Although declaring trends is a slippery business, the deals trickling out of the rights tent at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair seem to point to one thing: women's fiction is far from dead.
Despite the deafening buzz about Jonathan Littell and his highly sought-after French bestseller, Les Bienveillantes—which agent Andrew Nurnberg even got to buzz in the New York Times, describing it there as "the intimate memoirs of a Nazi ex-murderer"—some less sensational topics also caught the attention (and wallets) of publishers. As one scout said about the interest in female-friendly stories, "People are exhausted from all the thrillers and men's novels." Judging from the books that were being pushed and bought, we might take a chance with calling our shot.
Ed Victor: While the only title Ed Victor said he closed on at the fair was an over-lunch sale of Max Brooks's World War Z to Goldmann in Germany (the book has been a mainstay in the States on the Times list), his agent Sophie Hicks wound up generating quite a bit of unexpected excitement for Missing Time.
A sweeping romantic epic that she said has shades of Cold Mountain and Atonement—the book follows one man in present-day South America who's lost his girlfriend (and his memory) in a freak bus accident, and another at the Austro-Hungarian border in 1914 who decides to flee the fighting in World War I and walk home across Siberia—the sale was nearly six years in the making. A debut effort from British actor Danny Scheinmann, it went through a number of iterations and rewrites before clicking with foreign publishers this year. According to Hicks, it was particularly unusual to see such strong foreign interest in an English-language title that has yet to sell in the U.S. or U.K. Nonetheless, before the fair, the book was preempted in Germany in a six-figure deal and was then sold at auction in Italy. Now Hicks is getting e-mails from all over the world, with a number of publishers in England and the States expressing interest.
Sanford J. Greenburger: Agent Peter McGuigan was fielding a number of questions about D. T. Max's The Family That Couldn't Sleep and Sara Rao's The Chambermaid. Sleep (which bowed in the U.S. last month from Random House) is a nonfiction book by New York Times Magazine writer Max that explores an odd medical saga: the descendants of an insomniac who died in Venice in 1765 consistently develop a rare genetic disorder called prion disease, which, among other things, causes debilitating sleep disorders. Chambermaid (which Grove is publishing stateside), treads in much lighter waters; it's a novel about the horrors a young lawyer faces while clerking for a cruel judge. Being pitched as TheDevil Wears Prada in a courtroom, the book is a debut effort from Rao (who, not surprisingly, has a JD). No word on closed deals yet for either title.
Donadio & Olson: For agent Ira Silverberg the big buzz book was The Border of Truth by Victoria Redel. It's being published stateside by Amy Schiebe at Counterpoint, has already sold in the Netherlands, and Silverberg is expecting to close deals on it in a number of other countries in the coming weeks. The other titles that occupied Silverberg's time at the fair were Chuck Palahniuk's next, Rant, and the new sequel to Mario Puzo's bestselling Godfather series, The Godfather's Revenge by Mark Weingartner. While Silverberg said these books "don't require much work," he added that it was a treat to discuss strategy with the authors' foreign publishers.
The Dijkstra Agency: After PW reported before the fair on the high hopes the agency had for a number of its titles—chiefly Irvin Yalom's Gift of Death, Lisa See's Peony in Love and Kate White's You On Top—more deals on all three were closed by the last day in the rights tent. At the fair five publishers made offers on Yalom's book: Random House Germany, Living Psychology in Taiwan, Kinneret Zmora in Israel, Ediouro in Brazil and Emecé in Latin America. And according to agent Taryn Fagerness, "other offers are expected soon." Lisa See's foreign publishers have all jumped on her book (the title of which will likely change) with Archipel in the Netherlands, Salamandra in Spain, Bertelsmann Media in Poland and Stolitsa Print in Russia all set to publish abroad. Also getting snatched up were White's book, which went to Random House Germany, and Don Norman's The Design of Future Things, which sold to Shinyosha in Japan.
Jenny Meyer Literary Agency: After we reported last week about Meyer selling Therese Fowler's Souvenir in various foreign territories, she reported postfair that the U.S. auction for the title has ended with it going in a six-figure deal to Linda Marrow at Ballantine. Another hot book for Meyer was Maribeth Fischer's The Life You Longed For. The novel (which is being plugged as a Jodi Picoult/Anita Shreve—like work) follows a devoted mother who, when her young son is diagnosed with a fatal and mysterious disease, is suspected of foul play and having Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Touchstone is publishing in the U.S. in March, and the title has sold in both Sweden and Brazil. Meyer said that right now a Dutch preempt is being considered, while multiple offers have come in from Germany and a first offer from Italy.
