Publishing behind-the-scenes: What really goes on at the Frankfurt Book Fair?

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Julia Mortimer

Publishing professionals from across the globe will descend on Germany next week for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair (or Frankfurter Buchmesse). This is the world’s largest trade fair for books and is held annually every October.

As the first three days are restricted exclusively to trade visitors we asked Policy Press Assistant Director Julia Mortimer to give the rest of us an insight into this mysterious world…

It’s that time of year again when publishers from all over the world set off for Frankfurt, but have you ever asked yourself what actually happens there?

What is the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Frankfurt Book Fair is the main gathering place for representatives from book publishing and multimedia companies to meet and negotiate international publishing rights and licensing fees. To give you a sense of scale here, over 630 rights agents attend, each holding on average 15 meetings a day! There are over 7,000 exhibitors from 102 countries and last year the Fair had well over a quarter of a million visitors who also attended the many publishing seminars and events which are run.

Get your walking shoes on!

The exhibition centre is vast, with eight halls the size of London’s Olympia, so there is a lot of walking as well as a lot of talking going on! This film is an entertaining illustration of how big the Fair site really is:

Who do we meet?

Frankfurt provides a fantastic opportunity to meet other publishers and agents from all corners of the globe in order to help our books and content reach people who need them. This year I have translation rights appointments with contacts in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Korea, Norway, Italy and agents who cover the rest of Europe. We also meet with a wide range of sales representatives and vendors of English-language Policy Press content in print and digital formats worldwide. Details of all the distributors  and reps we work with globally are on our website.

Which books sell where?

For rights sales, publishers and agents are usually looking for single-authored books which are not too long as they are not keen on translating edited collections or lengthy works. Obviously the content needs to have relevance in the territory and this is increasingly the case for Policy Press as we continue to publish more internationally-focused books. Other countries, particularly developing countries, may also be looking for examples of how to implement policy or practice on the ground. For example, in China and India publishers are interested in our books on urban development and planning, social welfare and health policy as they seek to develop policies to deal with the challenges they face. In order to ensure content can reach as many audiences as possible we license low cost translation rights where applicable.

Women of Power Interestingly, we have just sold the Chinese rights to Women of power and the Japanese rights to The social atlas of Europe, so you never quite know what is going to appeal. The social atlas of EuropeSome of the other exciting books I will be focusing selling rights for are: Why we can’t afford the rich by Andrew Sayer, Leading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton, and Climate change and poverty by Tony Fitzpatrick.

And relax…

So at Frankfurt there are an awful lot of back-to-back meetings in order to get through as much business as possible in 3-4 days, but there are also some pretty good publisher parties to attend. All to add to the general exhaustion felt at the end!

The Frankfurt Book Fair runs from 8th – 12th October this year.  If you can’t be there, why not follow hashtag #fbm14 to get live updates from the book fair? Follow @PolicyPress and @TPPJulia for our latest tweets from the event.

You can also read more about rights and permissions at Policy Press on our website. To find out more about rights at Policy Press, contact Julia at

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