03 Nov Romance Was in the Air at the 75th Frankfurt Book Fair
This year’s Frankfurt Book Fair saw the familiar hustle and bustle of pre-pandemic times
BY MARLEEN SEEGERS — ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON NOVEMBER 3, 2023
The Frankfurt Book Fair celebrated its 75th edition this year, with the motto ‘And the story goes on’. Slovenia was this year’s Guest of Honor.
The prevailing global tensions found their way to the Fair when it decided to postpone the 2023 LiBeraturpreis award ceremony honoring Berlin-based Palestinian author Adania Shibli. Numerous Arab publishing associations made a last-minute decision to pull out.
In spite of these tensions, it was clear to see that people were in high spirits, and the overall atmosphere was marked by (cautious) positivity. For the first time since 2019, Asian and Australian publishing professionals were back in full force.
The Literary Agents and Scouts Center broke its record attendance with more than 580 tables, and the overall trade and public attendance was up. However, in an effort to reduce their expenses, many companies restricted the number of people they sent to the Fair, as inflation and rising production costs continue to pose challenges. Those who were attending, especially from surrounding countries, tended to stay for a shorter period of time.
Still, our meetings allowed us to check in again with our main international partners and keep up with changes in personnel—it seemed that, in particular, many Italian editors changed jobs over the summer, giving the impression of a true musical chair.
In terms of fiction, it was confirmed that literary fiction in translation continues to represent increasing difficulties. In contrast, Japanese upmarket feel-good novels about cats and/or books (preferably both) continue to sell very well internationally. The romance genre was also on fire, with publishers seeking captivating stories of love in all its forms, including the unconventional—for instance, a romance novel about two serial killers finding love in each other’s arms, which a German editor gleefully mentioned as they summed up their recent acquisitions. In response to the high demand for the genre, several international publishing companies that are traditionally seen as more ‘literary’ are starting a romance list or imprint.
While UK and US romance authors have traditionally seen very strong international sales, editors now also have their sights set on languages other than English such as French and Italian, partly in response to the stiff competition posed by English-language books on the European continent, particularly in the northern regions. There’s no fixed book price on export editions, so the English editions are often several Euros cheaper than their translated counterparts.
This challenge isn’t limited to the romance genre; it applies across the board. For instance, for the first time in my career in foreign rights, Dutch nonfiction editors told me they are actively seeking titles from languages other than English. In the Netherlands, the dominance of English in the book market is evident; one out of every six books currently sold is written in English. Germany and the Nordic countries are following in the Netherlands’ footsteps. Publishers in these countries are looking at measures that could curb this trend, without punishing booksellers.
For nonfiction titles, we saw an increased interest in the well-being, mental health, and personal development sphere, with nature writing continuing to hold strong. Business, marketing & leadership titles continue to sell well in the Asian markets in particular.
In terms of children’s & YA, publishers have been asking for middle-grade series with fantasy and magical elements, and YA fantasy, romance, and fantasy-romance (aka romantasy), especially thanks to BookTok. Middle-grade paperback sales are declining in several countries, as readers are switching to reading manga, webtoons, and YA, so editors are always on the lookout for new stories and new voices, as this segment has a lot of potential. The Netherlands and Nordic countries, again due to the high competition they receive from the English-language editions, are generally not acquiring anything from English for readers aged 12 and up.
Everyone seemed to agree that in spite of these challenging times, we are all in the same boat and I felt an overall confidence in the enduring spirit of the industry.
Some pictures of our Frankfurt week: