Navigating the Frankfurt Book Fair as a Translator

Translator Alex Roesch shares her experience of the Frankfurt Book Fair and offers advice for any translators considering attending this international book event in the future.

Attending book fairs is not something that comes naturally to most translators, as we typically spend the majority of our time secluded with our laptops, dictionaries, and possibly a pet, engrossed in our translation projects. However, there comes a point when it becomes necessary to venture out into the big wide world of book fairs. 

TRANSITIONING TO THE CONTINENT

The London Book Fair (LBF) is a great place to start. The iconic venue at Olympia is not exactly small, but once you have got your bearings it does start to feel relatively cosy. The Literary Translation Centre (LTC) provides a wonderful opportunity to network and connect with fellow translators and, with careful upfront planning, you might secure a few meetings with UK editors and pitch them your translation idea. What you won’t tend to find at the LBF are any individual German publishers’ stands. 

Some do exhibit at as part of the German collective stand at the LBF, which does a wonderful job of highlighting a curated selection of Swiss, Austrian and German titles, along with the relevant funding organisations. However, for a truly immersive experience in the German book scene and a comprehensive overview of the German publishing landscape, you might want to consider coming to the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF). 

Almost every German, Swiss and Austrian publishing house, ranging from the big publishing giants to the small indie houses, is exhibiting in Frankfurt. This expansive representation provides a unique opportunity for translators to get an overview of German publishing and to connect with the foreign rights teams of these publishers. Some of you will already have established contacts within these rights teams, and while many of them do also attend the LBF, their focus in London primarily revolves around marketing their titles, resulting in limited availability for meetings with translators. In contrast, at the FBF, they have more time and often conduct their meetings at their respective stands, so on occasion, it might be possible to briefly introduce yourself even without a scheduled appointment.  

Almost every German, Swiss and Austrian publishing house, ranging from the big publishing giants to the small indie houses, is exhibiting in Frankfurt.

Alex Roesch

ACKNOWLEDGING THE DIFFERENCES

While the LBF has a concentrated focus on the UK and English-language publishing, the Frankfurt Book Fair has a stronger international focus, with a significant emphasis on buying and selling translation rights and licensing agreements. This may make it feel a bit more business-orientated.  

Yet the true distinction between the two lies in the sheer magnitude of the fair in Frankfurt. In 2022, the LBF had just under 1,000 exhibitors spread over its two halls, while the FBF was back up to 4,000 exhibitors from 95 countries spread over four halls. This year 11 levels will be occupied. In pre-pandemic times, Frankfurt attracted more than 7,400 exhibitors. So brace yourself for the overwhelming scale of this book event.

© Frankfurter Buchmesse (Anett Weirauch)

Like its London counterpart, the Frankfurt fair designates exclusive trade visitor days, followed by the weekend which is open to the general public. These public days provide a great opportunity for publishers, authors, and exhibitors to directly interact with potential readers and book buyers, and it’s worth noting that books can be purchased on-site during the public days.   

Don’t let the numbers I just mentioned put you off, for in true German fashion, meticulous organisation prevails. This means that while it might sound a little daunting, it doesn’t have to be if you plan ahead. 

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU GET HERE

Most people, including myself when I relocated here from London many years ago, tend to overestimate the size of Frankfurt. Going to an event or a restaurant ‘south of the river’ only requires a ten-minute bike ride or three stops on the S-Bahn, Frankfurt’s equivalent of the Tube. In fact, you would be hard pushed to take longer than 20 minutes to get from one end of the city to the other. So if you do decide to come to the FBF, navigating the city is not going to be a problem. 

The Messe Frankfurt, where the magic unfolds, is located in the western part of the city, which has undergone significant development in recent years. It is conveniently located not far from the main train station and the historic city centre. The Messe is easily recognised by its architectural landmark and iconic symbol, the Messeturm, a pencil-shaped skyscraper that stands at a height of 257 metres. The Messe is surrounded by a vast array of big new hotels, apartment buildings and shopping centres, making it a convenient and attractive area to stay when considering your visit. 

