Going into the all-digital Frankfurt Book Fair, which concluded October 17, one question was whether literary agents would adapt to using the new Frankfurt Rights platform. But the platform has been surprisingly popular: Frankfurt reported 4,165 people signed up and have uploaded 31,000 books for rights sales since October 1, with a total of 400,000 titles listed in all.
Among fans of the new platform is Gray Tan of the Greyhawk Agency in Taipei. “I’ve uploaded all of our Asian titles on Frankfurt Rights and I really like it,” he said. “It’s nice to have the dashboard overview to see where interest comes from all over the world, too.” Though he noted that there were no “concrete” deals as yet from the platform, it is a good way to display titles for Asian authors. “We have three Taiwanese novels on submission on Frankfurt Rights and are getting really good feedback.”
Staying at home rather than traveling to Germany meant agents around the world had to adjust their schedules to make virtual meetings. Marleen Seegers who is Dutch but lives in Ojai, Calif., and is cofounder of the 2 Seas Agency, would typically have spent several weeks in Europe prior to the fair, but this year she rented a room at a local meditation center for what she called “Fauxfurt” and went to sleep at 4 p.m. to get up at midnight for her first meetings. She reported having 60 virtual meetings in all in the week of Frankfurt.
“In terms of rights sales, it’s been pretty diverse as far as genres and territories are concerned,” Seegers said. “We had offers come in as of September, and it has been steady since, though I feel there is more hesitation among acquiring editors. Many have had to postpone titles earlier this year, which leaves less room for new acquisitions. Some European editors have also expressed concerns about the Christmas period, as there is no visibility on what is to come in terms of lockdowns.”
Elina Ahlback, founder of the Elina Ahlback Literary Agency in Helsinki, said that her firm of three agents started meetings in August, when it released its digital rights catalog. “It was a very productive book fair,” she added. Ahlback closed deals in a number of countries via back-to-back Zoom meetings.
Agents weren’t the only ones making announcements during Frankfurt week. In just one example, Italian publishing house White Star announced the launch of a new imprint, Vivida, focused on self-help, wellness, and mind, body, and spirit titles. White Star publishes in several languages and countries, including the U.S., where it uses Sterling Publishing for distribution. The first titles in the Vivida line will focus on the occult and will be published in the spring of next year.
The International Publishers Association was also engaged in a bit of self-help for the book business and launched a new Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact, which aims to inspire publishers to make 2020–2030 a “decade of action.” The compact encourages them to take a more active role in addressing global challenges identified by the UN, including poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation. In particular, the IPA would like to see publishers produce more books on these topics and make their own business practices more equitable and sustainable.—