Rachel Hecht Children’s Scouting
As we get on the road to Bologna, I think the power of the tie-in continues to have a significant impact internationally: books that have been picked up by Netflix in particular, or optioned in major studio or streaming deals, are generating immediate and big foreign interest—as are novelizations of popular TV series or video games that provide an additional point of entry for readers and fans.
Illustrated middle grade is another hot spot, and with the increased list space publishers are creating for this category, as well as for graphic novels in general, I believe it is one that will continue to see growth. And so far this fair cycle, I’m noticing an uptick in middle grade projects across the board, changing things up from the last few fairs, which more heavily featured YA offerings. Regarding the teen category, I continue to hear whispers and hints about a return to the paranormal, even as we’re seeing some exceptionally strong and exciting new contemporary voices. Across all categories, diversity continues to be the industry watchword—here’s to an inclusive children’s landscape in which all types of voices, experiences, and genres can be represented and accessible to our young readers.
Agent and cofounder
Wernick & Pratt Agency
The Bologna Book Fair is an embarrassment of riches. It brings together passionate book people from all around the world to share their books and their stories in a city that is gorgeous, charming, and filled with amazing food. With rights licensing, there are always surprises: sometimes a book we were certain would sell doesn’t, or vice versa. There’s also an ebb and flow of different markets, where one might begin to flourish, while another experiences difficulties (Turkey, for example, seems to be coming back slightly after retrenching for the past few years). One minitrend we’re seeing is publishers seeking to create more marketing and promotional materials. When this happens, we need to properly coordinate design and copyright elements, as well as work with any existing licensees.
Foreign rights associate
New Leaf Literary & Media
I have been seeing more publishers interested in YA thrillers, mysteries, and horror, even if they are only coming around slowly to buying them. The best thing about the past couple of years is that foreign publishers are genuinely trying to publish more diverse books and not just treating it as a trend. As I always hated to call diversity a trend, I’m happy to see that. It is here to stay! They are also actively looking for feminist themes and characters, and that has manifested in fantasy and sci-fi as well, which I thoroughly appreciate. We have been seeing great success in contemporary, magical realism, and more literary titles, both in YA and middle grade. For middle grade specifically, it is a change to see more requests for standalones.
Generally, we are observing fewer titles break out in several languages in a short period of time. Foreign publishers are being more selective about which titles they buy and are buying more titles in different genres, as opposed to giving astronomical advances for fewer books. This opens up opportunities for rights agents in the U.S., since, with no one big trend, we can cater our list to fit exactly with what each foreign market is looking for. Regardless of trends and changes in specific international markets, one aspect of the industry hasn’t changed: strong voices will always find good partners overseas.
International rights manager
Laura Dail Literary Agency
We are seeing continued interest in romantic fantasy in the tradition of Kiera Cass and Anna Bright. We still see really intriguing retellings—we have a reimagining of The Iliad on our list, for example, set in modern San Francisco. And in YA, we’re still seeing older protagonists. This seems organic to me, and makes sense with a lot of the darker stories we’re seeing, but it also helps YA cross over to adult readers.
Diverse books by #OwnVoices authors are on fire in every category and every age group. We’ve especially seen LGBTQ stories open up. We had two auctions this winter for #OwnVoices LGBTQ projects—a dark LGBTQ YA fantasy, and a picture book called The GayBCs.
And we’re still hearing a lot of demand for the mighty rom-com—especially fresh, layered, and culturally rich ones. It’s a mature market, so they have to be special. Rom-com 2.0, I’d say.
United Talent Agency
Across all platforms, buyers are looking for fresh new voices and stories. Studios and especially streaming platforms are hungry for family, young adult, middle grade, and children’s content across animation and live action. With the addition of the Disney and Apple streaming platforms, there is a sizeable shift in the appetite for kids’ programming.
In children’s and middle grade, there will always be the greatest excitement around known titles and authors. Whether it be a classic title or an author with a great “viral” fan base, studios, networks, streaming platforms, and producers will seize the opportunity in a meaningful way.
Another focus is character-driven content. From the studios and networks down to the creatives, there is a desire to explore relatable stories. Along with the push for diversity, buyers want to tell narratives that evoke emotions. This spans from children’s all the way through teen/tween.
Buyers are also looking for material that has the ability to span internationally. Can a story be inherently American but still make sense abroad? Does the story take place in a different country but have characters who are universally relatable?
Buyers are looking at material that entire families can enjoy watching together, like Night at the Museum and Peter Rabbit. Within YA, this includes stories that resonate with adult audiences, as well. Although You was not a YA novel, many buyers are looking to it as a comp in the YA marketplace. They want teens dealing with adult issues.
Lastly, there is a focus on merchandising opportunities. While this is nothing new to the studios, it is to the streaming services. Streaming platforms are working to find content they can build out into toys, games, plush, etc.
Josh and Tracey Adams
Cofounders and partners
We’ve had a lot of interest—and deals—around the globe lately for darker YA fantasy trilogies that can cross over into the adult marketplace. We’re also seeing renewed interest in middle grade, both series and contemporary standalones, and even some publishers who are thinking outside of the box. For instance, a European publisher is interested in turning a classic historical middle grade into a graphic novel.
Many publishers—especially those in South America—are still struggling due to economic conditions in their countries. However, we’ve seen a resurgence and are happily working quite a bit with Russia and Eastern European publishers lately. A definite trend we’re seeing, and facilitating, is that of international publishers utilizing our clients on publishers’ social media like never before, through video and fun interactive content. Between international publishers’ and authors’ efforts on social, connections with fans around the world are easier to make and far more numerous these days, making the world a smaller place.