The exhibition halls themselves are arranged by country, enabling you to navigate with purpose. For instance, Halle 3 serves as the hub of German publishing, with German publishers occupying multiple floors based on their size and focus. Most English-speaking publishers and the International Rights Centre (LitAg) can be found in Halle 6. In 2022, the LitAg had 450 tables, so once again, the scale of it all is a lot bigger than LBF. When planning your meetings, do keep in mind that depending on where your meeting is taking place, you might have to use several escalators, move along walkways and exit one hall for another. So try not to plan your meetings back-to-back because you will need to allow a good 10 minutes to move from one location to the next.

One of the advantages of the FBF’s expansive scale is the abundance of space available beyond the bustling exhibition floors, where you can take a breather from the literary frenzy. You can find these spaces either inside the halls near the entrance to the actual exhibition floors or outside. The FBF boasts a sprawling outdoor area, known as The Agora, that forms a courtyard connecting the various halls. So instead of navigating the labyrinthine walkways and escalators that seem to stretch endlessly after hours of exploration, you can opt to make your way between the halls outside, enjoying the glorious autumnal sunshine if you are lucky. The Agora offers a range of amenities, including food and coffee trucks, outdoor seating and pavilions hosting literary events. It’s great to be able to step outside between formal meetings and take a break from the noise and the lights without actually leaving the fair itself. This is definitely one of my personal highlights of the FBF.

PLACES AND EVENTS

Like LBF, the FBF also features a dedicated translation centre, called the International Translation Centre. This is a specialised space for translators from around the world, featuring a stage and a networking area. Organised by the FBF and the Verband deutschsprachiger Übersetzer (VdÜ), in collaboration with partners like the Goethe Institut, Litprom, ENLIT, and others, the translation centre hosts various events on literary translation throughout the fair. In 2022, they held 30 events, attracting approximately 1,500 attendees. The translation centre is located in Halle 4. 

Throughout the fair, you will come across media stages hosted by various organisations, including German state television channels, Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 3 Sat, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche, and others. These stages provide a platform for broadcasters, media outlets and other organisations to conduct interviews, panel discussions and presentations, offering a great opportunity to attend a wide variety of events featuring authors and industry professionals. You can come and go as you please, no need to register. 

In 2021, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Frankfurt International Translators Programmme, which I highly recommend. This biennial programme is aimed at international literary and non-fiction translators from German. The 15 selected translators get to take part in a week-long programme of seminars, meetings with publishers and authors, and visits to cultural institutions, as well as being invited to the official opening of the fair. The programme is organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair and funded by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office. It is a great opportunity for any translator from German to learn about the German book market, network with industry professionals and actively participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair. 

A really useful free tool is the FBF App. It provides comprehensive information on exhibitors, events and services as well as an interactive hall plan. A nice touch is the personalised appointment schedule with a reminder function and the matchmaking feature for trade visitors. 

If you do find yourself with spare time during your visit or have nothing planned in the evenings, another of my personal highlights is the OPEN BOOKS literary festival. Running parallel to the fair for all five days, this festival showcases a diverse programme of interviews and readings by German, Swiss and Austrian authors. The festival takes place in various locations around the Römerberg, Frankfurt’s historic city centre, and best of all, it’s completely free. Just check out the programme featuring around 100 events and enjoy the opportunity to experience authors up close and personal. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Clearly, coming to the Frankfurt Book Fair needs to be weighed up carefully. Getting here and staying here is not going to be cheap. However, with careful planning, specific objectives and realistic expectations, it can be a worthwhile endeavour. You need to have meetings lined up in advance for it to make business sense, and based on my experience, this does require some feather’s in your translator’s cap – networking on spec is very rare here. But all in all, the FBF is definitely a goal worth working towards!


“It’s so important to all of us here at the Frankfurter Buchmesse that we offer access to the German-speaking book market to translators from all over the globe – and that we promote networking and relationship-building in the book industry. We are proud of our Frankfurt International Translators Programme that helps us with these aims.”

Pernille Starck, Manager International Projects, Frankfurter Buchmesse

Alexandra Roesch is a bi-lingual, bi-cultural translator based in Frankfurt am Main. She has translated eleven full-length works of fiction and non-fiction including novels by Hans Fallada, Seraina Kobler, Stefanie vor Schulte and Merle Kröger (Longlisted for the Helen & Kurt Wolff Translation Prize 2018). 

She has an MA in Translation from the University of Bristol; was one of twelve international translators at the Summer Academy 2017 at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin (LCB); and was selected for the International Translators Program of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2021.


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