4 Tips to Survive, Thrive in Frankfurt as a Foreign Rights Agent

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

Marleen Seegers of the 2 Seas Agency advises foreign rights agents attending Frankfurt to be prepared, stay late, try new things and, yes, don’t drink alcohol.

By Marleen Seegers, 2 Seas Agency

Marleen Seegers

Marleen Seegers

Founded in the summer of 2011, 2 Seas Agency represents foreign rights on behalf of an exciting variety of publishers, agents and an exclusive selection of authors from all corners of the globe. We are proud to count among our clients French publishers Allary Editions, Hachette Romans, and Le Livre de Poche as well as Dutch publishers De Geus, Podium, Meulenhoff and Nieuw Amsterdam.

Our headquarters are in Ojai, California. Ojai is situated 82 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 3000 miles west of New York City, this peaceful town is not quite a lively publishing hub but it is home to many artists, authors and actors. Each year when the fall season approaches, I go on an extensive “European tour” to meet with publishers at their offices prior to the Frankfurt Book Fair. This fall for instance I left California early September to go to Munich, Paris and Amsterdam before heading to Frankfurt.

A five-week business trip may sound challenging, but over the last few years I’ve learned how to survive, and thrive, during this strenuous foreign rights marathon ending at the world’s most influential international publishing event. The following are my four tips to thriving.

1. Prepare Well Ahead

Constantly traveling and being in meetings for over a month during the busiest time of the year requires rigorous organization in the months preceding the fair. Our fall rights catalog has to be finished late August. Our goal is to send it out via our September e-newsletter to our network of over 5,000 international publishing professionals.

We ask our clients to submit their Frankfurt material well ahead of the fair, sometimes as early as June. We want to give them sufficient time to think about the selection of titles, prepare their synopses, cover images, author biographies, and any other marketing material that will help us sell their foreign rights. Since many of our clients are from France and The Netherlands, we still need to get most of this material translated into English. And of course we also have to keep any possible last-minute additions in mind.

This tightly coordinated schedule bears its ripe pre-Frankfurt fruit—besides having this precious document ready when I leave, I’ve also noticed that acquiring editors pay a lot more attention to catalogs received earlier on in the fall season. They are more alert and accessible than just before the fair, when they are submerged with rights lists.

2. Make the Most of It While You’re in Frankfurt

Since we’re based in Ojai, California, I don’t have the opportunity to have lunch meetings with publishing professionals throughout the year, nor do I run into them willy nilly to have a stop-and-chat while doing my grocery shopping. Creating and deepening personal relationships is essential to selling foreign rights, thus I always stay as long as I can in Frankfurt. At the fair I see the largest possible number of people, whom I probably won’t meet with again in person for at least another half year, until the London Book Fair.

I always start with the good intention of keeping at least half an hour per day free to grab a sandwich for lunch. Yet as my schedule fills up and my enthusiasm grows with the thought of seeing all these lovely editors, scouts and agents (again), those good intentions vanish into thin air.

My meetings start with breakfast on Tuesday morning and end on Saturday evening, when the rest of the Agents’ Center is practically deserted. Virtually each year since attending the Frankfurt Book Fair as an agent, I’ve been ‘the last woman standing’ in hall 6.0. They say the early bird gets the worm but I’d say the lady Dutch bird that stays the latest catches the contract.

3. Try Out New Tactics, Approaches & Tools

A novelty at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair (and during my preceding European tour) is the fact that instead of using print catalogs, I’ve opted for an electronic catalog uploaded to my iPad. A fellow rights seller held a small survey on Facebook about the use of “e” versus “p” catalogs, to which most—if not all—of the reactions were in favor e-catalogs.

In the previous years I schlepped along as many print catalogs as I had meetings throughout my fall tour—even a few more, because you never know, right? I always ended up with a considerable number of unused catalogs. Of course I still have a few paper copies with me as a back up—again, you never know. I am curious to see how it will work out this year. For sure, my back and shoulders will be grateful and not to mention the green benefits to our planet.

4. Be Kind To Your Body

Speaking of which, the Frankfurt Book Fair and preceding tour is also challenging on a physical level. When I worked for a French publisher several years ago, I usually got two-three hours of sleep per night and still managed to talk non-stop again about our titles the next day, for five days in a row.

The first time I flew into Europe from California, with a full travel and meeting schedule during the weeks leading up to Frankfurt, I found out the hard way that I needed to shed my previous ‘Frankfurt lifestyle’.  It started with insomnia, and on the third day of the fair I had completely lost my voice. I still had three days of meetings to go but couldn’t continue—what’s a foreign rights agent who can’t talk about her titles?

Since then I’ve started paying more attention to my physical well being, and put a halt to the Frankfurt debauchery when necessary. No more parties until 5am. Ok, you’re not going to like this next part so get ready—no drinking coffee or alcohol (yes, you read that correctly: no alcohol) throughout my travels helps me stay focused and well rested. At home I enjoy starting the day with a cup of strong black coffee and ending it with a nice glass of red wine, however at FBF the adrenaline I get from my meetings is simply enough to keep me going throughout the day without any other stimulants. I also practice twenty minutes of yoga every morning (I know that’s very Californian, but trust me it helps), and bring along a large thermos of herbal tea to my table in the Agents’ Center to stay hydrated and covet my voice. These practices may sound very Spartan, but they are essential for me to survive, and thrive, in Frankfurt. I hope you find these tips helpful, let me know if you have any other tips to thrive in Frankfurt to share with us.

2 Seas Agency’s motto is “Foreign Rights & More”. To find out more about us visit our website at www.2seasagency.com. Besides information about the titles we represent and the deals we have recently closed, it contains useful articles and resources for anyone interested in international publishing.

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Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.