When the London Book Fair was cancelled in March, the IRD (the International Rights Department for the uninitiated) consoled themselves that at least we’d have Frankfurt to look forward to in October. Right?
Fast forward seven months into a worldwide pandemic and Frankfurter Buchmesse was launched as the first ever digital book fair from 14th to 18th October, providing an online international hub for publishers, agents and rights professionals to network, swap rights guides and participate in conferences and webinars. During a traditional book fair, we would have taken back-to-back 30 minute meetings with editors and co-agents in their territories across four days. For virtual Frankfurt (and for Sophie’s first ever book fair) we were able to spread out our meetings in daily blocks over four weeks from the end of September to mid-October, effectively creating a month of Frankfurt!
We were glued to Zoom or Microsoft Teams most mornings, in and out of meetings with colleagues around the world to pitch books from our rights guide. This proved to be somewhat of a balancing-act with our day-to-day workload, but having not been able to see old faces or meet foreign editors during London Book Fair, and especially after such a dramatic year, we all agreed how rewarding and motivating the fair had been. Despite hosting meetings from our homes, there was nothing like the buzz of pitching again to excited editors, or hearing which agency authors publishers were getting ready to launch in their territories.
It was especially fascinating discovering what the landscape of international publishing looked like post-Covid; unsurprisingly there seemed to be an increased clamour for uplifting, feel-good fiction and empowering non-fiction. As in the UK, sales of children’s fiction had been buoyant in a huge number of countries where schools had also shut during lockdowns. Some markets remained optimistically unaffected by the pandemic, while others had shrunk in response to bookshop closures and declining book sales. As a team, the IRD met editors and co-agents from approximately 25 territories so we were able to put together a remarkable overview of which agency books to send where.
During Frankfurt week itself the IRD hosted two international meetings for worldwide editors of Ashley Audrain’s The Push and Emma Stonex’s The Lamplighters, events which we had initially hoped to organise during the physical book fairs. We had around 30 people in both meetings, including English language and foreign editors, marketing teams, the authors themselves, as well as Maddy and agency colleagues. The meetings provided the perfect opportunity for the UK, US and Canadian publishers to show-off their incredible marketing and publicity plans, including featured launches, promotional activities online and with bookshops, and advertising campaigns. We were also able to share, in turn, many of the international covers, translated titles and publicity ideas from different territories. It was, in all, a much-needed dose of optimism and buzz for 2021 and the anticipation of these two huge launches – and there was nobody more excited than Ashley and Emma! Both authors spoke at length about their experience of writing the books, and of the questions and discussions they hoped would be generated among readers.
Four weeks later, with manuscripts, submissions and meeting follow-ups coming out of our ears, Frankfurt 2020 drew to an end. But no time to rest on our laurels yet – they say the proof is in the pudding and the IRD have successfully closed nearly twenty deals in the last month, with other titles currently under offer. With the agency list still growing, London Book Fair 2021 is shaping up to be quite a fair!