KF Literary Scouting
It hasn’t been a year of radical shifts in the YA and children’s market, but one variable that is driving foreign rights sales of book projects is Netflix and, more generally, buzzy film deals. Splashy option deals of new titles are a surefire way to drive foreign editors toward projects; clients are also excited to see things they already have published be brought to the screen, breathing new life into backlist titles. The success on Netflix of things like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth have also made the rom-com popular in the YA space again, which I’ve enjoyed. We’re all the more excited if the love story brings in diversity or LGBTQ elements. Middle grade has also been steady prefair, with some classic-feeling projects in that segment getting big attention. And fantasy is still working! So we’re still keen to scout really imaginative and fresh new possibilities there.
Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I am hearing a buzz for and interest in thrillers and high-stakes contemporary novels. Separately, graphic novels continue to be hot across all age groups and genres—I love seeing this market open up in such a big and exciting way! That aside, I think that, on a general scale, authenticity with a continued emphasis on underrepresented voices continues to be highly sought after, especially stories with a particularly unique and fresh or high-concept hook. YA seems a little sluggish for all but very big-feel breakout titles, but middle grade is going strong.
Cecilia de la Campa
Global licensing and domestic partnerships, Writers House
Our biggest sellers at the moment are books with a unique POV—an author or protagonist sharing an experience or exploring an identity that we haven’t read before, a personal story that resonates far and wide. International publishers and readers are eagerly seeking out these new voices, especially as it remains difficult to make noise in a crowded market and unstable world. We sell things immediately once there’s something extra for a publisher to latch onto: bestseller status, an award, or especially an upcoming film/streaming adaptation, as long as there’s already a known international release date.
I’m thrilled to see budding growth in two traditionally difficult formats for international publishers: novels in verse, which are hard to translate faithfully, and fully illustrated two- or four-color graphic novels, which are expensive to produce and are often shelved with adult graphics. The international markets have been much slower to adopt these formats, and they were often only published by niche houses, but it seems our usual international partners now each have at least one or two on their lists each season, and are open to expanding further.
I’m hoping international publishers will start to pay serious attention to the audio format as well—at the editorial and marketing level, not just at the top—as something they should be investing in heavily. Audio is taking the world by storm as quickly as it has the U.S., but the retailer partnerships and royalty models are still lacking, as are the conversations around them.
Molly Ker Hawn
The Bent Agency
In my submissions, I’m seeing a lot of realistic contemporary middle grade and YA projects tackling fairly serious topics, most of which I think we’d find a tough sell to most foreign publishers. We’re bringing a mix of YA and middle grade books to the fair, from American and British authors—some debuts and some new projects from established favorites.
We’re finding both YA and middle grade strong for us in Europe, particularly in fantasy, despite anecdotal wisdom that YA is struggling in the U.K. and overseas. Central and Eastern Europe have been particularly fruitful for us—we’re seeing real growth in Hungary, especially—and we’ve had big upswings in deals in Russia and, in the last couple of months, Thailand. We’re also seeing a surge in audio licenses across Europe, raising interesting questions about streaming subscription models that are gaining popularity in a lot of territories.
Victoria Wells Arms
Agent and owner
Wells Arms Literary
I’m being sent a lot of historical fiction and cute picture book texts, but am not finding much that stands out in either category. We’re hearing that historical is hard to sell anywhere, and picture book texts... I have so many of them! I’m also seeing a lot of biographies of groundbreaking women, and though this is always wonderful to see, the market feels almost saturated, at least domestically. That said, beautiful illustration, production, and a unique angle do make a difference, and my kids eat them up!
Globally, we are hearing that many territories are struggling to hold onto independent booksellers, which affects the children’s book market across the board. Librarians are pulled between more conservative values and the trends in interesting YA—and sometimes even middle grade—fiction. I am most excited to bring fiction to the international market, especially when we have film interest, bestseller status, or awards. I find it too discouraging when those things aren’t part of the package; rarely do foreign editors want to see debut authors without some kind of outside platform and attention. When a foreign publisher feels it can do a project with local talent, then that’s often what it prefers.
I’m just hoping we can all continue to broaden our lists with books from different places. Kids deserve to know about other parts of the world, no matter where they live, and books in translation can do that. It’s a crucial element for being a global citizen.
Upstart Crow Literary
Interest in illustrated works for older readers—full-on graphic novels but also heavily illustrated novels—has been building steadily for the past 15 years or so, to the point that now such books are in the mainstream, both on bookstore shelves and in terms of projects we read and sell. In general, the last half decade has seen a rebalancing of publishers’ lists toward middle grade, and that market has become a much more vibrant one, if still a difficult one in which to forge a bestseller. The stalwarts undergirding middle grade remain the ones that have always worked and worked well across borders and languages: humor and fantasy—from high fantasy to tales more modest and Nesbit-like—with reliably unbridled love for stories that pack an emotional heart-punch.
In both middle grade and the teen arena, after the suffocating boom times of paranormal and dystopia, it’s become clichéd to say there are no big trends. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t vibrant smaller trends that make up a healthy something-for-everyone children’s book market. Interest from publishers and readers in authentic voices remains huge; that #OwnVoices umbrella encompasses everything from tales of underrepresented cultures to stories of kids who were labeled “disabled” but are now rightly seen as people with challenging difficulties to overcome.
And that enthusiasm isn’t just homegrown. With those titles, we’ve seen an encouraging pickup from foreign publishers around the world. This “trend”—if it’s right to label a publishing turn toward greater empathy as a trend—extends to younger age groups, as well. Our most successful picture books in the U.S. market, bestsellers and not, are also the titles we’ve seen the greatest interest in across the international market. They’re stories that help readers understand one another better. What a joy—modest though it may be—to sell books one not only loves but believes in some small way better the world.
For more of our pre-Bologna coverage, see New Attractions at Bologna 2019.