Escapism and connection–this is what buyers at the Frankfurt Book Fair are betting readers want. Descending on Germany against the backdrop of a tumultuous and disheartening news cycle, the tastemakers in the publishing industry spent big on a handful of women's fiction titles, and a bunch of memoirs. While the novels will offer a classic dose of escapism, the memoirs, some insiders mused, can deliver something readers may crave even more in these divisive times: a sense of connection with other people.
Before the show kicked off, seven-figure sums were spent on memoirs by Adrienne Brodeur and Sara Seager. Brodeur's Wild Game, which Lauren Wein at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt won after a 14-bidder auction, explores her complicated relationship with her mother, Malabar. (The book is subtitled My Mother, Her Lover and Me.) Brettne Bloom at the Book Group, who represented Brodeur, compared Wild Game to bestselling memoirs like The Glass Castle, saying it "reads like a great novel."
The title that some insiders said spoke most profoundly to what they believe readers want right now, namely stories that inspire hope, was Seager's The Smallest Lights in the Universe, which Rachel Klayman at Crown bought in a North American rights acquisition. An MIT professor and expert on exoplanets–her work focuses on proving the existence of life elsewhere in the galaxy–Seager lost her husband to cancer, suddenly, just before turning 40. Struggling as a widow and newly-minted single mother to two young children, she found salvation in a local widows support group. Mollie Glick at Creative Artists said the book explores the notion that "our understanding of the cosmos and our understanding of love and loss are twin quests."
Memoirs of the celebrity flavor also dominated headlines at the fair, where it was announced that books by Cher and Roger Daltrey were in the works.Daltrey's memoir, still untitled, went to U.K.-based Blink Publishing in a world rights sale. (Agent Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown handled the nine-way auction and rights in the U.S. wound up with Steve Rubin, at Henry Holt.) The book, which is slated for Autumn 2018, will chronicle Daltrey's music career, 50 years of which have been spent as the frontman of The Who. Blink, in a release about the sale, said Daltrey has not written "just a rock and roll memoir," and that will also offer "a glimpse into life in Britain from the 1940s to the 1970s, a tumultuous time of change."
Another memoir drumming up buzz was Julie Yip-Williams' currently untitled memoir about her battle with terminal cancer. The book was sold, for six figures, in a North American rights deal, to Andy Ward at Random House. (Aevitas Creative Management's David Granger handled the U.S. sale and his agency confirmed that the book also sold, in a six-figure preempt, to Transworld in the U.K., as well as to publishers in Holland and Brazil.)
In the book, which will be released in fall 2018, is being compared to the bestseller When Breath Becomes Air (which Ward also edited). Yip-Williams, diagnosed at 37 and now 41, chronicles her fight with stage IV colon cancer, focusing on the final years of her life. Chelsey Heller at Aevitas, who is handling foreign rights for the book, described it as a "legacy project" for Yip-Williams, a lawyer (as well as a wife and mother to two daughters) who lives in Brooklyn. (The book grew out of a blog Yip-Williams began, shortly after her diagnosis, called My Cancer Fighting Journey.)