Slovenia – Guest of Honour at the 2022 Frankfurt Book Fair

A unique challenge and opportunity

An agreement was signed in February 2018 that officially confirmed Slovenia would be the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair (19 – 23 October 2022). The Government of the Republic of Slovenia entrusted the preparation and implementation of this world-renowned event to the Slovenian Book Agency. Before the agreement was signed, intensive preparations had already been under way for an occasion deemed by industry professionals as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Why is the Frankfurt Book Fair so important? It attracts nearly 300,000 visitors, 7,000 exhibitors, and 10,000 journalists, and has around 4,000 events, making it the largest book fair in the world. Unlike many others that function as trade fairs, this one is intended mainly for professional visitors. As a result, thousands of deals are concluded during the five days of the fair. Many a publisher, agent or printer can feel the impact of a visit fair throughout the year, which is why it’s no surprise that every meeting at the fair concludes with the heartfelt wish “Have a good fair!"

Frankfurt Book Fair Photo: Alexander Heimann

And how can one stand out from such a diverse crowd and direct attention towards literature, culture and a country that very few visitors associate with anything at all? A country that does not (really) fit in with certain stereotypes about the former Yugoslav countries, and for whom membership in the EU since 2004 has failed to bring much recognition? Although Slovenia has managed to raise its profile as a tourism destination, a great deal can be attributed to its breathtaking natural and cultural landscapes that serve as excellent (self)promotional materials in the age of social media. However, the country’s literary potential is more of a hidden gem or a treat for connoisseurs than a visible and internationally renowned body of work. There lies the potential of Slovenia’s role as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, an occasion that could change the country’s status in the world of letters.

What to expect from the role of Guest of Honour?

Judging from the experience of previous guests of honour, the role dramatically improves the visibility of the country, its authors and their works. A diverse and carefully planned programme sparks interest, and what better way to satisfy greater curiosity about a nation, its life and what it has to offer to the world than through its literature? Stories are crucial in this context, and there are plenty available in Slovenian literature. Publishers and agents thus establish international contacts and their own networks more easily both before and after the presentation. Consequently, copyright trading grows along with the number of publications of the presented authors in German-speaking countries, as well as on other literary markets. Figures start to rise in the years before the presentation, and even when the initial euphoria fades in the year or two following the fair, figures remain much higher than before.

However, the long-term effects go far beyond the publishing sector, because the role of guest of honour helps unlock the cultural and tourism potential of a country. In turn, with carefully planned activities this can even improve the economy, boost the development of culture and help create new jobs. The 2022 programme will follow on the heels of Slovenia’s EU presidency in 2021, the country’s participation in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in the same year, and many other internationally visible roles for Slovenia that may not produce immediate effects, but will certainly have long-term ones. Previous guests of honour have for the most part seen their investments pay off, and the added value has proved to be the highest in previously less visible countries. Participation in Frankfurt is thus both an opportunity as well as a responsibility.

Text by Anja Kovač
Source: Sinfo