For many rights professionals, the recent Frankfurt Book Fair was their first opportunity since 2019 to attend a fair in person. Attendees said they were delighted to be back, even amid industry challenges and world uncertainty on several fronts. We spoke with a number of savvy agents and scouts about their impressions of the fair, and asked them to talk about trends they were noticing.

“It was wonderful to be back at a fair, and to be among so many fellow book people again,” said Sara Crowe, senior agent at Pippin Properties. “Being back in Frankfurt was energizing, emotional, and re-affirming,” said Rachel Hecht, founder of Rachel Hecht Children’s Scouting. “There is no replacement for the in-person connections to be made over tables while gasping over sample spreads, or the bolt of joy from waving down an old colleague while rushing between stands. We are a community of book people who thrive when we gather, and while Zoom is a convenient tool, it cannot replicate the alchemy that happens during a fair.

Even with full days of back-to-back meetings, said Sarah Perillo, director of foreign rights at Curtis Brown Ltd., “I felt so energized by the positivity in the room that I could almost ignore the jet lag and losing my voice—well, almost. Publishers seemed really engaged and many of them said it was easier to remember books that were pitched to them in person vs. on Zoom. Someone said to me that the fair this year felt like a family reunion and I totally agree with that sentiment.”

For Alexandra Devlin, director of Rights People, the general feeling of the fair was one of excitement and happiness to be reunited in person, “mixed with shared concern about the many challenges facing publishing at the moment, such as inflation, productions costs, and the effects of the war in Ukraine.” She also enjoyed being able to have “some of those more personal and anecdotal conversations that don’t come up in emails or Zooms, and to catch up on everyone’s lives a little bit.”

Far fewer children’s editors and agents attend Frankfurt than the spring Bologna Book Fair; Allison Hellegers, literary agent and rights director at Stimola Literary Studio, pointed out that “while Bologna is a wonderful fair for just children’s books, I think seeing children’s editors in the fall is very advantageous. We’re getting closer to the end of the year, people are in buying moods, and I even had some preliminary offers at the table. I sometimes think Bologna feels like it’s for looking, and Frankfurt feels like it’s for buying.”

“After several years of virtual meetings, making that personal connection again felt wonderful,” said Kate Schafer Testerman, founder and senior agent at KT Literary. “Also, I have to give credit to some truly beautiful fall weather, which made a week in Frankfurt feel almost like a vacation!”

Tightened Lists, Narrower Focuses

Testerman observed that foreign acquisitions have slowed down in many markets, as publishers are still getting caught up with pandemic and global supply chain issues and delays. “That said, many editors I met with were excited to look at both young adult and adult rom-coms, as well as that buzzy word ‘romantasy’—any fantasy novels with a romantic element seemed to quickly be rebranded as romantasy after the first day of meetings!”

Factors such as inflation and paper costs have also led publishers around the world to tighten their lists in recent years. Kathryn Toolan, international rights associate at Park & Fine, noted that supply chain issues and global inflation rates were affecting advance levels and acquisition decisions, but overall, she said, “international publishers are positive and still buying a lot.”

Amy Gordon, v-p, children’s and YA scout at Bettina Schrewe Literary Scouting, said economic pressures has led to “international publishers having narrower focuses, which means that I was speaking about entirely different sets of books with different clients. It kept the conversations refreshing and I felt like I could find something for everyone. There was no shortage of great books this year.”

Highlighting a few specific markets, Perillo commented, “Our numbers in the Spanish-language markets are way up in the last few years, although in parts of Latin America the pandemic recovery is still slow so publishers are being cautious with new acquisitions and conservative with advances. Likewise in Romania, between the pandemic and the paper crisis, publishers have taken a huge financial hit and business has been very slow. In China, the challenge of securing an ISBN for a book by an American author remains an obstacle to licensing new projects, but it seems exceptions are made for classics, award-winners, and titles with strong educational content.”

For Cathrin Wirtz, who specializes in children’s and YA at Liz Gately Book Scouting, “It’s been heartening to see lists become more inclusive, and talk about some wonderful, impressive, impactful novels across all subgenres by diverse/multicultural authors recognizing a wider range of diverse experiences. And these titles are finally embracing subjects beyond race/gender/culture, so that diverse characters are living full lives that encompass a variety of topics. [There’s] still a long way to go, but there is some progress.”

Trends Spotted at the Fair

“Romantasy” was indeed the word of the fair, and many examples were being shown. “Everyone I spoke to was happy to pitch a fantasy novel, especially if it had romance and could be deemed “romantasy,’” Testerman said. For her agency, that was the duology The Grimrose Girls and The Wicked Remain by Laura Pohl, with rights sold in Spain and Brazil, “and lots of interest elsewhere.” Testerman also met with a number of Casey McQuiston’s foreign publishers, and pitched Amy Spalding’s No Boy Summer as a “fantastic and funny” YA rom-com, with a blurb from Rainbow Rowell.

