At the New York Rights Fair, publishing professionals joined Nordic literary agents in a panel discussion called “The Scandinavian Smell of Success: Why, and How, Their Crime Fiction Has Become a Global Export.” Throughout the discussion, the panelists reminded the audience that Scandinavian crime fiction is a proud tradition and far from a passing trend.
Pegasus Books deputy publisher Jessica Case moderated the panel. She has published seven books by Swedish crime writer Camilla Läckberg. “I acquired her first book just before Stieg Larsson came out—and it was a different time,” she said. Before the wave of Scandinavian crime fiction broke, Läckberg’s agent struggled to find an English-language publisher. “Us American publishers, we are always so short-sighted,” said Case.
Maria Campbell Associates senior scout Agnes Ahlander has been working with Scandinavian agents, publishers, and rights departments for many years. “Ten years ago I responded to perhaps three to four agencies. Today, it is upwards of 20,” she said, describing a boom in Scandinavian crime fiction that followed in the wake of the late Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster success with his Millennium trilogy.
Nordic crime has spread to Hollywood in a big way, too, changing the way crime imports are sold and marketed. Books by Larsson and Norway’s Jo Nesbø have already earned big screen adaptations, and The Killing and The Bridge are popular Scandinavian television shows that became hits in the United States. Elina Ahlback Literary Agency founder Elina Ahlbäck has opened a Los Angeles office to meet the new demand. “Film helps keep Scandinavian literature at the top of mind,” she said. “We have three titles that are already optioned. That global business is very important.”
Most recently, her agency represented The Guardian Angel, a gritty crime novel written by LaArto Halonen and Kevin Frazier alongside a film production of the same name—both based on a famous set of murders that involved hypnosis. “A film option in the U.S. will change everything,” said Jonasson. “Sometimes we pitch films before we go out to publishers.”
But Scandinavia is much more than crime fiction. Literary fiction now comprises half the list at Salomonsson Agency and some publishers are starting to look to romance as well.
Anna Frankl, an agent and partner at The Nordin Agency in Stockholm, went beyond genre altogether. “There is a Scandinavian way of writing, a storytelling tradition,” she said. “It’s the core of the storytelling that’s most important, whether it’s literary, crime, or romance fiction. There is a way we like to tell our stories that people seem to enjoy. And that’s what we are selling.”