Every year we send a crew of ABC’ers to scout the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest book exhibition and trade fair, looking for new trends. We refresh relationships with our trusted suppliers, make new deals and bring home book samples to delight and surprise you. News and gossip fly through the atmosphere, but let’s be honest, we’re like pigs hunting truffles – to find new books that still excite us after all these years and to be able to share that find on the spot with colleagues is an experience worth repeating.
Buchmesse veterans Lynn and Rick travel to Frankfurt every year, and share some of their decades’ worth of adventures…
My first time was forty years ago. It started with a death-defying cruise down the autobahn at 180 km/hour in little red Fiat which stopped at a hangar-like exhibition space. Mitch, who was then ABC’s director, walked around looking for new things to sell and contacts to be made. I tagged along trying to learn something. At that time, we were barred from buying directly from the largest US and UK publishers, so we were always looking for smaller publishers with unique books and persuading them to sell to us. Hotel rooms were in such short supply that the four of us (three gay guys and myself) had to share one room, and slept in shifts. (After just one such night we were too tired to do any more business, so we drove back to Amsterdam. When I walked into the dormitory a day earlier than expected, my then-boyfriend said, “Oh, you’re home early. *sad sigh*”, while my now-husband said “Oh, you’re home already!!!” …but that’s another story!)
In the decades that followed, more publishers would talk to us and we figured out that some of them left their samples at the fair rather than transport them back to the States. So we offered to buy them for a good price and brought the samples home – first in a car, then in a van, then in a truck, and now in a full container.
This October we’ll go again, both veterans and new ABC staff. The newbies are always overwhelmed by the size of the Fair and by ABC’s name recognition among English-language publishers. Hotel rooms are still scarce, so we stay outside the city and get lost every year, music blasting, and singing along, full of pasta and wine. After a hefty weekend, the container arrives at ABC and it still feels like Christmas has come early as we unpack the goodies we found and brought home to feed the avid and curious readers we still love to excite.
In my second year at ABC (that being 1989), I was asked by my boss to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair to “buy books and publishers’ stands.” I was extremely nervous and apprehensive about talking to the most powerful people in the book industry and asked my owner what I should say, how I should dress, etc. I was told to dress “casual”, and to just approach the publisher in question, introduce myself and state what I wanted from them.
Upon entering the great Hall (commonly known as Hall 8 for representing all English-language publishers), I noticed that virtually everyone was dressed to the hilt, in designer clothes, suits, ties and fancy dresses.
As I approached my first publisher, in my slightly worn Prince t-shirt, wearing my favorite Levis (which had a few tiny rips from its “vintage” old age I stammered: “Hi, my name is Rick Lightstone from the American Book Center in Amsterdam and I would like to buy all the books displayed here for a very cheap price, please.” At which point the publisher raised his eyes from his desk with utter disdain, looked me up and down (he in his Armani suit) and muttered “Excuse me, do we have an appointment? And who are you ?”
I vowed then and there, that when I next returned to The Frankfurt Book Fair, I would be attired in the most beautiful suit, with the most impressive business cards known to mankind!