I’ve had the wonderful good fortune of going to and being part of the Frankfurt Book Fair three times. This year was the first time as a trade visitor and ‘on my own’. I was lucky enough to be on the Invitation Programme in 2011 and 2012. I remember how daunting and overwhelming the Fair was, especially the first time. I almost had a panic attack when I went to my first appointment in Hall 8, where the publishers from the English-speaking world converge. This year I found the Fair familiar, easy to navigate.
Frankfurt is different for everyone who goes there. Each person has a particular reason for being there and a particular place in world of books and publishing. The most important thing is developing relationships and building on them. If you are a bookish person, it is an absolute thrill to meet like-minded folk from all parts of the world. I love the “United Nations of Publishing” atmosphere, especially in Halls 5 and 6 where most of the international publishers are based. I shared accommodation with friends I made in the 2012 Invitation Programme, publishers from Brazil and Croatia.
At first I was sorry not to have a stand. But as I got comfortable with being a trade visitor in some ways it was better. I was lucky to have the Invitation Programme in Hall 5.0 as a home base for storage and warm welcomes from the organisers, Corry von Mayenburg and Doris Oberländer made me feel at home. I was also delighted to see Benoit Knox from Pretoria on the invitation Programme in Hall 5.0, and to reconnect with friends I’d made in the previous two years. In the end it was valuable for me to attend meetings, seminars and talks without worrying about my stand.
Corry von Mayenburg and Gustavo Faraon at the party on the boat on Monday evening
The Frankfurter Hof
A few highlights for me: I met Mieke Ziervogel from Pereine Press
in London at the Frankfurter Hof on Tuesday evening before the Fair started. She publishes only three books a year, all novellas translated into English. These titles are carefully curated each year, and sold individually, but also as a set. She uses all kinds of innovative marketing and sales approaches, including salons at her home, a pop-up shop and a UK tour. I was thrilled to meet her, and although I’ve been following her for a couple of years on Twitter, a mutual Twitter follower introduced her to me, and she suggested we meet in Frankfurt. I was also quite awed at the idea of actually setting foot in the Frankfurter Hof, where all the important publishers meet after the Fair. As a publisher from a tiny press in South Africa, I feel quite marginal to the main goings-on in Frankfurt, so I set off to the Frankfurter Hof on Tuesday evening with some trepidation. Apart from one glass of wine costing 12 Euros, it was a delightful evening, and not nearly as intimidating as I expected it to be.
On Thursday evening, I was invited to three parties all happening at the same time at 5.00, there was the Whisky party of US Small Presses in Hall 8, the Australian Party also in Hall 8 and the LGBTI party in Hall 4. I went to the Small Press party first to say hello and thank Jeffrey Leppendorf for assisting me with sharing information about the Small Publishers Catalogue: Africa, 2013 with the publishers who are part of CLMP or The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. Then I went to the LGBTI party in Hall 4. Jim Baker fom Quer Verlag in Berlin was incredibly generous and introduced me to people he thought might be interested in Queer Africa (MaThoko’s Books) and Reclaiming the L-Word. I was lucky to meet the man who runs the biggest and best gay bookshop in Europe, and also a wonderful resourceful writer/small press publisher based in Spain, who has proved to be a fund of information and knowledge and shared resources.
I was blown away by the possibilities of digital printing at a semiar I attended called “The Beauty of the Book”. My mind was racing and I looked forward to sharing my ideas with colleagues back home.
Every conversation you have with anyone in Frankfurt has the potential to offer up an insight, a new perspective an idea of how to do things differently or better. I was also able to ask Benoit and Bibi Bakare Yusuf of Cassava Republic Press (also on the Invitation Programme and my friend) to stock and sell the African Small Publishers’ Catalogue, 2013 on their stands. I also met new publishers to feature in the next edition of the catalogue.
Other highlights for me were visiting the best designed books exhibition in Hall 4.0 and visiting the Brazilian exhibition, as Guest of Honour, the dinner and party on the boat on the Monday night, meeting people from the Alliance of Independent publishers and going to their party, some sightseeing around Frankfurt. For more pictures on the Modjaji Books Facebook page click here
A tip for those going to Frankfurt for the first time, get a German sim card with unlimited wifi. Last year having my phone on roaming cost me over R4000! An unpleasant bill at the end of November.