Everyone remembers their first time, says the C+W agent: from acclimatising to the unique rhythms of a book fair and its social side, to finding solace in a burger and a beer—without a single book in sight...
My first fair was in 2006, the year I set up Lucy Luck Associates. I’d spent the previous eight years hearing all about the fair, the meetings, the parties, and I couldn’t wait to join in. It was exactly like I expected—and also, nothing like it at all.
Where does everyone go at 6 p.m.? (The bars of the Maritime, Hessischer or Frankfurter Hof hotels). And again at 8 p.m.? (To dinner). What happens after dinner? (Hardy fairgoers reconvene at Hof or Hessischer). I loved it—and slept for a week when I got home from my first fair.
That was the year Jonathan Littell won the Goncourt with Les Bienveillantes, and everyone was bidding frantically for the rights. I learnt the art of having an intense interest in a book I wasn’t involved in (and hadn’t read) with speed. It was published in English as The Kindly Ones, but the title I have in my head is what it was known as during that week: “The Furies”.
I have far too many great moments to recount: finding my way to David Miller’s favourite bar (Gleis 25) and dancing with locals and assorted publishing friends is up there, as is an impromptu Saturday night dinner with assorted survivors—we had burgers and beer outside and discussed everything but books. My favourite moment was when [S&S vice-president] Cary Goldstein, then at Twelve, finally offered for US rights in Greg Baxter’s The Apartment after turning it down three times... and two days of me talking about the book obsessively.
At the fair, I love seeing people and talking about books. If I have time, the Städel Museum is wonderfully calming and I love having lunch at the restaurant there, which has the best-looking bar I’ve seen.
Several of [German publisher] DuMont’s parties, held at Mantis Roofgarden, have been huge fun, with dancing and great views. The Friday night Canongate parties have always been good for rounding off the week, too. I’ve yet to make it to the heavy metal nights, but have heard great stories from them—and it’s never too late...
I would advise first-timers to take comfortable shoes, enjoy meeting new people and keep slots free to walk the halls (many of the best meetings happen this way). Remember to schedule a lunch slot, and eat. Have a story or joke to hand for when you can’t remember your name, and don’t worry if you can’t remember anyone else’s.
In 50 years’ time, the fair will be similar but different. I would love to think mobile technology would be obsolete and everyone will revert to paper and pens, but as I will have hung up my Frankfurt boots long since, I will wish all good things on the attendees: comfortable chairs, plentiful bathrooms, excellent people and great books.