Some Bologna Book Fairs have a major book everyone is talking about, or a trend that almost everyone seems to interested in. But for perhaps the third year running, this year’s fair appeared to be quietly and steadily productive, helping to lay groundwork for forthcoming deals, with interests and needs varying publisher by publisher and territory by territory.
“I love Bologna,” said Evy Tillman Hegdal, editor of children’s books and YA at Aschehoug in Norway, echoing comments made by many of her global colleagues. “It is one of the highlights of the year when you work as an acquisitions editor, to meet all the people from all around the world who share the love and interest in children’s books.” She commented on the wide range of fiction she was seeing, from science fiction and realistic, contemporary YA to illustrated middle-grade, as well as “beautifully illustrated books” and high-quality graphic novels. “There are several titles I look forward to reading that hopefully will fit my list,” she said.
“On the acquisition side, it was a great fair for us,” said Emmanuelle Marie, international rights director at Bayard Group in France. “We acquired a few big titles in fiction, thanks to several auctions and with the help of our scout Kelly Farber.” Among those titles are Last Descendents by Matthew J. Kirby, first in a series to be published in the U.S. by Scholastic, based on the video game Assassin’s Creed (an Assassin’s Creed film is due in December), and Timeless, a forthcoming middle grade series from HarperCollins, created by Armand Baltazar, a former art director at Pixar Animation, with film rights sold to Fox.
Holly Hunnicutt, deputy director of subsidiary rights at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, reported a “good fair” that saw her house in growth mode, highlighting titles from new and nascent imprints. “We’ve been showing our new list at Imprint – it’s a more commercial direction for Macmillan, with high-interest YA and some in-house developed properties.” Titles published by another commercially oriented imprint, the crowdsourced Swoon Reads, were also attracting global interest, according to Hunnicutt and MCPG president Jon Yaged. “Interest depends, territory to territory,” said Hunnicutt, “but there’s always the book you fall in love with and can make people fall in love with, too.”
“For me, publishing is all about the relationships, and nothing substitutes for that in-person opportunity to meet and talk about the books you love,” said Jennifer Brown, v-p and publisher of Knopf Books for Young Readers, who was attending the fair for the first time. Similarly, Enchanted Lion publisher Claudia Zoe Bedrick, back in Bologna for the first time in three years, acknowledged the value in the “serendipitous aspect of the fair, not knowing who’s going to be here. I’m having conversations that I think are going to be generative in terms of new work and ideas.”
First-timer Sally Kim, associate director of children’s marketing at Chronicle, was impressed by the way that passion for children’s books crosses national and linguistic boundaries at the fair. “Back when I first transitioned from a career in corporate research and consulting over to publishing, I recall the distinct feeling of ‘Oh wow. These are my people!’ Bologna brought back that same feeling, but with the added dimension of all these foreign publishers. We may not speak the same language, but we speak the same language. Despite the language barriers, I had heartfelt conversations with publishers from Japan, Vietnam, Brazil, and Sweden, and we oohed and aahed in unison over all the same spreads.”
Japanese children’s book publisher Kaisei-Sha was celebrating its 80th anniversary at the show, including a party at its stand on Monday afternoon. Editor Akishige Yoo reported having a “good day” with steady meetings on Monday, primarily seeking nonfiction titles to build out the house’s list. In conjunction with its anniversary, Kaisei-Sha recently completed a 36-book series, Friends Around the World, a photo-driven nonfiction series profiling real-life children around the world.
As always, numerous authors and artists were at the fair to meet with their international publishers and bring visibility to upcoming projects. Debut author Katherine McGee appeared in advance of the August publication of her novel, The Thousandth Floor, which currently has 24 publishers around the world; illustrators Mike Curato, Kelly Light, and Paul O. Zelinsky, could be spotted at the SCBWI stand; and other attendees included Mac Barnett, Jason Reynolds, Veronica Roth, and Sergio Ruzzier. Rick Riordan had what was likely the biggest event of the show; beyond meeting with his numerous foreign publishers, he spoke to a crowd of 1,200 (with at least 600 additional eager fans outside) on Tuesday evening at the Teatro Duse in an event organized by Mondadori, his Italian publisher. Riordan signed some 1,000 books at the event, which featured him in conversation with author Fabio Geda – a conversation that Riordan conducted entirely in Italian.
In addition to the announcement of major international prizes like the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, several other awards, including some new ones, were announced throughout the show. The first-ever Strega Prize, honoring narrative children’s books published in Italy, went to Susanna Tamaro (Salta, Bart!) and Chiara Carminati (Fuori fuoco), while Mexican artist Juan Palomino won the eighth annual International Prize for Illustration, aimed at encouraging new talent, selected from a pool of more than 3,100 candidates. The BOP Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publisher of the Year, awarded to publishers in six regions, went to Andersen Press in the U.K. (Europe), Groundwood Books in Canada (North America), Ediciones Ekaré in Venezuela (South America), Book Island in New Zealand (Oceania), Kalimat in the United Arab Emirates (Asia), and Bumble Books, an imprint of Publishing Print Matters in South Africa (Africa).
