Ginger Clark has been a literary agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd. (New York) since 2005. On the adult side of her list she represents science fiction, fantasy, and horror. On the children’s side she represents middle grade and YA fiction and nonfiction. In addition to representing her own clients, she handles British Commonwealth rights for the agency’s children’s list. She is the chair of the Contracts Committee of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and a member of its International Committee.
Clark is also a founding member of the Global Kids Connect Advisory Committee. In anticipation of the December 4 conference in Manhattan, PW spoke with Clark to discuss, among other things, the U.K. marketplace, the ramifications of current events, and where the bright spots are in the world of children’s publishing.
This year’s Global Kids Connect theme is “Publishing in an Unpredictable World: transforming challenge into opportunity,” so let’s dive right into the unpredictable and challenging. How do you expect Brexit will affect publishers on both sides of the Atlantic?
There is a great deal of anticipation of what the market is going to look like after March 2019, which is when the U.K. must complete negotiations for its Brexit deal. Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50—the legal procedure by which a country exits the EU—earlier this year, which triggered the countdown to exit.
Many are wondering what the country will look like in terms of its partnership with the EU afterwards. While the pound has bounced back from its nadir, it still has not fully recovered from where it was pre-Brexit, which was approximately $1.46 USD, and even that level represented a downward trajectory.
If you are a U.K. publisher owned by an American company, suddenly you appear to be less valuable. Yes, it means U.K. exports are cheap right now, but it also means if you are a British publisher and you use a printing press in China, suddenly your printing costs are more expensive. Currency fluctuations are bad for business.
Amid this political and social uncertainty, is there an opportunity for children’s books?
Yes! I hear from editors that they are looking for what they are calling “heritage” titles, which translates into what we in the U.S. call classics. I’m talking about perennial picture books that have stood the test of time, books that were bestsellers in the U.S., books that might have gone out of print—publishers are willing to try them in the U.K. So I think there is a market for some U.S. backlist on the picture book side.
I recently sold a picture book that is 80 years old. This to me is a little surprising. It represents a sort of hedging of bets on the part of U.K. publishers, the idea being that this heritage book has been around so long in another country, let’s take a small risk on it here.
Moderating expectations is key, and it’s been this way for a couple of years in the U.K. You are not going to have an auction for one of these heritage titles. We hear all the time about the huge deals over there, but most books are not going to be selling for a whole lot of money. The U.K. market is smaller than the U.S., and it is absolutely its own market!
If I could speculate on this heritage interest from U.K. publishers and retailers, it’s because things feel very in flux right now, the news is very depressing and sad. Generally speaking, nostalgia sells nowadays. I am thinking about what backlist books I have that have not yet sold to the U.K. that would be good for them to consider.
You’ve just pointed to an emerging interest in backlist titles. What are you hearing on the frontlist side?
The overarching theme from my last London trip was that they are not as interested in young adult fiction—including high-concept fantasy series—as they have been in the past. They feel like that particular market in the U.K. has shrunk, or was overbought.
YA is where the trends are—the big booms, but it is also where the big busts are. And we keep sort of forgetting how steady middle grade is.
Many countries don’t have a 40-year to 50-year history of teenagers reading YA the way we do here in the U.S. In other countries, kids are still reliably reading children’s books until they are 12 or 13. And so I think that’s why publishers are turning to middle grade.
Sounds like amid a softening in the U.K. young adult market, you’re seeing middle grade opportunities! Is there another area publishers might look at with fresh eyes?
Sarah Crossan’s One (Bloomsbury), a novel written in free verse, was the surprise winner of the 2016 CILIP Carnegie Medal. This is the first book of poetry to be so honored in the award’s history, and it has opened up the market. U.K. publishers are at least willing to consider poetry in a way that they were not before.
Your international rights sales focus is the British Commonwealth, and you are also tapped into what is happening in territories across the globe. Is there something surprising you’re noticing?
Considering everything that is going on in Turkey, it is a territory that continues to do very well for us. It might not be that way forever, but at the moment publishers remain mostly independent and are still buying.
You are a Bologna Book Fair veteran! What draws you back to the fair year after year?
I’ll be attending my 10th Bologna—the only fair focused solely on children’s publishing—next year!
I spend my entire fair chained in the Literary Rights Centre, which has grown significantly since I began attending, but still feels intimate. You know everyone, and it’s easy to check in, hear what other people are meeting about, in those five minutes between our back-to-back meetings. Valuable networking and building of relationships happens there.
And, of course, the convention center has so much light! It makes the long days a little easier to get through.
Clark will lead a discussion on the international rights marketplace with book scouts and rights professionals at the Global Kids Connect conference on Monday, December 4 in New York City. Produced by Publishers Weekly in association with the Bologna Book Fair, this half-day event is followed by Celebration!, a cocktail party celebrating the authors, illustrators, translators and editors who participated in the making of the best-of-the-best titles featured in PW’s 2017 Children’s Starred Reviews Annual.
For more information on the conference, click here.