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Yes, You Can Buy Children’s Book Rights at the Frankfurt Book Fair!

“I bought my first picture book from the excellent Slovenian publisher Mladinska and have bought others from Brazil, Korea and Malaysia…”

By Andrew Wilkins, publisher, Wilkins Farago

Andrew Wilkins

Although I’m primarily a children’s publisher, I have so far done most of my business at the Frankfurt Book Fair, rather than the world’s major children’s book fair in Bologna.

That’s down to necessity rather than strategy.

Coming from distant Australia and being small press, Wilkins Farago only has the budget for one fair each year. Because we mostly buy both adult and kids rights from non-English-speaking countries, that one fair has to deliver as many books and publishers from as many countries as possible. Frankfurt’s 7,500 exhibitors from over 100 countries are hard to ignore.

Buying at Frankfurt is a distinct pleasure. Of course, it’s easier than selling: even the haughtiest rights manager can be won over if you walk up to them smiling and say “Hi, I’m from Australia and I want to buy your book.” Also, because I’m not in the trans-Atlantic English-speaking publishing loop and don’t have a stand to tend, I can roam freely to parts of the fair where English-language publishers are less frequently spotted. I bought my first picture book from the excellent Slovenian publisher Mladinska and have bought others from Brazil, Korea and Malaysia. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Czech and Iranian stands at my last Frankfurt, and I’m frustrated I still haven’t published anything from China, Japan or India.

While I wouldn’t turn down a book from one of the larger markets (we’ve published quite a few French and Italian books and this year — finally — our first German one), I’m probably happiest walking Hall 5.1 on Sunday morning after all the important people have gone home. It’s good to be reminded that the world’s an enormous place and brilliant publishing is occurring everywhere. I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy Iceland as Guest of Honor this year (and my New Zealand neighbors in 2012).

Buying illustrated books, you really need to keep your eyes peeled. Earlier this year, I found myself with 30 minutes to spare in Beijing’s massive Wangfujing Bookstore. I covered every floor before finally spying the one book among many thousands that I thought just might work in my market. I felt like a supermarket shopper on a “mad minute” shopping spree.

Frankfurt gives one a similar feeling. So much to see, so little time. There’s also the great pleasure of meeting like-minded publishers, swapping notes about who you’ve met and trying to keep that special book you saw secret in case they beat you to the rights.

Of course, Frankfurt and Bologna aren’t the only places to find kids books, but traveling farther afield has its challenges. One of my favorite rights purchases arose from a visit to the Seoul International Book Fair. Across aisles crowded with book-hungry Korean kids, I was transfixed by a huge image of a small boy by Korean artist Dong-Sung Kim on the Hangilsa Publishing stand. Grasping a copy of the children’s book from which the image came, I accosted a rather surprised Korean woman who happened to be passing. Goodness knows what she thought of this mad Westerner demanding to have a children’s book read to him. Luckily, she put aside any misgivings. By the time she’d finished the book, I knew I had to publish it.

Slowly but surely, Wilkins Farago is growing. IPG are now distributing our books in the US, we’re broadening our list and have even quixotically taken on staff in these uncertain times. We’ve started selling as well as buying. Bologna is likely to be added to the schedule before too long.

Even so, I don’t think I’d forego the chance to take a round-the-world trip at Frankfurt for anything.

Andrew Wilkins is the publisher of Wilkins Farago press in Melbourne, Australia. You can download the latest catalog here.

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