The sun came out on the second day of the Bologna Fair, indicative of the mood of the attendees inside the halls. "There's a lot of activity and everyone's very upbeat. Everyone I'm talking to seems positive. Last year this place was dead," said Stephen Roxburgh, now with his new company namelos. "But I walked in yesterday morning and you could feel the energy." Roxburgh, who says he's on a one-man hunt to find a "digital pulse" at the fair, reports that the fair's overwhelming focus continues to be "ink on paper," but says he's finding people more receptive to the digital idea. "Rather than holding up garlic and crosses as they did last year, everyone seems to be either considering it or already doing something digitally."
While publishers are trying to figure out how to incorporate technology, they also continue to be challenged by the picture book business. "The market hasn't changed significantly in the last few years," says Hilary Murray Hill, managing director of Scholastic U.K. "People are tending to stick with the tried and true, with authors and illustrators with very strong track records. It's harder to break in new authors."
But judging from the number of big YA deals done just before the fair, the YA market is not cooling off. In the appointments she had in the first two days, says Disney sub rights director Molly Kong. "People are saying ‘we want to see YA fiction.' And they're asking specifically for YA, not just middle-grade and not just series."
Upstart Crow agent Michael Stearns, however, reports that he's talking to publishers who are saying that their lists are more than filled with YA, and are now telling him "what we really want is good middle-grade." Random House's Beverly Horowitz's theory is that what happens in YA always trickles down to younger readers; "it just used to take more time." She's got an "otherworldly " middle-grade project coming next year, in fact.
In addition to the numerous pre-fair deals (see Children's Bookshelf, Mar. 18), the biggest buzz on the floor so far has been about The Emerald Atlas, the first in a middle-grade trilogy called Books of Beginning by John Stephens, preempted by Michelle Frey at Knopf just before the fair; Simon Lipskar of Writers House is the agent. It's the tale of three siblings, taken from their parents as infants to protect them from a terrible power; Knopf will pub the first book in spring 2011.
Jill Grinberg of Jill Grinberg Literary Management has had multiple offers for foreign rights to a YA trilogy by Alexandra Adornetto, an 18-year-old Australian who's been writing books since she was 13. Feiwel and Friends will publish the first title, Halo, in the U.S. in the fall; it's about three angels who come down to earth to save it from destruction, and the youngest falls in love with a human.
And move over vampires, zombies, and angels: HMH sub rights manager Christina Biamonte is selling a first novel by Kersten Hamilton called Tyger Tyger, which she calls a "sexy goblin book." And yes, it's the first in a planned trilogy.