Frankfurter Buchmesse: 11 – 15 October 2017
The Frankfurter Buchmesse is the most important international trade fair for content, the centre of the international media world and a major cultural event. Nowhere else in the world does the publishing and media industry show itself from a more diverse, innovative and international side than during these five days in October.
The book world flatteringly arranges itself around the annual Frankfurt book fair. The Nobel prize for literature and German book prize announcements come just before it, the Prix Goncourt shortlist and the German peace prize during it, and the Man Booker prize is awarded just after hung-over British publishers, agents and authors get back from Germany.
This year the political world paid homage to the fair, too, with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron acting as joint hosts of the opening ceremony. They affirmed the unity of an open, tolerant Europe, assigning books a key role: literature “holds us together and prevents us closing ourselves off [by] giving way to fear, brutality and disunity”, said Macron (who also said “without culture, there is no Europe”), while Merkel only slightly less loftily saw it as “the reflection of the soul of our society, which is about freedom”.
Somewhat confusingly, though not necessarily incompatibly, the super-agent Andrew “the Jackal” Wylie, giving the keynote address, argued that literature’s value was all about diversity and difference, whether by expressing minority perspectives or through foreign or cross-cultural authors “showing us … different views on experiences of realities we all endure” (Knausgaard on family life was one of his examples). What was coded in the politicians’ contributions – the culture war against Trumpism and Europe’s far-right – was explicit in Wylie’s remarks: “The populist view is that we do not see things differently. There is no appreciation of another perspective.”
After these high-minded speeches, fair-goers patted themselves on the back and got down to the grubby deal-making, though high-stakes auctions for “hot books” actually conducted at Frankfurt are not as common as usually imagined. More frequently, publishers trumpet triumphs agreed previously, often with authors already on their roster. Faber, for instance, announced a “majestic” new Edna O’Brien novel, and Macmillan a two-book deal with Louis Theroux (similarly, HarperCollins unveiled a new “global deal” for its US crime writer Don Winslow). Memoirs by Cher, Roger Daltrey and Lenny Henry were bagged by HarperCollins, Blink and Faber respectively.
The psychological thriller remains the hottest genre, and the Bookseller noted that those vying to spot and sign up the next Gillian Flynn were often “new imprints such as Headline’s Wildfire, Orion’s Trapeze, Little Brown’s Fleet, HarperCollins HQ and Quercus’s Riverrun”, whose “eagerness for eye-catching deals” made for “sky-high prices”. Also evidently still in vogue are initials-only first names, including CJ Tudor and AJ Finn.
The same subgenre is pursued just as avidly in the US, where Publishers Weekly reported a “seven-bidder auction” for Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad, whose unreliable narrator is inevitably compared to Gone Girl’s Amy. Further Frankfurt or pre-Frankfurt acquisitions reflect other current trends: for African American fiction with historical sweep (Regina Porter’s debut The Travelers); memoirs with a distinctive pitch (several, among them a family history saga by Esther Safran Foer, Jonathan’s mum); and science books that could be the next Thinking, Fast and Slow (Chatter by neuroscientist Ethan Kross). “The seven-figure advance is back,” huzzahed the trade bible, as Kross is rumoured to be getting $2m.
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