My Frankfurt: Suzanne Baboneau

My Frankfurt: Suzanne Baboneau

My first Frankfurt was back in 1988, when I was senior fiction editor at Pan Macmillan. It was a different world then. No internet, no mobiles, no Twitter. And the manuscripts! Everybody read hard copies. The office photocopiers would be overheating in the run-up to the fair.

We all queued to see Ivana Trump. This must have been the early 1990s. She had “written” a romance novel and was there with her big hair, turning heads. Frankfurt was a sort of showcase for celebrity authors then, much less so now.

A former c.e.o. of Simon & Schuster held annual dinners at the Schloss Kronberg, a hotel-cum-castle some way outside the city. I was invited one year, long before I joined S&S. One of the guests was fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. She was quite a presence and it was just bizarre to be there, out in the forest, Frankfurt feeling a million miles away.

No one believes me when I say I like the city. So many people take cabs everywhere, which makes it hard to get a sense of the city. I stay in a small hotel in a residential area and walk everywhere. That way you get a stronger sense of the city, its day-to-day life, rather than seeing it through the window of a cab.

I always pack cough sweets. One year I lost my voice through laryngitis. My then-colleague, Tim Binding, plied me with honey from the hotel breakfast tables and at every appointment I was given strong cough sweets, which gave me an almighty high by lunchtime.

It’s the European publishers I really like to see. I like looking through their lists, at the authors they’re trying to break, discussing those for whom UK rights are still free. We talk about authors we share, how we are jacketing and positioning them. Relationships with individual editors and agents build up wonderfully over the years and you get to know their tastes and publishing instincts.

I spend more time in Hall 5 than I used to. As well as catching up with our colleagues and other US publishers and agents, I spend time observing what the Scandinavian publishers are up to, and the French and Germans. Since authors such as Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø came to prominence, there is a fund of astonishing authors who can work as well in the UK market as US authors do, so it’s important to keep an eye out.

Some Dutch publishers had a good idea one year. They were wearing rings with little watches embedded, so they could check the time without drawing attention to make sure appointments didn’t overrun (as they frequently do). I saw someone in the aisles one year sporting a pair of Google glasses, during that momentary time when they were in fashion.

I usually arrive on the Monday and have meetings that day and on Tuesday before the fair begins. Finding one’s way through throngs of people in the lobby can be a little overwhelming if you don’t know the person you are due to meet with. Intimidating for first-timers, I’m sure, but there is a terrific buzz and camaraderie. It’s a great way to start the week.

The much-missed Knopf publisher and translator Carol Brown Janeway was remembered at the Hessischer Hof last year. Sonny Mehta hosted a touching memorial drinks, with many warm tributes from people around the world, reminding us of the extraordinary publishing community we all belong to.

I love the fair. I like the energy, the pace; the fact that we’re all talking about books, authors, ideas; the challenges we face, the moments of celebration. It is about meeting face to face, away from email, having chance encounters, finding something special amid the plethora of titles discussed. But you need stamina and resilience. And a voice!

I would like to think FBF will still be here in 50 years’ time. One thing that may affect it is pressure on budgets. But the buying and selling of rights is at the heart of it, and long may that continue. Our rights teams, UK and US, are incredible. They work so hard. Frankfurt is fundamentally about bringing together publishers and agents from across the world—that’s where the fair’s longevity lies.

Suzanne Baboneau is managing director of adult publishing, Simon & Schuster UK.