Field Trip: A Novice's Ode to the Frankfurt Book Fair
October 21, 2020
by Leyla Top
It’s easy to believe—from their perch on your bookshelves and on bedside tables – that books live a quiet little life, keeping time and company with the sunbeams, shadows, and dust motes. The truth is they have a very full life before they make it into your hands and your home—not least of which is their initial journey from first page to publication. But for some of them, that life is catapulted into global orbit at the Frankfurt Book Fair—one of the biggest annual book fairs in the world.
Just last year, I had the pleasure of attending the fair for the first time as an export representative for the Literary Press Group, a membership of over 60 Canadian independent publishers. As a bibliophile from birth, it was the experience of a lifetime. I remember standing on the escalator between two floors and looking out over the football field sized room with booths, books and people stretching out further than I could see. And the feeling was palpable—a buzz in the air with publishers and agents from around the world coming together, some for the first time, and for others, for another year of book buying, selling, and celebrations.
During my week at the fair, I met tons of new people, got very little sleep, ate some great food, enjoyed some long nights and spent a week getting to talk all about books. It went by in a snap and if I’d had any idea at the time that the whole fair might not happen the following year, I probably would have tried to savor it all just that little bit more.
When the pandemic hit in March, the fair announced that it would be going digital, developing a range of online platforms and tools to buy and sell rights and more generally to connect about the current and future state of the book publishing industry.
One of the big benefits of this digital format was the B2B panel discussions that I was able to sit in on easily from the comfort of my home (and my sweatpants). They provided some great insights into publishing trends in other countries and how the industry as a whole is actively evolving, especially as a result of the pandemic.
A major takeaway for me was listening in to a panel discussion hosted by Canadian publisher Guernica Editions about publishing translations between Canada and Germany. This session really shed light on how special Canada is because of its openness and tolerance—something that attracts a lot of authors who maybe would not have been able to publish their stories within their own countries for various political and cultural reasons. We’re also, as a result, one of the only countries where many authors, while they may be Canadian, have their origins in other parts of the world.
What we’re publishing then isn't just Canadian literature—it’s literature in the finest sense of the word, meant for a broader, global audience. Indigenous authors and literature, too, are of growing interest both at home and internationally making Canada that much more unique. And nowhere are these stories more creatively crafted and indicative of this county’s diversity than those books being born out of Canada’s independent publishing houses and presses.
So in 2021 (fingers crossed), I’ll be going in with an extra ounce of pride for Canadian indie books and you can BET I wont miss a chance to shake one extra hand, and raise one more glass in celebration of Canada’s official year as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurter Buchmesse.
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Leyla Top is engagement manager for the Literary Press Group of Canada.
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Highlights from the LPG's Collective Rights Catalogue for 2020
Check out ALL the books that made it into our Frankfurt 2020 collective catalogue:
Mooncalves by Victoria Hetherington (Now or Never Publishing)
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