues and friends in London in 2022,” White said.
Kaplan echoed that sentiment: “I’m full on for London 2022—if they’re having it.”
Others, perhaps more wary—or realistic?—about where the world will be months from now, seemed resigned to a longer wait before an in-person international show. “Understanding that it’s probably going to be years before we can count on international travel with any real confidence and without lots of hurdles, I just think the world needs to take a serious step forward in terms of vaccination before it feels like a great idea to be mixing and mingling with international community in a singular place,” said Rebecca Gardner, v-p and rights director at the Gernert Company.
The reality, of course, is that no one knows when it will be safe to return to in-person events. And even Gardner, who was the most cautious about when an international show could happen again, is interested in alternatives. “I love the idea,” she said, “of sooner rather than later, getting to market-by-market travel—i.e., spending a few days in a few key publishing cities, where one can see a range of publishers and walk into bookstores.”
With most respondents saying they are hopeful about attending an in-person London Book Fair in the spring, it’s clear that the publishing community is itching to get back to attending international shows. As Kaplan put it, “Everyone I know is wanting to go back, and committed to going back.”