The Agents’ Perspective
“Upbeat and buzzy” was agent Sophie Hicks’s take on this year’s fair. One of her biggest books was I Am Traitor, a science fiction thriller from Icelandic author Sif Sigmarsdóttir. “It’s her first book in English, and I sold it to Hodder very quickly.” For agent Barry Goldblatt, the fair seemed simultaneously quiet and busy. “I feel like everyone has a super-specific need. They say, ‘I need X,’ and I say, ‘I don’t have X,’ and the meeting is done.” Though he usually presents more fiction at the fair, Goldblatt had been showing a picture book with success: Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World (Greenwillow, Sept.) by Colleen AF Venable and illustrated by Ruth Chan.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s been one big book of the fair, which allowed some of the other projects to shine,” said Elena Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties. “We’re not having obsessive conversations about one book.” Giovinazzo felt that publishers were looking for standalone, literary titles, either in middle grade or young adult, and had been pitching books that included Save Me a Seat (Scholastic Press, May) by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, Jason Reynolds’s As Brave as You (S&S/Atheneum/Dlouhy, May), and a picture book, Peter H. Reynolds’s Happy Dreamer (Scholastic/Orchard, fall 2016). “I had at least three offers by the end of the day yesterday,” she said on Wednesday.
In terms of micro-trends, several agents commented on a continuing desire for realistic fiction with a twist, either in terms of narrative (a shocker of an ending, an unreliable narrator) or subject matter explored. Or, as Writers House agent Merrilee Heifetz put it, “A book that maybe in a different age might have been called a issue book, but has something more or different about it.”
Transatlantic Agency’s Fiona Kenshole reported that her colleague Marie Campbell had a book that was catching fire at the fair: Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten, a YA thriller due out in the U.S. from Delacorte in May. The book had already sold in Canada, Germany, Spain, and Brazil, and movie rights went to Awesomeness Films. Belying the “no deals are done at the fair anymore” adage, Kenshole told PW after the fair that Hachette France had read it overnight and pre-empted for world French rights on the last day of the fair, and Dutch rights were sold at the fair to Gottmer.
Koja Agency, a Stockholm-based rights agency cofounded by Catharina Lantz and Carin Bacho Carniani, just started up in January, and had a stand at the fair for the first time. “We’ve gotten a really positive response, better than we could have hoped for,” Lantz said. “People can walk by and see quite quickly what we do.” Koja is representing smaller independent publishers including Urax and Natur & Kultur in Sweden, and La Pastèque in Quebec. “We’re looking for quality, something with an edge,” said Lantz. “People say that they have wanted to see these smaller publishers [at the fair] but they haven’t had the time,” Carniani Noted.
Trends and Looking Ahead
“If I can see one trend, it’s graphic novels,” said Tillman Hegdal at Norway’s Aschehoug. “It’s a genre that’s growing for middle grade, for YA, and for nonfiction. I can see they are coming, and for all ages. That’s interesting and I like it.”
There were also indications that the increased attention to the issue (and lack) of diversity in the U.S. children’s book market was on the minds of international publishers as well. “Everyone here is talking about diversity,” said Suzanne Murphy, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, “and it’s nice to hear that happening on an international basis.” Molly Kong, rights director at Disney-Hyperion, concurred, saying that she had been having luck getting attention for Eric Dinerstein’s forthcoming middle grade novel, What Elephants Know (May), about a boy in Nepal who is working to protect the king’s elephant stable. “It’s a quiet book, but I think it has lasting appeal, opening readers’ eyes to a new culture and promoting social responsibility,” she said.
“I met with many foreign publishers, and one thing I noticed was the abundance of books about the earth and conserving it,” noted Sonali Fry, editorial director at Little Bee. “I also saw a lot of books about blended and diverse families. Although this has been a topic of discussion for some time now in the States, it was interesting to see that the need for these books has crossed over to other countries.”
“Although I heard a lot of people saying that there was no one big book, there were still plenty of good books,” said Rachel Horowitz, literary scout for Maria B. Campbell Associates. “Books with brands or movie options attached always move quickly and this year was no exception, with influential film agents at the fair looking for content, and publishers taking note of any title under option.” Trend-wise, Horowitz noted interest in science fiction and video game-themed YA titles, as well as contemporary romance and a continued growth in books with LGBT characters. “The next generation of readers is growing up in a climate where gay marriage has always been legal,” she pointed out, “and any stigma for gay or transgender people is shifting to one of acceptance. That’s definitely been reflected in contemporary teen literature.”
The show’s proximity to the London Book Fair (which is taking place this week) didn’t appear to dampen attendance, which was up more than 9%, according to BCBF officials. Several publishers and agents PW spoke to were continuing straight on to London. Next year’s fair is scheduled for April 3–6, which puts it after the London Book Fair (March 14–16) for the first time since 2007, and well before the Easter holiday on April 16.