After a 2009 fair when many Americans stayed home overeconomic worries, the 2010 Bologna Children's Book Fair, which ran from March 23—26, proved a much moreupbeat gathering. "There's a lot of activity, and everyone I'm talking to seemspositive," said Andrew Smith, deputy publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. HarperCollins's children's rights director, Helen Boomer, said it was "greatto see many of the publishers who skipped last year return this year." AndPenguin Young Readers associate publisher Jennifer Haller reported, "People arechatting about what the year's going to hold. There are a lot of really goodconversations."
The positive attitude at the fair stood out, according toHoliday House editor-in-chief Mary Cash, "mostly because it was conspicuouslyabsent last year. I think the fact that there had been quite a bit of salesactivity just before Bolognameant that people were already feeling good when they walked in the gate." Cashsaid she had seen fewer picture books from many European publishers, "but thequality of what I saw was high. I think that this recession has inspired manypublishers to focus on their strongest talent."
HMH publisher Betsy Groban, who was looking at projects withMary Wilcox, editorial director of franchise publishing, noted, "We saw lots ofinteresting things, especially on both ends of the spectrum, age-wise—novelsand novelties." And she commented, as did many others, on the "abiding pleasureof doing business with like-minded colleagues the world over."
Physically, the fair looked much the same as in previousyears. The agents' center is still an escalator ride up, above pavilions 25 and26; agents praise the efficiency but miss the happenstance of running intopeople in the aisles. HarperCollins had a scaled-back stand this year; Penguin'sstand was the same width, but seemed not as deep as in years past. Disney-Hyperionwas back in the American hall, now separated from the traditional (andenormous) Disney stand formerly located with the Italian publishers, now relocatedto the Bologna Congressi just outside the fairgrounds.
Teens on Top
Teen books were still unquestionably the hottest category atBologna, with anumber of big-ticket series announced in the run-up to the fair, and with manystands showcasing new YA offerings. "It all seemed to be about teen fictionthis year," said Boomer at HarperCollins, "with an emphasis on the paranormal.Angels, demons, and dystopian novels appear to be in high demand." Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, and My Soul to Reap by Courtney AllisonMoulton were three teen paranormal titles Boomer reported strong interest in.
As Random House's Beverly Horowitz pointed out, the trilogyis still king. "It's not as easy to find that single, powerful voice in onebook," she said. "Everyone seems to be trying to write series." Or, as HMH'sBetsy Groban put it, "The money is in multiples."
"There was a lot of energy behind YA, obviously," saidAndrew Karre of Lerner Publishing. "I saw and heard about my share ofinteresting stuff and I'm sure there's rarified stuff I didn't hear about."While he called the high profile of YA "fantastic," Karre raised a cautionarynote. "My concern is that we not forget that this is a genre that lives anddies by characters—teenage characters. I worry that we might get a little toowrapped up in big concepts—dystopia, paranormal, whatever else is next—andforget about young adult characters and young adult experience, especially withthe rising specter of crossover appeal. If we do that, will we still have YAas we've come to love it, or do we just have a kind of popular trendy fiction?"
In Japan, in fact, theparanormal genre has not been as successful as elsewhere in the world, said ReiUemura of Tokuma Shoten Publishing. "There are too many zombies, vampires,werewolves. I can't tell them apart anymore. I'm looking for somethinguplifting and positive, but I haven't seen many of those."
Several U.S.rights directors reported being told by editors that their teen lists werefilled, and that they were seeking more middle-grade fiction. "Despite teenstill being the big seller, middle-grade is starting to get more attentionagain," Boomer said. "I was specifically asked for either funny or solidcommercial fantasy. I think publishers are seeing some holes on their list forthis age group."
The consensus was that there's currently more demand formiddle-grade than there are good projects to show. Penguin's Jen Haller said, "People are bringing a lot of teen fiction to sell, but they're looking for middle-grade." Horowitz hada theory about why the increased demand. "What's happening in YA [such as theproliferation of paranormal titles] always moves down. The younger kids wanttheir own." In fact, Horowitz does have a forthcoming "otherworldly"middle-grade title; Museum of Thievesby Lian Tanner is first in The Keepers trilogy pubbing in September, a "suspenseful,dystopian adventure" bought from agent Jill Grinberg and originally publishedby Allen & Unwin in Australia.
Angela Namoi, Allen & Unwin 's rights director, said that her company, along with other Australian publishers, is on the forefrontof what she sees as a new trend in YA: the phenomenon of the crossover, withsome of their books published as YA in some countries, and by adult imprints inother countries. "We have half a dozen titles on our list that don't fitcomfortably into YA," she said, pointing to Miceby Gordon Reece, a psychological thriller bought by Kendra Harpster at Vikingas an adult book ("it's gone to adult publishers everywhere"), which willbe published by Macmillan in the U.K. first as an adult hardcover and then in simultaneous adult and YA paperback editions. Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, on the other hand, whichKnopf published as a YA in the U.S. in 2008, was originally published byAllen & Unwin as an adult title.
