Zacker is co-owner of and agent at Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency.
Not going to Bologna was unthinkable. The shock of the pandemic and how life everywhere was being affected was the most horrifying aspect, but we also had to deal with the logistics and the loss of deposits and flights already booked and paid for. After we forced ourselves to put all that aside because those were issues beyond our control, we realized the specific impact of the cancellation. What of the zillion conversations, both planned and impromptu, that happened during our time in Italy? We spend countless hours during many months before descending upon the Bologna Fiere preparing to meet face to face with publishers, editors, and subagents. Our goal is to talk about those glorious books that could perhaps be perfect for young readers beyond North America. Yet, we had to pivot—Covid-19 made sure of that—and so the Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency did. We shifted the way we thought about our rights guide, how we would present it, and how to have the fruitful conversations regardless of our location. Our clients and their books deserved that.
And since those stay-at-home orders, we have found some comfort in uniting as a world and a global publishing industry via video chats. For our agency at least, it has meant many more intimate conversations, even beyond our shared love of stories and books. We’ve talked deeply and honestly about the state of the world from the safe spaces of our home offices. We’ve shared stories of loved ones falling ill, and of the empty streets outside our respective windows, and of the heartbreak of the bookstores not able to open their doors for business. Our meetings have lasted much, much longer than the 30 minutes we typically schedule at the book fair.
Above all, we’ve talked about books—business as usual even though it is clear that it is anything but business as usual. The reality is that no one has answers to the many questions we all have, but we still managed to discuss what editors are looking for, what they hope to read in the coming months, what they anticipate will be important to publish next year and beyond. In doing so, we’ve realized that these conversations are not very different from the ones we had face-to-face, and we’re grateful for that.
No doubt we’re all missing the personal human connection, feasting on a Bolognese meal, strolling through yet another piazza, and quibbling over the best place to get gelato. No matter how many fun virtual backgrounds we add to our sessions, there’s nothing like sharing a physical space with someone, whether a small table within a crowded room or a crowded table at a favorite ristorante.
It’s been clear that the desire to acquire and to publish continues, but the uncertainty of the future means that the hesitation is certainly present in every conversation. Yet, the international community continues to ask for the best stories, and we happily oblige.
Next year in Bologna, let’s hope. You’ll find me in line at either Gelateria Gianni or Il Gelatauro. May that be the toughest decision we’ll all be making at that time.