Three days before my departure from San Diego to Munich, I explored the Internet for downtown hotel accommodations in Frankfurt. Forget it. Choice downtown hotels in immediate proximity to the Fair were charging over $1000/day. I discovered there is a network of private families, who make rooms available to Fair goers at a reasonable price. Although experiencing the German family’s way of life had its appeal, I didn’t want to be an integral part of strangers’ lives for several days. I delegated the search for lodging to my wife, Elke.
I moved on to the matter of attending the Fair itself. My notion of it was instantly trashed. I had envisioned walking through downtown Frankfurt, seeing a marquee “Book Fair Today” and spontaneously walking in. Not so fast. The first three days were reserved for trade clientele. The general public was permitted in only on the last 2 days. Prior to that, one had to be “a publisher, literary agent or scout, a producer of a newspaper, periodicals and/or journals, etc.”. Nothing that remotely sounded like “author, part-time”. It appeared I couldn’t even attend the Fair where my book was being exhibited. That didn’t make sense.
Whatever the rules, I reasoned there must be a way around them. I emailed Deutsche Rundschau’s English editor, Donald Dunn, and asked if there was a way to get a press pass. I occasionally write articles for the Deutsche Rundschau (www.deutsche-rundschau.com) . The DR is a German-English periodical based in Toronto, Canada. Donald said he would look into it. The next day Donald produced a magnificent “Letter of Accreditation”. It was suitable for framing. I forwarded it to Fr. Birgit Fricke, the Fair’s Marketing Project Manager, who anointed me as a “Trade” visitor. This designation enabled me to register on-line for the Fair and buy a KombiTicket on-line for 24 €, as well. I printed my bar-coded ticket in San Diego. It qualified me for 5 day entry to the Fair and free S- and U-Bahn passage for the duration. Without leaving San Diego, I had crashed the Fair.
Meanwhile, Elke had found the town of Aschaffenburg. It is in Bavaria’s outer reaches, but is a Frankfurt suburb. Its hotel Fischer’s Mainperle offered accommodations and breakfast at 58 €/day. The train plaza was across the street. The daily train fare to Frankfurt would have to be added to the room cost. I opted for it. It would turn out that from my hotel room to my seat on the train (properly planned) would take around 4 minutes. A super connection. It was a 20 minute train ride to Frankfurt.
The first day I took the pedestrian path to the Fair Grounds from the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. I was too unfamiliar with the rail system. The walk took about 45 minutes. I located The Combined Book Exhibit booth and found my book there, but few people. The exhibit was in the English Hall at the fairground’s rear. The Hall was quite distanced from the Fair proper. Not a good location. The English Hall just was not visited as heavily as were the other Halls. I engaged the exhibit’s attendant in German conversation. The ebullient Edith Anthes complimented my German sentence structure as being quite well formed. She was quite attractive. In turn, I noted that her German structure was quite well formed, as well. Edith showed me what S-Bahn to take to the Hauptbahnhof. Simple, but helpful.
The rest of the day was spent trying to get my bearings within the rest of the fair. At times I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of it. After much searching I found where the literary agents were stationed. I attempted to gain an audience with some (any) of them. I was stopped by a security person and was asked for my appointment time. I had none, but could I perhaps make one? I was told that would be impossible. One needed to contact an agent 3 months in advance at which point they would decide if an interview was warranted. I began to question the benefit of the fair for an author. If an exhibited author can’t get to see the agents, what is the point? As mentioned, it was happenstance for me to be here at Fair time. How possibly could I have known 3 months prior that I would be here or what agents would be here? I shrugged my shoulders and left.
The next day was spent talking directly with publishers and their representatives. Here I glimpsed the real benefit of the fair. It enables a one-on-one with the publishers directly. There are small (1 person), medium, and large (Random House) publishers. Personal contacts are possible for later follow-up. There is an opportunity to discuss a book idea and its potential market with the principals. The general public is allowed entrance during the last two days. A veritable crush of humanity. I had a flashback to my first Oktoberfest in Munich, where my pocket was picked. When I saw the Fair crowd, I moved my wallet to my front pants pocket.
There were many ups and downs at the fair. On the whole, it was a tremendous learning experience. There were graphic disappointments. One has to be a salesman. It is difficult to state one’s case for a book over and over again, usually with the same words. However, the next time I would spend 100% of my time conversing with publishers. I would not leave the hall where they are positioned.
Would I go again? You bet. 286,621 book lovers attended the 2007 Fair. If I could find a way to attract 1/100 of those to my booth, I would be delighted. Maybe next year.
Copyright © 2007 by Frank Koerner