The word of the week at the 2022 Frankfurt Book Fair, at least in the world of young adult books, is “romantasy,” a portmanteau that speaks for itself.

“Fantasy with lots of romance in the YA category seems to be a thing,” said Nicole Eisenbraun, agent and translation rights manager at Ginger Clark Literary. Claudia Galluzzi, a senior rights manager at Rights People who represents U.S. titles in Arabic, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish language markets, says that it’s practically all anyone is asking for in any of her markets.

“Rights to the titles that we had in the newer catalogs have already been snatched immediately,” Galluzzi said. Adding that the trend started with the pandemic but has grown over the past year in particular, she noted: “Obviously, you don't want to be in the present—you want something to take you to other worlds and other realities.”

It’s a sentiment that applies to this year’s fair as well. In spite of an ever-growing list of global troubles—the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, protests in Iran (and the Iranian delegation's last-minute withdrawal from the fair itself), worldwide supply chain issues and skyrocketing inflation—the prevailing mood at Frankfurt is a sort of giddy gratitude: to see old friends and international colleagues in person, to discuss deals over a table instead of a screen, and to party for three nights running, even in a city as oft-maligned as Germany’s financial capital.

Perhaps that mood is a sort of romantasy itself, a rose-tinted view of a fair that, in 2019, attendees never could have imagined missing for two years straight. Or perhaps it’s the opposite—that the book business, after decades of bellyaching about locale and logistics followed by three years of life-changing historic events, has shucked off its cynicism and finally allowed itself to enjoy the show.

“I think nobody is ever honest about Frankfurt, because everybody loves to be negative about how awful it is to have to come here, how terrible a city it is, and how terrible the food is, when actually everybody loves it,” said Cathryn Summerhayes, agent at Curtis Brown in the U.K. “It's a guilty pleasure, and it's a little secret that we all love expensive currywurst and 20-euro gin and tonics at the Frankfurter Hof and singing karaoke with inappropriate CEOs of publishing houses and discussing nothing about our books at meetings, just how long we stayed up and who was the last to bed.”

This year, there’s a little more honesty about just how good it is to be back. Jamie Byng, CEO and publisher of Canongate, said he was delighted at “seeing face-to-face so many old friends and making interesting new connections,” noting: “Publishing is all about connections and collaborations, and Frankfurt revels in that—kind of insists upon it.”

Revelry aside, there’s also business getting done. “It's great to get back to the dealmaking, and to see everyone excited and talking about so many books,” said Agnes Ahlander Turner, president of Maria B. Campbell Associates. While last year’s London Book Fair, she added, was "a wonderful social reunion—a joyful reunion of sorts—this Frankfurt shows why we need the fair.”

Fellow scout Mary Anne Thompson, owner of the eponymous scouting shingle, said business has been “steady” at the fair, although, as is typical, all the submissions happened well before the fair. In terms of submissions, she said, there were “more than I've seen in maybe 20 years—just so many submissions from all over the world.”

Agent Pierre Astier of the Astier-Pécher Literary & Film Agency in Paris brought a team of three to the fair this year. “We are in the LitAg and have 172 meetings scheduled this week,” she said. “We have been busier than ever.”

On the publishing side, the smaller attendance—rumblings on the floor estimate a show shrunk by about 30%—means a quieter fair. "I think a lot of people have gotten very accustomed to doing business on Zoom, and some of the usual suspects I would meet with aren't here," said Margot Atwell, newly-named publisher of the Feminist Press, who hasn't been to the fair since 2015. "But I think sometimes that can be nice, because you get a chance to talk to people you might not otherwise get to talk to.”

Michele Cobb, executive director of PubWest and the Audio Publishers Association, said she was pleased to return to Frankfurt. “It’s fantastic to be back in a robust global arena and share the energy of being together. What’s different is the amount of reflection and questioning of how we have changed and not changed over the past two years, and how we can continue to support each other positivity, embrace technological advances and improve the satisfaction of readers and staff without losing anything and while finding new ways to grow?”

For Ian Chapman, CEO and managing director of Simon & Schuster in the U.K., it felt great to be back in front of people again. “We’re a communications business so it’s good to see people face to face. It’s been a big week for S&S with the publication of new titles by John Irving and Colleen Hoover, which reflects where S&S is going--we’ve had a strong year so far. The stand has been very busy and we’ve been doing a lot of business--22 members of the U.K. team are in Frankfurt. The fair feels a little diminished—it isn’t as generally busy as it has been, and it’s hard to quantify our success so far, but it’s wonderful to talk about books.”

The feeling of the fair’s particular significance this year, too, is inescapable. For some, it’s a welcomed return after too many years. It marks, for instance, former International Publishers Association president and British book business fixture Richard Charkin's 50th Frankfurt. For French publisher Gallimard's retiring rights director, Anne-Solange Noble, it is likely her last fair, held just weeks after Annie Ernaux became the third author whose books Noble sells to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

For others, it’s a new, or renewed, experience. This year’s fair marked the Frankfurt debut of English publishing legend Christopher MacLehose's Mountain Leopard Press, and of Molly Stern’s Zando. Sierra Stovall, director of rights at Zando, said that the “support has been amazing, and there's a lot of interest not only in books, but in our concept in general, and how we operate.”

Jakob Slebsager Nielsen, an editor at the Danish publishing house Bog & Ide, who just started his job in June, said he felt both "good and overwhelmed” as he ducked into the den of the Jackal: the Wiley Agency’s big, shiny exhibition space on the second floor of one of the international halls. "I really enjoy the meetings,” he said, but because there are so many, “you're always a little bit running late.”

But now that the fair is back, he’ll have time to learn—hopefully for years to come. About this, Curtis Brown’s Summerhayes was bullish. “I think it'll go on forever and ever, and I can't see an end to the fair,” she said. “This is the beating heart of publishing, and whoever says they're really, really glad that they couldn't come this year is lying their asses off.”