The all-virtual edition of the Frankfurt Book Fair opened yesterday with an initial slate of panels covering education and STM publishing, meet-and-greet events with U.K. and U.S. editors who acquire books for translation, and a discussion about the boom in sales of political and social justice titles in the U.S.
It should come as no surprise that this year's event will be significantly different. Typically, the fair would attract 300,000 visitors over the course of five days and offer thousands of booths and exhibitors. That said, the shift to an entirely online format has allowed many people who might not otherwise travel to Germany to participate in the fair.
Frankfurt reported there are some 4,400 publishers, agents, service providers and others who are represented in the fair's catalog of online exhibitors, The largest group is from the German-speaking world, including 1,283 German digital exhibitors, followed by Switzerland (104) and Austria (90). The largest non-German-speaking contingents are from the U.K. (418), the U.S. (332), Canada and China (126 each), France (116) and Brazil (67). As is traditional, numerous smaller markets are also represented, albeit in smaller numbers.
The fair's digital program, which includes both B2B programming and a consumer-facing Bookfest, offers a total of 2,100 events, with 750 different speakers. There will be some 70 hours of trade events and a total of 260 hours of programming. The fair had intended to host some events with a live audience at the Fair's Festhalle, but that idea has been dropped due to the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in Germany.
At the fair's opening press conference earlier today, Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos noted that this year's digital was "more inclusive" and accessible. This year's fair is running under the motto, "Signals of Hope," and Boos referred to the green light that Gatsby sees blinking at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. He praised the organizers for being "creative, flexible and resilient" - qualities that he noted that the wider book trade has demonstrated since the start of the Covid-19 crisis -- in shifting the fair online at very short notice. Boos said he hoped that the fair would continue to promote connections, which were especially needed at present, and while the organizers were "very disappointed" not to be able to stage the physical fair, they welcomed the opportunity to engage book trade people for whom travel to Frankfurt had never been feasible.
Among the first pieces of news to emerge from Frankfurt was the announcement of the annual German Book Prize, which was awarded to Anne Weber for her novel Annette, ein Heldinnenepos ("Annette, an Epic of a Heroine"); it is a fictional biography of Anne Beaumanoir, who was imprisoned for her participation in war for Algerian independence published by Matthes & Seitz. She won €25,000 ($29,700). It has yet to be sold for an English-language translation.
The panel with U.S. editors on Monday featured 10 people from a wide range of publishers, including Gabriella Page-Fort from Amazon Crossing, Jenna Johnson of FSG, Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions, and Kendall Storey of Catapult Books, among others; it was hosted by Riky Stock, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair in New York. The topics discussed ranged from the types of books American editors like to acquire (fiction, as it is more relatable), the appropriate length of translation samples (longer is better, not less than 30 pages, from different parts of the book), to the utility of using scouts (they can be expensive, but are effective), and how translators can contribute to marketing efforts (you can motivate them to promote the book by including compensation for their work in the contract).
The general consensus was that American readers were far more open to books in translation than they ever have been in the past and that achieving high levels of sales, such as those seen for Elena Ferrrante's novels published by Europa, are possible.