Amid its warmest weather in years, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair got off to a strong start on Monday, with most of the agents, editors, and rights managers PW spoke with finding it to be a positive, active fair, though no single title had yet risen to be a “book of the fair.”
“The mood’s very good. The weather always helps,” said Jon Anderson, evp and publisher of children’s books at Simon & Schuster. “We’re seeing our fair share of ‘What is the next big thing that’s not like everything else?’ ” Holly Hunnicutt, deputy director of subsidiary rights at Macmillan Children's Book Group, added, “Coming from the winter, the sun has just been so nice. Everyone is happy and cheerful, and I’m getting offers at the fair, so that’s always good.”
“We’re having conversations that I think are going to lead to some interesting things,” said Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books (this year marked the debut of a combined Penguin Random House stand). “As we’re all looking to expand our business models, this is the place where those conversations can happen.”
“There’s no big book, but I think that’s better for business,” said scout Mary Anne Thompson of Mary Anne Thompson Associates. Her current big book, an Alloy Entertainment project, The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee, sold two months before the fair; HarperTeen preempted the book in January for seven figures, and Rights People already has 17 rights deals in place. The project, which Thompson described as “Gossip Girl in the future,” was sold from partials and won’t pub until 2017. Agent Miriam Altschuler of the Miriam Altschuler Literary Agency observed that without a frontrunner for a big book, “Everyone can feel like they got the book they wanted. People can pay more attention to more things.”
The types of books publishers are seeking always varies by territory and publisher, but by and large, 2015 looks to be another strong year for sales of contemporary YA, as well as adventure-driven middle-grade. Agent Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary said that some of the international publishers she had spoken with were looking for “high-concept or at least easily pitchable contemporary YA” and “less interested in contemporary novels without a special hook. Publishers are feeling like they’re seeing the same things over and over. No more Sarah Dessen-alikes.”
Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary said he’d had visitors asking for a big, commercial hit. “When I hear that, I think, ‘Find a book you like and push it hard.’ You make a commercial blockbuster.” To Goldblatt, Libba Bray’s The Diviners and its forthcoming sequel, Lair of Dreams (Little, Brown, Aug.), are plenty commercial, but said that international publishers don’t always immediately see it that way, due to the books’ 1920s setting.
Bologna first-timer Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency said that “a lot of our big books have already sold in larger territories, so we’re trying to emphasize them in smaller ones.” He added that “heartbreaking YA is very popular right now.” To that end, he’d been recommending Adam Silvera’s forthcoming YA novel More Happy Than Not (Soho Teen, June), which has been buoyed by foreign sales, film interest, and strong early reviews. Kate Testerman of KT Literary described the fair as “positive” so far. Generally, she’s been asked for “contemporary YA and middle-grade adventure. I’m hearing a lot more requests for ‘funny,’ which is exciting. Also, stories that are not super-sexy but romantic.” A title that hits several of those notes is Amy Spalding’s Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) (Little, Brown/Poppy, Apr.). Testerman also has Marisa Reichardt’s debut novel, Underwater, which FSG will publish in January 2016; the book originally sold via a conversation at last year’s Bologna fair, said Testerman.
“Everyone wants middle-grade. Middle-grade, middle-grade, middle-grade, said Rebecca Mancini, whose company Rights Mix represents four publishers and six agents. “They want YA also, but it always has to be the biggest and the best.” Anderson at S&S said that middle-grade can sometimes be difficult to sell into other markets, since those books are often rooted in the specifics of a given country’s culture, but he added, “If they’re cute enough, you can find a market for them.” S&S’s assistant manager of subsidiary rights Sy Sung noted that he had been “hearing and seeing a lot of interest in space adventures for middle-grade.”
“It’s been busy. All of my appointments have shown up, and I’ve had a couple of walk-ins,” said Sara Hartman-Seeskin, rights and exports manager at Sourcebooks. “I’ve been meeting with a lot of German publishers who are looking for contemporary YA – more John Greens and Rainbow Rowells. For younger middle-grade and picture books, it really varies by market.” Hartman-Seeskin has also been using her appointments to talk up one of Sourcebooks’s April picture books with Sesame Workshop: Just One You!, which will get an extra push next week when it is read at the White House as part of the annual Easter Egg Roll.