Amid the sounds of people packing boxes and dismantling stands, a few stalwarts were still getting business done as a productive Bologna Children’s Book Fair came to a close on Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to wrap up a number of deals here,” said agent Marcia Wernick of the Wernick & Pratt Agency. “That hasn’t happened for me in at least 15 years.” Overall, attitudes were positive throughout the show (click here for our Day One report), with strong interest in both middle-grade and young adult fiction, as well as encouraging signs on the picture book side.
Clavis publisher Philippe Werck, a 29-year Bologna veteran, felt this year’s fair had a “very positive atmosphere. In the past few years, the fair has been much more professional, straightforward, and easygoing,” with potential buyers being upfront about what they are—and are not—interested in. “We’ll go to London, Tokyo, and Book Expo, but Bologna is the one,” Werck said. “This is only children’s books, and I think the most important people in children’s books come here.”
“What I’ve found is that there’s a more positive attitude about the world in general, not just the world of publishing,” said Marietta Zacker, an agent at the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. That optimism, she said, provides her an opportunity to “talk about those books that bring that lightness back. You need those books that grab young readers’ hearts, that say, yes, the world is crazy but we still persevere.”
“It seems like the children’s book market is holding up better than most,” said William Roberts, who handles foreign rights for the Gernert Company. “Paranormal and dystopian are kind of the p-word and d-word—those that shall not be named. I’ve been hearing a lot about thrillers. Standalones, too. People are nervous about investing in a series and making a commitment.”
The shift in attention from paranormal romances and dystopias to thrillers and perhaps science fiction was echoed by other agents and publishers. “Finally a year where no one is saying ‘Give me your paranormal romance,’ ” said agent Barry Goldblatt. “Thriller seems to be the word of the fair,” said Kristin Delaney, associate director of subsidiary rights for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who just so happened to have a big YA thriller—Allen Zadoff’s Boy Nobody—that was attracting attention. (Little, Brown also had one of the niftier giveaways: pens that contained a flash drive with their rights catalog.)
“We’re all looking for ‘the next thing,’ ” said Bethany Buck, publisher of Aladdin and Pulse. “We’re kind of in a transitional period right now, not really knowing where the next thing is coming from. It’ll be something really good, that creates a new genre.”
Agent Brenda Bowen, of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, was back in Bologna after an absence of four years, and her first time as an agent. “I missed the down years,” she said. “I feel like it’s pretty up. The fair feels a little slicker, with a little more polish. There are more Americans than I remember. But then, you go away for four years and you see the same dinosaur book and the same truck book, only at a different stand!”
Despite the upbeat mood, several people spoke to cautiousness on the part of European publishers and concerns about the euro. “Spain is having a hard time,” said Zacker. “Portugal, Greece, and the Italians are struggling more,” agreed Johan Almqvist, senior manager of subsidiary rights at Chronicle. “They’re lower in the print runs. Everyone is worried about the euro.” Holiday House editor-in-chief Mary Cash, however, found European publishers “not as depressed as I expected.” She said they are still looking for things to buy, and seem to have the attitude of “it’s terrible, we don’t think it will get better anytime soon, we’ll just go on.”
For Dominique Raccah, publisher of Sourcebooks, which is looking to expand its children’s offerings, the show was all about buying. “We’re probably going to be acquiring more than we have in the past,” she said. “I am finding some interesting things, including something completely new in picture books. I sent an email back home saying, ‘I’ve fallen in love. I’m buying.’ ” Raccah noted that it’s easier to “fall in love” with picture books at the show, since they are so visual, but she was still on the hunt for fiction, where, for her, “it’s all about the new idea, a new way of approaching the world.”
Many publishers felt that this year’s show was especially active. “It feels busier than last year, and certainly busier than two years ago,” said Andrew Karre, editorial director of Carolrhoda Books and Carolrhoda Lab. “I certainly have the busiest calendar I’ve had by a wide margin.” Evenings are just as critical for Karre: “The dinners are very important for me. Being in Minnesota, I don’t get regular contact with editors from other houses. It’s a great environment for meeting up. It’s almost coincidental that it’s in Italy and the food is great.”
Stay tuned for a longer wrap-up of the news from Bologna, in next week’s Children’s Bookshelf.