The Frankfurt Book Fair

hoffmanillustrates! friendly little illustrations since 2004

Simple Steps for Success at the Frankfurt Book Fair

It was "The Fair", expressly spoken with a long sounding 'e' as if there were never any other fairs. But for book illustrators everywhere, especially in Germany, it is "The Chance" to make yourself known.

It was also one of my best fairs, having come back with three new projects for the coming year and more than a ton of impressions, inspirations, and memories of good conversations.

How to be Successful at the Frankfurt Book Fair

How to be successful at the fair? You often hear that you absolutely need to print postcards. Well, no, you don't. You just need a really good business card, a well organized portfolio, advanced planning, some time and some patience.

This year, I skipped the postcards—I didn't have enough time to make any, feeling like the shoemaker whose children always run around barefoot. Instead I made a Book Fair Survival Kit consisting of some home baked chocolate chip cookies (to emphasize the American me) and some tea for the frazzled nerves of the editors who had to spend the whole day in their booths.  Of course I attached my business cards that I printed at so they could remember me. Everyone seemed extremely grateful to be just given something just for them to enjoy. It was my way of thanking them for listening and for exchanging ideas. 

Trade Fair Survival Kit
My 'Trade Fair Survival Kit'/Mein Überlebenspaket für die Frankfurter Buchmesse

I think one of the nicest things said about my portfolio was that it was 'stimmig', which means harmonious even though I did show different styles of illustration. The other was one editor's delight because of the emotions my figures display.

This year my visit at the fair was much more relaxed, I had three appointments with editors, one about a book I am doing, one to talk about a future project and one to meet the art director of a publishing agency with whom I had contact this past year.

It always is a good thing to keep up personal contact. My first appointment was with someone who I had met in 2009 with whom I'd kept in touch with and who would like me to illustrate his project.

Plan in an extra day just to enjoy the wealth of literature. It is a great source of inspiration.

I only approached a stand if I really felt there were similarities in the styles of books they offered. My motto "Do you suit my style?" keeps me confident.

My decision to visit three "Portfolio Reviews" was a spontaneous one, the lines weren't long and I felt like introducing myself. (While I was heading towards one at Compact Kids, I saw the line for Carlsen… it was already 30 illustrators long queuing around the corner. That is the kind of line you want to avoid.) Again, having my portfolio prepared so that all of the pictures read in one direction made a more coherent impression and a professional impact.

Acknowledging the editor as a person and not just as a way of getting business is another way of connecting in a positive way. Even if they laughed and called my cookie packages "bribery", I had some really nice conversations at the fair because of them.


Although the Guest Countries were Flanders and the Netherlands, you couldn't help but feel the current conflicts around the world. Refugees were a big theme, be it writing about how to help them, listening to prominent speakers speak about refugees or as I found at a small stand carrying books from Iran and Irak, how a war could be seen through a child's eyes.

The book "Tales of the Open Window" by Mohannad Alaqus and illustrated by Fereshteh Najafi nearly brought me to tears. It tells of a child whose father's atelier becomes the only peaceful place around him, but also about how the child rises above his fears to help his friends through his drawings. In the end, he made the war planes into birds of peace. When you read this one quiet and beautifully illustrated book, many other things become insignificant. 

But if that book can have a happy end, then I can, too.

There were coloring books 'for Real Men', cut-out board books, stickers, cups, journals (and I thank the representative from Arti Kalender and Promotion Service for the lovely travel journal. My other one is nearly full (I'll post some more pictures from that soon here and on Instagram) as well as pop-up books.

There were some great little meter-long pop-up city skyline books from an English publisher, Walker Books Limited, and some beautiful design books to dive into at Verlag Hermann Schmidt, a publisher dedicated to typography and design…and whom I've promised to make room on my bookshelves for more of their books, I think I might start with 'In unsrer Küche wird gedruckt' (We Print in OUR Kitchen) to help me with the annual Postcard Dilemma. 

If you are an illustrator and haven't been to The Fair yet, then put it on your bucket list. It is worth every minute!


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