What's behind this development? "We've been doing YA for 20years," Namoipostulated, "and our readership still wants what we gave them as teenagers, andwhat they don't get from adult books. Authors like Sonya Hartnett, MelinaMarchetta—people of all ages are reading them. We've created an audience forthat." And it's not just an Australian readership, she added, pointing out thatseveral German publishers, such as Fischer, are currently setting up crossoverlists.
Roaring Brook publisher Simon Boughton corroborated Namoi's theory, reflectingon the amount of material he was shown at the fair containing "murder andmayhem." He added, "At least two publishers have told me about a book and said,‘It's Stieg Larsson for teens.' The books are pushing the teen thrillerboundary. A number of books we've seen, we've wondered, is this teen or isthis adult?"
As noted in last week's report from Bologna,there were several big sales right on the eve of the fair, most notably Knopf'spreempt of The Emerald Atlas, firstin a middle-grade trilogy by John Stephens, sold by Simon Lipskar of WritersHouse. Jill Grinberg Literary had Troubletwisters, a new Garth Nix fantasyseries, co-written with Sean Williams (sold pre-Bologna to the U.S., U.K., andAustralia) and Halo, first in a YAtrilogy by 18-year-old Australian wunderkind Alexandra Adornetto (Feiwel andFriends is pubbing the book this fall).
But there were other tales to be told at the fair. DamonRoss at DreamWorks noted the general categories that seemed big to him (in noparticular order) were zombies, comedic alien invasion stories, and Pegasusstories. Christina Biamonte, sub rights manager at HMH, said her "sexy goblin"book, Tyger Tyger by KerstenHamilton, had provided "a good antidote to vampire fatigue," saying that thebook had "enough of a hook that I could convince about everyone I met with toread it. Even people who said they had enough fantasy were willing to take alook."
Walker Books publisher Denise Johnstone-Burt gave word ofone of the projects nearest to her heart. It's an untitled novel begun bySiobhan Dowd, who died of cancer in 2007. Johnstone-Burt contracted the bookback in 2005; it was only about 15% completed, and she has asked author PatrickNess to step in and finish it. Ness, whose forthcoming Monsters of Men will conclude his much-praised Chaos Walkingtrilogy, never met Dowd (though they were always up against each other for thesame prizes, Johnstone-Burt said). The book, which centers on the healingpowers of the yew tree, tells of a boy whose mother is ill, and who is able tocome to terms with her death through the tree. Walkerhas world rights and will publish in May 2011; Candlewick is the U.S.publisher.
In a fiction-dominated fair, one picture book did capturesome of the buzz of days gone by: UnLivre by Hervé Tullet. Published this past January by Editions Bayard in France,the book was "the hit of the fair for us," said Bayard's Sibylle Le Maire."Coming from a picture book we have not seen that for years!" The book isalready being reprinted in France,and was sold before Bologna into Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Netherlands.Bayard is about to hold an auction among the 10 U.S. and U.K.publishers that Le Maire said were "strongly interested" at the fair, withoffers at 30,000 copies for English-language rights.
Robbe Rogge, publishing manager for special publication atthe Metropolitan Museum of Art, said this was her "best Bologna in many years,"noting that she was hearing quantities quoted to her that "we hadn't heard inyears—35,000, 50,000. People are very price-conscious, but I think we're goingto be back to business. I'm feeling very optimistic."
Elsewhere in the News
Two major prizes were given out during the fair: thebiennial Hans Christian Andersen Awards, given to British author David Almondand German illustrator Jutta Bauer, the field's most prestigious internationalaward; and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world's largest prize for children'sliterature, which went to Belgian author-illustrator Kitty Crowther.
Longtime Lemniscaat publisher Jean Christophe Boele vanHensbroek, based in Rotterdam, gave word of anew American venture called Lemniscaat USA,which he'll be unveiling at BEA this year. Lerner will distribute Lemniscaat'spicture books, which Boele van Hensbroek hopes to market in a different way:selling a group of Lemniscaat titles and asking bookstores to display themtogether. Stephen Roxburgh will serve as editorial advisor, and Ellen Myrick ishandling publicity and marketing. Boele van Hensbroek also hopes to bring hiscompany's title Plastic Soup, alengthy and visually arresting look at the "plastic soup" of waste floating inthe Pacific Ocean, to a U.S. audience with hisfirst list.
Catching up on other news, Hardie Grant Egmont boughtchildren's publisher Little Hare Books back in January, making HGE the largest Australian-ownedchildren's book publisher. And French publisher Jacques Binsztok has resurfacedfollowing the liquidation of Editions du Panama, now heading his own imprint,called JBZ, within the group Hugo & Cie.
Lori Benton, at the fair in her new job at Capstone Books,hadn't been to Bolognain eight years, said she had missed the espresso most of all. Working for asmaller company now, she said, "I'm looking for different things than when Iwas here before, so I'm having different kinds of meetings. But it's been agood fair and it's great to be back."
First-timer Kathy Dawson, who recently returned to Penguin,said she found the fair "the perfect mix of business intensity and totalrelaxation. It was impossible to have a bad meal, and so much fun to walkeverywhere and see people that I hadn't seen in a while. And yet it was really,really busy."
Good conversations, good books, and good food—no wondereveryone wants to come to Bologna.Next year's dates: Monday, March 28 through Thursday,March 31.