Sun. Oct 25th, 2020
Frankfurt Book Fair: Going Virtual

While the Frankfurt Book Fair officially canceled its in-person fair only two weeks ago, American agents have been planning for an online-only event for months. So what will this year’s fair look like for them? Lots of Zoom calls, with some bells and whistles thrown in to make the chats more personal and fun.

Frankfurt, for its part, is offering a number of virtual tools to help sellers connect with buyers. The fair is allowing agents to register this year as exhibitors. Once they’ve done so, Frankfurt Book Fair v-p Riky Stock explains, they will be given a “contact person” who can edit their entries and upload content for them. They will also have access to an event calendar, through which they can plan invitation-only meetings, and to an exhibitor catalog. The catalog, which is now live, will give the agencies the ability to have a digital presence by including links to their company websites, social media information, and uploaded documents such as rights catalogs. The fair is also providing a digital rights platform where, Stock says, agents can “upload their rights guides, title information, rights availability, and previews of titles.” The platform has been branded Frankfurt Rights and borrows elements from IPR License, a virtual rights trading and licensing company owned by Frankfurt. The platform will be free to use through at least June 2021 and, unlike IPR License, will not be taking commissions.

Stock added that some agents may also opt to host webinars. Writers House’s Cecilia de la Campa hosted a webinar at last year’s Bologna Book Fair and told Stock that webinars have advantages over the in-person meetings. Notably, de la Campa says, webinars allow more people to tune into the presentation, and they can also be saved and shared afterward. “We can reach publishers with whom we don’t yet have major business, and we can announce any exciting new deals and sales on the spot to everyone at once,” de la Campa says.

Frankfurt will also help promote webinars that agents and rights directors choose to host. While the agents will host the meetings on their own, using whichever platforms they choose, the fair will post the webinars in the events calendar and on its Frankfurt Rights dashboard. “We will help with visibility and, to a certain extent, promotion,” Stock says.

For some agents, like Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, this year’s unusual event doesn’t offer as many obstacles as one might assume. Weltz says she has been doing Skype meetings with her coagents pre-fair for years; it’s a tradition she started in 2010, when an erupting volcano in Iceland unexpectedly kept numerous Americans from attending the book fair. “When I started [doing the Skype meetings], lots of agents said, ‘I can’t. I don’t have a webcam.’ ” Editors were also resistant. Now, of course, plenty of people are on videoconferencing platforms for most of the day. With that being the new reality, Weltz is predicting that this year’s Frankfurt could be her busiest yet, given that she is, as she notes, totally unshackled by the standard constraints of an in-person event—meetings don’t have to feature only a few people, and they don’t have to happen within the time frame of the fair. And, while she admits she’ll miss seeing people in person, she says she’s confident about getting everything done. “We could be on the moon,” she exclaims, and she can make sales as long as those in her audience “have my list in front of them and we’re facing each other and talking.”

While other agents acknowledge that their fair will be chock-full of Zoom meetings, some are trying different tactics to make the interactions more fun. Sanford Greenburger’s Stefanie Diaz says they have added a “meet the author” feature for this year’s event. “We’re highlighting debut authors and other standout titles with short author videos,” she explains. These will be shared during the meetings Diaz has planned throughout September and October.

That there’s no need to contain business to the run of any physical show—usually three to four days for most agents—is something other agents say is a boon this year. Baror International is, like Sanford Greenburger, stretching business out over two months, with virtual meetings happening throughout September and October. “There’s no reason to tie meetings to a few days,” says the agency’s Heather Baror. “Without the constraints of the fair schedule we can have more meaningful meetings and more of them.” Baror also thinks the virtual realm can allow for “more productive chats than [those held] within the bustle of the fair.”

Foundry Literary + Media is also trying to inject a little fun into the proceedings. The agency has put together an interactive rights guide and, rather than having prospective buyers schedule meetings with the agency’s rights people, they will instead get to talk with the title’s agent or, in some cases, authors. “Each meeting will be a discrete Zoom call that I believe will be more fun and informative than any German agent center meeting ever could be,” explains agency cofounder Peter McGuigan. “We’re making lemonade out of lemons here. Hopefully it’ll stand out and people will notice our books.”

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                 <small>A version of this article appeared in the 09/21/2020 issue of <em>Publishers Weekly</em> under the headline: Going Virtual </small>
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