There are, as one agent put it, three kinds of Frankfurts: ones where everyone is buying everything, ones where no one is buying anything, and then the middle ground where there is a steady stream of deal-making. The consensus is that the 2010 fair falls into that last category. With agents and publishers relieved that the horrible economy and “end of publishing” doom and gloom were not hanging over the event, as they were last year, there was little in the way of standout buzz books but, instead, consistent talk of numerous six figure deals.
Many insiders noted that a number of the books people were talking about had sold before the fair. And, if there was possibly a big book, it could be American Dervish, which Judy Clain at Little, Brown bought world rights to before the fair for a sum rumored to be in the in the half a million dollar range. The title, by debut novelist Ayad Akhtar, has more than a touch of autobiography about it: a first generation Pakistani-American growing up in the suburbs of 1980s Wisconsin perks up when his mother's best friend, Mina, arrives from Pakistan, on the run from a bad marriage. The title’s sold in Italy to Mondadori, Holland to Bezige Bij, Sweden to Bonniers, Finland to Otava, and Norway to Cappelen Damm. Auctions are running in France, Germany and Israel, all orchestrated by Tracy Williams from HBGUSA. The book, which has all the ingredients of the Khalid Hosseini bestseller The Kite Runner, may be getting such attention in Germany because it was Hachette’s foreign rights staff which helped close the American acquisition. Supposedly Clain bought the book with heavy backing from the foreign rights department; one insider said that the foreign rights team said, specifically, that they could sell this book abroad and that was the catalyst for allowing Clain to lay down such a large sum for the first effort. (Akhtar, who has a degree from Brown University in theatre, went to Columbia’s film school and has written numerous screenplays.)
Another book which has sparked interest is one Eric Simonoff at William Morris Endeavor sold on Saturday called You Deserve Nothing. The novel, which is set in an international high school in Paris and follows a teacher and two of his students, is by another debut writer, Alexander Maksik (who is currently a student at the Iowa Writers Workshop). One reason Nothing has gotten people talking is that it’s set to be the debut book from a new imprint that Europa Editions is launching called Tonga. Curated by author Alice Sebold, Tonga will release dark, literary books, and Sebold herself is doing the acquiring. The imprint bought both North American and Italian rights to Nothing, and plans on releasing the title in fall 2011.
Foundry Literary + Media was talking up a book packaged by the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern called The Butterfly Kisses, which Egmont bought North American rights to in multi-book six figure deal just before the fair. The YA novel, by debut author Kate Ellison, has, as Foundry’s Peter McGuigan put it, “emerged as the biggie on our list.” About a girl who buys an item owned by a recently murdered girl at a flea market and then gets drawn into solving her murder, McGuigan said the agency hasn’t closed on any foreign deals yet but is fielding offers from a number of countries.
Another book which the scouts were talking up was Matthew Dicks’s Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.” Agent Taryn Fagerness is handling the title and said she’s been told she might have a big book on her hands, but hasn’t closed on the book yet—it’s currently on an exclusive submission with Dicks’ editor at Doubleday. Fagerness said Memoirs, which she got a few pages of just before the fair, looks to be the title that could be the author’s breakout work; she described it as a cross between Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Emma Donoghue’s recent hit Room.