Global Kids Connect 2017, held by PW and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in New York City on December 4, welcomed panelists Allison Hellegers of Rights People, Rachel Hecht of Rachel Hecht Children’s Scouting, and Kelly Farber of KF Scouts, for a discussion called “The Professionals Perspective: Sales and Acquisitions in a Changing World.” The panel was moderated by Ginger Clark, an agent at Curtis Brown Ltd.
Describing her role as “a niche of a niche of a niche,” Farber explained that much of the work she does involves being a “consultant for foreign book publishers.” Hecht agreed that the umbrella term of “consultancy” is a good way to describe her role, as she keeps a close watch on tremors and trends in foreign children’s book markets. She added, “I see my role changing as the international landscape changes.” Clark also suggested a good word to describe scouts: “They are spies.”
The panelists discussed a few surprising areas of recent growth within the market. Hecht noted “the clamoring for audio rights” for children’s and YA books. In Sweden, for example, digital audio sales for YA books are up, while physical book sales are down. At times, international audio rights are preselling even before the book itself. Hecht believes that this is in part due to the “adult crossover” trend, with adult readers gravitating toward YA in the audio format, but not necessarily feeling that they need the physical book. It’s such a hot category that Audible even has its own scout in the U.K., Clark reported. Farber brought up the growth of audio subscription services, noting the questions that arise concerning how best to monetize audio books that readers acquire in this way. The question is as old as the internet: “How do you convince people to pay for online content?” she asked.
Another area of unexpected growth is in the category of classics like Goodnight Moon: “heritage titles have been a surprise,” said Clark. Hecht has also observed readers increasingly reaching for familiar books like The Story of Ferdinand, which provide a “known safe space” in a time of uncertainty. Particularly with the upcoming theatrical release of Ferdinand, “there has been a renewed rush of licenses” for the title. Farber pointed out how screen adaptations of books like Thirteen Reasons Why have also contributed to renewed attention to backlist books, as streaming services are seeking new content to adapt. “There’s a feed between TV adaptations and books,” Farber said.
Hellegers noted that the hunger for diverse books is growing internationally as it has in the United States, saying that readers are seeking out books that concern first-hand experiences and stories “on the ground,” including narratives written about refugees’ experiences. Hecht described how readers are seeking “stories of inclusivity and community,” adding that she sees readers all over “searching for goodness in the world.”
The panelists also discussed how the European market may be affected by Brexit. Though Farber noted that “nothing substantive has really changed” as of yet, the way the U.K. does business within publishing and beyond will inevitably be affected. It remains to be seen how agents will deal with foreign rights once Brexit negotiations have been completed. Both the U.K. and America experienced significant social divisions in 2017, but Hellegers sees a silver lining: “When the political sphere is so divided, people come together in the industry,” she said.
In the midst of political turmoil, there continue to be positive changes within international publishing. The speakers turned to look at territories that have surprised them in 2017: “Poland is white hot… rights are selling at a rapid clip,” said Farber. She added that China also continues to be a “really hot” market. Poland, too, has become “much more competitive” on the world stage, Hellegers said. The Spanish market is seeing its fair share of growth as well, with “the rise of more Latin American publishers,” said Hellegers. Farber agreed that the Latin American market is quite strong and perhaps “more stable than mainland Spain.” In Brazil, Hecht described the large population of “super engaged YA readers tracking what’s going on in the U.S.” Finally, the panelists agreed that Turkey’s children’s and YA market is strong and steady.
The panelists turned to the topic of emerging online forums like Pitch Wars, which enables writers to have their work read and critiqued by professionals, and then have their more polished manuscripts made available to interested agents. Although Hecht welcomes new formats for discoverability, she commented on what she calls “the strange phenomenon of being able to trace a manuscript before authors even see representation,” and questioned whether it could be a disservice to authors to have their books read “too early.” Clark praised what she feels is a “democratization of the process” of writers getting their work into the hands of agents: “I think that’s a good thing.”
To conclude, the panelists touched on trends they see carrying forward, offering some mixed insights into the middle grade category. Farber has observed less of a demand for middle grade than YA in the global market, but despite this, she commented that “middle grade is so ambitious. I think it can be just as meaningful in translation. It will break through.” Hellegers believes that “quieter middle grade,” or those books that might not attract as much buzz as the blockbuster titles but that may have a longer shelf life, are in demand. Romance is also an evergreen category. However, middle grade narratives that address sexuality, including experiences of coming out or being transgender, can “be tricky to translate internationally,” said Hellegers. On the whole, Clark believes that “YA is overbought,” and that there isn’t as much demand for YA sci-fi globally, in part because “sci-fi readers are more likely to read up” to adult level, she said.
Though YA fantasy is still a steady seller, speaking on behalf of gatekeepers, Farber said, “We feel fatigued.” She anticipates whether fanfiction may soon have a Twilight-style resurgence, with online fiction again beginning to pollinate the book world. Farber added that “empowering stories for women” are really having their moment—a trend that she sees continuing. There is also the potential for new publishing paths that don’t necessarily take the traditional manuscript-to-agent route. Farber noted the international success of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. That book began as a Kickstarter project and became the most funded children’s book in the crowdfunding site’s history. With a changing world can come exciting opportunities, and the panelists are eager to see what happens next. “We’re ready for something new,” Farber said.
For more on this year's GKC conference, see Global Kids Connect 2017 Brings Data, Diversity to the Stage and Sales, Stats, and Hot Topics.