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Among the dozens of comments heard in the aisles at this 49th Frankfurt Book Fair, none seemed as eloquent as that of Italian agent Luigi Bernabo: "It's always good." Meaning that when nearly everybody who counts in the rights market assembles in one place for one week, there are always some happy surprises. Did modern contraptions like fax and e-mail eliminate the serendipity? Apparently not for an active trader like Sweden's Karl-Otto Bonnier of Bonnier. "We couldn't work as well all year long without the momentum of this fair."
Americans spoke of "buzz," of "electricity." came in just to look at the `scene,'" explained Canadian agent Beverly Slopen, accompanying a compatriot and publisher friend to the Hessischer Hotel lobby on Monday--two full days before the fair's official opening--to note that every table and armchair was occupied with publishers and agents engaged in list-swapping.
By then half the rooms were already occupied by fair-week guests (some of them had arrived on Sunday, and hit the ground running). Deal-making continued at least through Saturday night--the customary time for makers and shakers to exchange final bids, to acquire or to reject--at the Reader's Digest party hosted by Barbara Morgan at the Hessischer, or (till the wee hours) across town at the Frankfurter Hof's Heyne Verlag do, in either case a nice way to buy a book.
We're talking multitudes. While many of the 2500-plus German exhibitors spent their days dealing with their own book trade and local media, most of the 4300 foreign exhibitors with individual stands were buying and selling rights. The British fielded the second largest contingent after Germany's, with 905 companies; the U.S. 800; France showed 320 imprints, Italy 303, the Netherlands 269. In all, the ranks of exhibitors had grown by nearly 4%, setting one more record. And in this city, where left bank and right bank are assumed to mean any two adjoining buildings, the book business filled every hotel room in town and far beyond.
The literary agents and scouts center had been expanded in the only way possible--by the poop deck constructed over the original floor, designed for 172 pre-enrolled agencies, which among them brought 272 people. Tables were added as fair week progressed--but there were still a lot of standees at peak hours. Typical of the center's users was Todd Siegal of New York's Franklin & Siegal; scouting for 15 leading foreign publishers from as many countries, he had begun his fair two days before the formal opening with a "family" dinner for his principals--which fumed into a table for 40.
Most big "Frankfurt" books were old news by the time the fair rolled around--thanks mainly to the activity of a dozen top New York scouts like Siegal, each reporting to a dozen or more leading European, Japanese and Latin American publisher-clients, but also to the growing practice of foreign editors to make the rounds of New York agents and publishers immediately prior to the fair. One brand-new offering was The Company, a novel commissioned by Peter Mayer of Overlook Press from Robert Littell, former foreign correspondent and present spy novelist, through the author's agent Ed Victor. During the fair Victor and his corresponding London agent Andrew Nurnberg signed up British Macmillan (100,000 [pounds sterling]) and Het Spectrum of the Netherlands ($25,000), with a big German deal on the way at fair's end.