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If the photocopiers in Frankfurt hotels could talk, they would have a thick book to write. Until recently, these devices were the protagonists during the days when the Buchmesse, the city’s book fair, considered the largest in the world, was held. Sigrid Kraus, literary director and co-founder of Salamandra, remembers the stress of finding one before the rest of the publishers in the 80s and 90s. “It was one of my main goals. “Getting the ‘hot’ manuscript that everyone is talking about, convincing the hotel to make me a copy so I could read it quickly and buy it before anyone else,” she explains to The vanguard .

The first time Kraus attended this cultural event was in 1985, which has allowed him to see how this world meeting, which turns 75 in 2023, has changed over time. An anniversary that has been marred by the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas and that has caused tensions after the director, Jürgen Boos, took a position saying that the fair is “completely in solidarity with Israel” and after the cancellation of the award ceremony. Liberaturpreis to the Palestinian author Adania Shibli.

The mission of the early years

Before, he had to “get the manuscript of the that everyone was talking about and photocopy it,” Kraus recalls

It is not the only time something similar happens. If this literary quote is characterized by something, it is for being “more than a business fair. It is a thermometer of what is happening in the world and a speaker of ideas,” explains literary agent Anna Soler-Pont, of Pontas Agency, who remembers that the fair also had other political chapters, such as when China was the guest of honor and attended dissident writers or when the halls were filled with yellow ribbons for the processes Catalan.

Soler-Pont is also a veteran, having spent three decades walking the endless corridors of the Buchmesse. She “I came for the first time in 1992 and I didn’t have a cell phone, laptop, email, pdfs, or Internet because they didn’t exist. Neither does Google or online translators, so you better know languages. She doesn’t do that much, but this makes us see how much technological progress has been made.”

Atmosphere at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week


If one of the attendees who attended the church of San Pablo for the first time in 1949 – the first edition was held there – had been told that the topic that would spark the most debate several decades later would be Artificial Intelligence “he would not have believed,” confesses Silvia Sesé, editorial director of Anagrama. Today, the temple continues to have a relationship with the fair, since the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade is awarded there, which this Sunday is awarded to the writer Salman Rushdie, and which in the past Herman Hesse or Mario Vargas Llosa also won.

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The writer Salman Rushdie during the press conference he gave this Friday at the Frankfurt book fair

In those years when it all began, it was difficult to predict that Hollywood producers and big names would walk there freely. streaming, thirsty for new stories that can expand their catalogues. “They don’t look for big names. They are often interested in anonymous authors, since they are cheaper. It is not so important who tells it, but how it is told and that it is easy and quick to produce. We, for example, represent Sama Helalli. We have not yet sold the publishing rights to his work, Operation Kerman , to no publisher but to the audiovisuals to produce a series.” On Netflix, no less.

It was also not easy to foresee that the audio industry would become firmly established. Stands and huge advertisements from companies like Spotify, which will add audiobooks to its library, indicate this. Juan Baixeras, Country Manager of Audible for Spain and Italy, explains that “for us, fairs are opportunities to connect with the creative and publishing class. “We have been looking to expand our catalog.”

Another approach

“There are more and more editors and literary agents and fewer ‘stands’,” explains Silvia Sesé

The world changes and so does the fair. But there is one tradition that does remain: going at night to the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof, the five-star hotel where some of the fair’s authors stay. “It’s the place you go when the doors close. We chat in a more relaxed way and get to know each other better. That helps to close deals later,” says Sesé. Of course, Kraus acknowledges, “before we all knew each other but now there is widespread overcrowding.” In part this is because “there are more and more editors and literary agents.”

The Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof hotel, a meeting place for the publishing world

The Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof hotel, a meeting place for the publishing world

Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof

The LitA g, the area where agents and scout from around the world to buy and sell rights to new titles, “has grown in recent years. There are more and more tables and sofas to talk and less stands . You no longer have to show as many books as before, you can see on-line . But since they are more accessible, there is more supply and the auctions are tougher,” acknowledges Claudia Calva, from the Antonia Kerrigan literary agency. In this area of ​​the fair there have been real stirs throughout these 75 years, as many times the dates have coincided with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“The moment the prize is awarded, editors are looking at their watches and cell phones and rush to be the first to buy or renew the rights of that author,” says Elena Ramírez, editorial director of Seix Barral and the department of international fiction from the Planeta group, which recognizes that this upheaval has always occurred, although the arrival of the Internet is what forced everything to happen faster. A similar scene occurs with the hot books , the most coveted books. One of them has been The year of the locust the new novel by Terry Hayes, which the Planeta publishing house will release in June 2024. In Catalan, it will be published by Columna Edicions.

“There are more and more editors and literary agents and fewer ‘stands’,” explains Silvia Sesé

Another one that has been talked about a lot in the cafeterias and halls of the fair has been Convent Wisdom ( Convent Wisdom: How 16th-Century Nuns Can Save Your 21st-Century Life ), by Ana Garriga and Carmen Urbita, protagonists of the podcast Felipe’s daughters , which recovers the female figures of the Spanish Baroque. The literary agent María Cardona has carried the weight of these negotiations and, minutes before meeting with a Brazilian publisher, she explained to this newspaper that “there are many who have been asking about the nun book , the nuns’ book, because that is what they have renamed it. It has been an unexpected success. More than twenty-five offers have been received in eight countries. In the US, an auction has been held between seven publishers. If they had told publishers 75 years ago that a book about nuns would succeed, this would have suited them,” he concludes.

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