Frankfurt Book Fair: A survival guide

sara llyod

It’s that time of year again. The Frankfurt Book Fair is upon us in all its quirky and miraculous Germanic splendour. The largest international book fair in the world by number of publishers, Frankfurt is an event that you simply must attend at least once in your career, just to experience it.

With over 7,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries and almost 300,000 visitors over five days it can be quite overwhelming if you’re not prepared. For old bags like me there’s a Ground Hog Day feel to the moment I rock up each October at the main entrance to the buchmesse, as it’s known in German. The good news is, that as an old hand, I can hopefully pass on a few tips which should make your experience easier and more enjoyable.

First of all, you may by now have established that the Book Fair is HUGE. Located in a sprawling array of ‘functional’ buildings in a range of styles from Bauhaus to Postmodern, many the size of football pitches, with interlinking walkways and escalators, you will need (a) a map; (b) a very comfortable pair of shoes; (c) a bottle of water and (d) a good sense of direction. Organising your meetings with space in between to switch locations between halls is vital.

Second of all, only a small part of the business of the fair will take place in your meetings. Frankfurt is a BOOK fair, a bringing together of publishing folk, and therefore, it is FULL of chatter, gossip, inspiration and laughter and all of this is at least as important as the deals done on the stands. Walk the foreign halls, browse, bump into people, and more than anything, bring your best party self and prepare to burn the candle at both ends.

For Frankfurt Virgins a vital initiation experience is to end up at the Frankfurter Hof bar in the small hours. This is the place to see and be seen and you will always find interesting people there. Having said that, do try to get to bed before 4am. Three or so days without sleep or light doesn’t usually bring out the best in people (as a really old bag, my novel tip is to take at least one night off with room service, leaving the endless late nights to the youngsters. Ahem)

Based on one and two above, my third tip is to know the vital kit to pack for Frankfurt. This includes: Berocca (to ward off colds / soothe hangovers), a spare pair of tights (for the ladies), your entry pass (!), lip balm, phone charger, chewing gum (for post hangover meeting-friendly breath), cold remedies (you WILL catch something in those airless halls), throat sweets (your voice will be in constant use), hand cream (those airless halls are very dry) and snacks.

Speaking of food, I am sorry to say that the majority of fare available to you at the messe is, erm, not particularly enticing. So tuck into a good breakfast at your hotel and find a nice deli off site to pick up lunch on your way in.

Getting around Frankfurt itself is easier than it looks and your entry pass doubles as a freedom ticket to the excellent public transportation. Taxi queues outside the messe are notoriously long. Avoid them. Or embrace them and use them as an excellent networking opportunity. Likewise the queues for the loo.

Don’t forget there are outside spaces between the halls. Make some time in your schedule to get outside and see the sun. I think I’ve mentioned the airless halls….

Make copious notes. It will all be a blur when you return. Include something distinctive about each person you meet so you can refer to it when you write to follow up.

Above all, relax and have TONNES of fun. Look forward to seeing you there!

*My thanks to many Pan Mac pals who shared their best tips with me for this article: Belinda Rasmussen, Jeremy Trevathan, Michele Young, Robin Harvie, Harriet Sanders, Jon Mitchell, Eve Roberts and Sarah Harvey!

Sara Lloyd is Digital and Communications Director for Pan Macmillan, managing the company’s digital, marketing and publicity departments. Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post.

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