Taryn Fagerness, whose Taryn Fagerness Agency represents foreign rights on behalf of North American literary agents, publishers, and authors, had what she called “a big romantasy YA book,” The Crimson Moth by Kristen Ciccarelli, agented by Danielle Burby at Mad Woman Literary Agency, which sold to Brazil, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, and Spain in preempts or auctions just before the fair, “and I probably pitched it at every kids’ meeting,” Fagerness said. Among her observations: she was surprised to learn that YA publishers are “looking for more in the New Adult/cross-over space. I was not surprised to hear that hot TikTok books were of interest. Middle-grade, at least American-written middle-grade, is depressingly not working, it seems. And the paper prices and inflation problems are hitting picture books, which need more expensive paper for full color, really hard.”

Romantasy has indeed “been fully embraced as the next big trend, according to Hecht, “much to the amusement of my German clients who have been politely requesting more in this category for nearly a decade. I think this is accordingly nudging our YA fantasy into a darker, sexier, New Adult-ier direction.” She also noted “more YA horror offerings than ever before, while graphic novel lists continue to expand here and internationally across both middle grade and YA with the continued dominance of Dav Pilkey and the welcome success of Heartstopper driving growth and investment in the category.”

TikTok and the #BookTok trend was a hot topic among YA publishers, according to Devlin, “although it clearly has more influence in some markets than others. It’s wonderful how it’s giving some backlist titles a whole new lease on life,” she added. “However, the unpredictability of what will break through on TikTok is keeping everyone on their toes.”

Though YA romance continues to be strong, Hecht said she saw less traction for “contemporaries and coming of agers.” Gordon noted that “suspense/thrillers are still around to varying success, and horror is a new genre sneaking in a little.”

Testerman was pleased to report “a lot of interest” in LGBTQIA+ stories, “even in markets that I would have pegged previously as more conservative.” One of those markets is Poland, according to Fagerness. “It’s been wonderful to see LGBTQ+ books blowing up [there]. That’s a trend I love to see, and I hope it might spread to more territories around that region.”

Several attendees we spoke with said that graphic novels were in strong demand at this fair, in more territories than before. “A lot of publishers are looking for something that would fit nicely alongside Heartstopper,” Hellegers said, “and for the first time, we had great interest in the titles from our graphic creators. Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson’s Barb the Last Berzerker series is picking up steam internationally. We also had a lovely reception to Skyriders by Polly Holyoke, which really piqued the interest of Rick Riordan’s publishers, but here the main character is a fierce girl—and the series has not only amazing fight scenes but also friendship and love. Believable worldbuilding is important to this age-group, and Polly really hits the mark. And I had some nice attention for Spin by Rebecca Caprara, a YA retelling of Ovid’s Arachne myth. Maybe it’s because spiders are all the rage in October, but I think it’s because the current mood politically around the world lends to books that feature metamorphosis and revenge.”

Perillo noted that many publishers were looking for graphic novels as in the past, “but this year they seemed to have a much clearer sense of their needs in terms of story and art style. They were more articulate about their imprint’s niche in this big and varied genre. The approach was more focused, less experimental ‘we’ll try it and see if it works.’ ” One of her most requested titles this year was Lucie Ebrey’s Cowgirls and Dinosaurs, the first in a two-book middle grade graphic novel series “with a Wild West-inspired setting, plus dinosaurs! Lucie, who is based in the U.K., has an incredibly appealing style and is really active in the comics scene there.”

As far as middle grade, Devlin reported that many publishers were asking for “exciting, engaging middle grade adventure series, especially with a fantasy or magical element. We had lots of excitement about a middle grade adventure series—and were doing some deals on the stand.”

Nicole Eisenbraun of Ginger Clark Literary, a first-time attendee, found that “humor and series are still important in middle grade, but we did see a few requests for something a bit darker in that age group.” Eisenbraun said she’d been “lucky enough to get a hotel room overlooking the Main and it lent to some breathtaking sunrises. I thought that was a good sign going into my first Frankfurt!”

Another highlight of the fair, for Perillo, was not readable but edible. “My Hungarian co-agent brought me a homemade pumpkin bread! She baked it herself and brought it all the way to Germany. It was truly a lifesaver when I didn’t have time to wait in the long café lines. I have never received a baked good from someone I was meeting via Zoom, so hooray for the return of the in-person fair!”

Looking back on her week in Frankfurt, what Hecht found most notable “was the counterpoint between the revelry of this in-person reunion and accompanying frenzy of reading and buzz and offers, and the very real, very significant challenges we are each facing, from paper costs, to inflation, to the fear of nuclear war.” But she takes solace in the fact that “we can still find the joy even amid all that is hard, and that the good reads prevail.”