Ahead of her 28th Frankfurt Book Fair, literary agent Sophie Hicks tells Roger Tagholm about the rush of having the big book of the fair, expecting the unexpected...and how the fair brought an end to her vegetarianism.
My first Frankfurt was in 1989. I had to get to a lunch at the Hessischer Hof straight from the airport and my flight was delayed. The lunch was with the wonderful Italian agent Antonella Antonelli. I remember it vividly: I was a vegetarian at the time and scanned the menu, anxiously looking for a veggie option, but I couldn’t see anything. Because I was late and flustered and at my very first Frankfurt lunch, I didn’t want to ask. So I chose pike dumplings, and in that moment lost my vegetarianism forever. Oddly, it was also the first and last Frankfurt I wore a dress, although I am not sure there is a connection...
I love going to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I always have. People use to say that the love of it wears off over time and that only the first few book fairs you attend are exciting, but I don’t agree. If anything, I love it even more now, and this year will be my 28th visit. In 2014 I was delighted to receive a lovely note at my table in the Agent Centre, saying “Welcome to your first Frankfurt Book Fair!” In a sense it was—my first as the Sophie Hicks Agency (SHA). The fair is a platform that enables us to share our news, talk about our authors, hear from publishers and make deals. It’s all part of the agent’s process for showcasing talent and building careers.
The LitAg is not the most attractive of names nor the most attractive of venues. But it must be said that no book fair does an agent centre better than Frankfurt. You get slick, efficient business support in the Agent Centre, as well as decent food and excellent coffee and, most importantly, plenty of loos for when you find that 60-second gap in your schedule. Although sometimes the rows and rows of tables and chairs and the loud chatter of business brings to mind caged battery hens, the LitAg is a hive of activity where deal-making and solid business gets done. As with most agencies, SHA will be based in the LitAg and my colleagues and I will take back-to-back meetings for the duration. Frankfurt is about reconnecting with the international publishing community in our face-to-face appointments, as well as meeting new people and making sure we pitch our authors’ books to a range of publishers.
When you’re in the middle of the opening party at the Hessischer Hof and you see all those faces from around the world, it can feel a bit like Groundhog Day, but with each year comes new possibilities, new surprises, something you aren’t expecting. Because however much you have “strategised” with your authors and plotted with publishers and made plans with colleagues, you can never know what is just around the corner. A chance conversation, a serendipitous event, a thrilling discovery. It’s the atmosphere, the buzz of Frankfurt that promotes and encourages possibility and opportunity.
There’s a rush of excitement when you have one of the hot books at the fair. This year we have lots to be excited about, including Amanda Reynolds’ début novel, Close to Me, which is making a big splash. It was pre-empted by the wonderful new Wildfire imprint at Headline, we’ve had a pre-empt and auction in translation territories, and it has been snapped up by a well-known actress for a TV series, which will be announced shortly.
In 50 years’ time I expect the fair will be pretty much the same, because however much our industry changes and business models evolve, we will always need to sit down face to face and talk, because our business is about relationships. That is the essence of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and that is why I love it.
Sophie Hicks‘ clients include Tristan Gooley, author of How to Read Water; Ireland’s children’s laureate Eoin Colfer; actress and author Emerald Fennell, who was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book prize in 2014 for The Creeper; fantasy writer Benedict Jacka; celebrated Australian author Paddy O’Reilly; and the award-winning writer Anne Cassidy, whose new novel, No Virgin, is published in the UK next month.