This year, Maria B. Campbell, the founder of one of the book trade’s premiere scouting businesses, stepped back from her position as president of Maria B. Campbell Associates and selected a successor: Agnes Ahlander Turner, who has been with Campbell for nearly 15 years. Turner took the reins at the agency in April, when Campbell took on a new role, executive chairman. With its headquarters in New York and an office in London, Maria B. Campbell Associates advises clients in approximately 22 countries about American and international books for translation and publication in their markets, and for adaptation into television and film. That makes Turner’s perspective invaluable to Frankfurt fairgoers. Turner spoke to us before the fair about her view on the international book world right now and her expectations for this year’s fair.
What books are you reading right now?
My reading on any given day is a mix of what’s on my phone, my Kindle, and my bedside table. I just finished Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, which brilliantly balances timely and serious themes with such humor and warmth. Next on my list I’m going back to the 1550s in Florence with Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait. And then there are the books I read with my eight- and four-year-old. Right now, we’re really into dolphins.
What’s one of your favorite books that most people don’t know?
A novel by Swedish debut author Lydia Sandgren became a critical and commercial success two years ago back home (Sweden), and I am so pleased it will be coming to U.S. audiences in January. Titled Collected Works, it’s a classic bildungsroman of sorts with a mystery element, spanning 50 years and nearly seven times as many pages…don’t be daunted by its length! It’s an incredible, immersive read.
What’s a big book you read recently that surprised you in a good way? In a bad way?
I recently picked up I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy to understand the hype, and I found myself completely absorbed by it. What a powerful, moving book that also manages to be funny and uplifting. I devoured it and couldn’t recommend it more highly.
What book (or books) made you want to be a scout?
I was a baby scout who had just moved to New York from Stockholm when Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started making headways, and it was a completely formative experience. I read all three books in three days and wrote reports on them for international and film/tv. The thrill (and adrenaline) which came with seeing books considered and acquired all over the world like that was addictive. A few years later came Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, which became a hit in many parts of the world. In later books, Educated by Tara Westover, which I vividly recall reading the same day it went on submission, has sold more than a million copies in China with our publisher Thinkingdom. I knew I was hooked.
You’ve been at Maria B. Campbell Associates for nearly a decade and a half. How has the scouting business changed the most in that time, to your mind?
When I started, U.S. and U.K. scouts primarily scouted Englishlanguage books. Today, we have ten languages in-house and scout books from all over the world. Working with many more sides of a client’s list, the scope of our work has widened as have our contacts and understanding of the whole ecosystem. Recently, for example, we were busy reviewing all the titles nominated for the Goncourt Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in France. Scouting is part newsroom, part foreign service, and part grad school year after year. We are constantly learning and adapting our work thereafter.
You took the reins from Maria B. Campbell earlier this year. What’s changed at the agency since then? What are some changes we can expect?
Maria was the first literary scout to work with Hollywood, and after 30-plus years scouting exclusively for one film/tv client we are now working with a number of production companies across our New York and London offices. We didn’t know what to expect when we restructured the department in April this year, but we have grown exponentially since. The intersection between books and TV especially is an incredibly exciting space. On the publishing side, Maria established long-standing relationships with some of the best publishers in the world, and we look forward to continuing to grow with them. With the world opening back up, I am keen on us being present not just at the book fairs but also the many literary festivals. Publishing is more global than ever but also more local, and we need to straddle both. We have a scout now on the ground in Rome and one in Berlin. There are new opportunities in how and where we work, which I want to make sure we leverage.
What are your expectations for the first in-person Frankfurt Book Fair in three years?
If London Book Fair 2022 was a Covid reunion of sorts with an emphasis on the socials, I think Frankfurt will be a return to the books and dealmaking. August was the quietest month I can recall (perhaps we are taking a cue from our European colleagues?), which leads me to believe we will see a steady and intense buildup of submissions heading into the fair.
Who are the hot new literary agents to watch this year? Who are the hot new editors to watch?
With change and uncertainty come opportunities, and it’s exciting to see new initiatives like Zando, Spiegel & Grau, Astra House, and Trellis, to name a few. It shows that publishing is thriving and finding ways to keep evolving. I recently read an incredible debut coming out next year from Spiegel & Grau titled Go as a River by Shelley Read, which is both a coming-of-age and a love story, set in Colorado in the 1960s about a young woman and the difficult choices she must make to survive, including giving up her newborn child. Several of our publishers acquired it including Gyldendal Norsk in Norway, Politikens in Denmark, Luitingh Sijthoff in Holland, Otava in Finland, Marginesy in Poland, Forum in Sweden, and Salamandra/PRH Spain. A few years ago, this novel would have been coming out from one of the Big Five.
What are some trends to watch out for in international literature?
Like in the U.S., there are important discussions going on about representation, and we’ve seen a lot of voices from underrepresented communities gaining traction. These stories may have strong local importance, but we are seeing that they also carry internationally and have universal relevance.
What are some trends in American literature your international book business friends and contacts are most excited about? What are some they’re tired of?
BookTok has taken the world by storm, and everyone wants in on the next big sensation. I like to think it has brought new readers to books. It’s also the trend we may all be most tired of, because how do we keep up?