LJK Literary Management: In what marked the first trip to Frankfurt for Larry Kirshbaum as a full-time agent, his boutique start-up had luck with Rashi's Daughter. The first book in a trilogy that Plume is publishing stateside, it sold in Italy and Brazil in preempts before the fair.
InkWell Management:Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand was the hot book for InkWell. The title, which follows three women escaping their problems during a summer on Nantucket, is the sixth book from Hilderbrand (Summer People) and was bought by Little, Brown before the fair in a major two-book deal for world English rights with Reagan Arthur attached to edit in the U.S. and Ursula McKenzie in the U.K. (The second book is called Cocktails, Dinner and Dancing.) At the fair, foreign deals were closed with Mondadori in Italy and House of Books in Holland.
William Morris: While PW reported on the significant interest WMA generated for its middle-grade series Nightmare Academy last week, the agency also closed some nice deals on a few adult titles. The Heroines by Eileen Favorite, which Nan Graham at Scribner has bought in the U.S. and is being published in England by Random House UK, garnered quite a bit of interest among foreign publishers. The book, which director of international rights Tracy Fisher called a "grounded fantasy," is about an unusual bed-and-breakfast that hosts literary heroines who've come "to take a break from their story lines." Kelly Simmons's debut novel, Skylight, which Atria is publishing in January 2008, is currently on submission in the U.K., with an offer in from Holland and "strong interest" from other European markets. Unfolding in the span of a single week, the book follows a mother who offers herself up as a hostage when she confronts a kidnapper in her home about to snatch her daughter. And pre-fair, The Missing by Chris Mooney (Remembering Sarah), which Pocket is doing in March 2007, was bought by a flurry of foreign publishers including Rowohlt in Germany, PDLC in France, Longanesi in Italy, Penguin in the U.K., House of Books in Holland and Znak in Poland. The mystery/thriller follows a Boston CSI investigator who stumbles on a case that might shed light on his own tragic past: he's the sole survivor among a trio of teenage friends who witnessed a brutal murder one night while partying in the woods.
The Wylie Agency: In a pre-Frankfurt deal, agent Sarah Chalfant sold the debut novel from Keith Gessen, All the Sad Young Literary Men, to Paul Slovak at Viking. The book, which Slovak called "a cleverly written novel of manners," chronicles three twenty-something guys, all wannabe writers, who struggle to figure out what to do with their lives postcollege. Gessen, who will likely be plugged as the next hot, young literary scribe—he's 31 and one of the founders of the Brooklyn-based lit mag N+1 (along with his buddy and fellow Harvard alum, Benjamin Kunkel)—has notably established a name for himself in publishing circles as the translator of Voices from Chernobyl (which nabbed an NBCC for nonfiction last year) and an active book critic (writing for everything from the New York Review of Books to the New Yorker to Slate). While Slovak has North American rights and audio, Chalfant sold the title at the fair in Italy to Einaudi and in Spain to Alfaguara. Viking plans to publish in early 2008.
Sterling Lord Literistic: Their two titles generating the most interest, according to agent Marcy Posner, were Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself (which she said details advances made in brain science and recalls Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat with its wide appeal and literary style) and Susan Hubbard's The Society of S, a coming-of-age novel about a woman who is half vampire, which Simon & Schuster is publishing in the U.S. in May. Though no reports came in by press time about closed deals for the titles, Posner said at the fair that offers on both had come in from various markets.
Grove/Atlantic: Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale, which is coming out here in February from the house, was one of the titles it sold in a number of foreign countries. The nonfiction book, which is being billed as the first memoir from an American soldier who was in Iraq—Key fought there until he abandoned his post and fled to Canada—was sold by director of subsidiary rights Lauren Wein in "nice five-figure" deals to Arbeiderspers in Holland, Neri Pozza/Bloom in Italy and Albin Michel in France. Denise Bukowski, of the Bukowski Agency, also sold the book in Canada to House of Anansi, and Wein said she expects to close on a German deal by the end of this week.