Meet This Year’s Frankfurt Fellow: Erica Finkel
Many young publishing professionals dream of one day attending the legendary Frankfurter Buchmesse—the Frankfurt Book Fair. So a fellowship program that not only includes access to the fair, but also a week-long trip around Germany to network with and learn from German publishing professionals (with most expenses paid) might sound too good to be true.
It isn’t! Each year, a small group of young international publishers are awarded Frankfurt Fellowships. Fellows receive funding to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair, traditionally held every October in Frankfurt, Germany. Agents, editors, booksellers, translators, and all manner of literary professionals attend the fair each year, coming from all corners of the globe to negotiate deals, launch books, and learn about publishing trends. The fellowship program, funded by the Frankfurt Book Fair, began in 1998 and aims to promote information exchange and networking within the international publishing world.
Fellows generally arrive in Germany before the fair for special networking opportunities. According to the program’s website, the fellows “visit publishing houses and booksellers, see market presentations and match-making events, have dinners, [and] many more networking opportunities.” During this week, fellows travel around Germany, learning about the unique characteristics of the German publishing world and also reporting on trends and developments happening in their own countries. Although the fellows are responsible for getting to Germany on their own, the fellowship covers all travel and accommodation within the country.
During the second portion of the fellowship, fellows take on the book fair in its entirety, making their own appointments during the day and participating in special evening engagements with other fellows and attendees.
Over the last fifteen years, more than 260 participants from 48 countries have been a part of the fellowship program. This year’s 16 fellows hail from all over the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Thailand, Lebanon, and Serbia. And for the first time, this year’s fellowship program is geared specifically toward publishing professionals who work with children’s and YA books.
This year’s US fellow is Erica Finkel, Assistant Editor at Amulet Books and Abrams Books for Young Readers. After graduating from Tufts University with an English degree, Erica pursued a graduate degree in Boston and worked as an intern at Shambhala Publications, Hackett Publishing Company, and Harvard Education Press, before entering the publishing world in New York full-time. She’s held her current position as an assistant editor for two years, handling a diverse group of titles that range from picture books to YA novels. YPG went straight to the source to talk about the fellowship application, this year’s fair, and the latest trends in YA.
How did you hear about the fellowship? What was the application like?
I first heard about the fellowship from our publisher Susan [Van Metre, Vice President and Publisher of Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books]; she encouraged me to apply. The application process was pretty extensive; I wrote about what I do on a daily basis, especially as it connects to international publishing. The application also required four recommendations—one from a supervisor and three from international business partners. I work with foreign rights pretty frequently in my position, so I was able to get recommendations from French and British foreign rights agents.
Have you ever been to Frankfurt?
No, I haven’t been before, but I’ve organized my boss’s schedule for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for a number of years, so I have fairly good idea of what goes on!
Did you always know you wanted to work in children’s publishing?
Actually, no. I started at Abrams in the Managing Editorial department, working on books for all ages, including art books for adults. It was only by working full time at a publisher that I realized I wanted to be in Children’s—that it’s where all the really fun stuff is happening. But now the position feels so perfect for me, and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else! I get to work on books for the earliest readers through young adult, but my favorite age group to work on is YA. It’s just a very raw, intense time of your life, when you’re carving out your independence and identity as a fully formed person.
What is a typical day for you like? What is your favorite part?
A typical day involves lots of emails and meetings, perhaps surprisingly administrative stuff. I work and rework profit and loss statements for books; draft copy for book covers, catalogs, and sales materials; request costs from production for a book’s specifications; etc. When there’s a lull—or more often, when I’m on the subway or on my couch on a Sunday afternoon—I review and respond to submitted manuscripts from agents, in the hopes of finding something great to bring to an editorial meeting and acquire. But my favorite part is the editing, when I get to collaborate with authors on their work, and see my feedback help shape a stronger manuscript. That feeling is immensely satisfying, and it’s why I like my job.
What’s the most memorable title you’ve worked on?
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my first picture book, FRAIDYZOO. It was my first acquisition and the author-illustrator’s first book, so we were both pretty fumbly during the production process, but there’s also nothing like the enthusiasm that debut authors bring to their work. The story is about a family that makes animal costumes out of household objects, so one evening the publicist and I headed out to the author’s apartment in Brooklyn to make some costumes ourselves! We made a panda head, a zebra mask—even a cardboard armadillo! The stars aligned for that one, and it ended up doing so well: starred reviews, an ALA Notable Book and Junior Library Guild selection—even shout-outs on The Today Show and Orange Is the New Black!
Are you a hard copy or digital person?
Hard copy for reading before I go to bed or on the beach, but digital for traveling. I think there’s totally room for both modes.
Recognizing that you can only speak for your publishing house, how are you seeing the “digital revolution” affect books for young readers? Do you have any predictions for the children’s publishing industry in the next five or ten years?
We’re not seeing a huge impact on the picture book market yet, or on our heavily illustrated novels, but we certainly sell lots of our novels as e-books, especially the series. I think digital books are great for readers who want to quickly get that next book in the series or the next book by their favorite author, without waiting for their library to get it, or Amazon to ship it, or for their local bookstore to open. So, I see a growing hybridization of forms in the industry, but I don’t think we’re hearing the death knell of print. I will say that readers now expect books in a series to come out faster, and if there is a wait, for the author to release some sort of bonus content or novella. And that impatience can make production schedules increasingly tight.
What trends are you seeing in children’s titles that you are buying/that are popular in other countries?
We’re definitely seeing a move away from dystopian and paranormal. The market has just become too saturated with those categories and is going back to contemporary realism, especially with the popularity of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. There’s also a bunch of high-concept, almost absurdist books like GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and NOGGIN. It’s always appealing to have that fresh premise that’s easy to summarize. I’m also seeing a lot of retellings in the vein of CINDER—any fairy tale or classic seems to have an offshoot these days. As for what’s popular in other countries, I look forward to getting a feel for it in Frankfurt!
Do you know German? Are you nervous about the language aspect of the trip at all?
I know how to say please, thank you, and “I would like a latte.” The really important stuff! I wish I knew a bit more German, but I do think that most of the programming will be in English, as the Fellows come from all around the world.
What books are you bringing to read on the flight over/during the trip?
I’m finally going to read THE GOLDFINCH. I think I’m the last person on earth to read it!
At Frankfurt, Erica says she is most looking forward to learning about the industry from a global point of view, including “what trends people are seeing, and hearing their strategies about moving forward in a changing industry.” The social aspect is important, too—“hopefully I’ll make some important new relationships—maybe even friendships!”
The Frankfurt Fellowship’s website notes that successful applicants usually have several years’ experience in publishing, good knowledge of English, and a basic knowledge of German. Most Frankfurt Fellows are between 30 and 40 years old when they take part in the program.
This article was contributed by YPG member Emily Powers. For more information about Emily, visit our contributing writers page.