Key Rights Offers on Deck: Amazon Publishing Titles at Bologna and London Book Fairs

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

At Bologna Children’s Book Fair and London Book Fair, the Amazon Publishing rights team packs dependable titles—and the retail muscle to make all boats float.

Debbie Clement’s cover design for Marius Gabriel’s newly released ‘The Ocean Liner’ uses photography of Raúl Garcia

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

At Bologna: The ‘What If Everybody?’ Series
This year, representatives of Amazon Publishing demure when asked for numbers on just how many titles the growing house is producing. They prefer, instead, to tell you of the company’s scope. There are offices, they remind you, in Seattle, New York, London, Luxembourg, Paris, Madrid, Milan, Munich, and Grand Haven.

Grand Haven? It’s on Lake Michigan with what Amazon’s jobs listings say are the “best beaches in the North.” And an Amazon Publishing office.

With an output believed to have exceeded 2,000 titles annually in recent years, APub, as it’s called—the traditional publishing house of Amazon, not the self-publishing KDP platform—has just added its 15th imprint this year, Topple. As Publishing Perspectives has reported, Topple is the diversity-driven imprint that brings literature together with activist-filmmaker Jill Soloway‘s Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning award-winning work for Amazon Studios.

When we spoke with Amazon Publishing‘s publisher, Mikyla Bruder, for Publishing Perspectives‘ forthcoming Spring Magazine, spoke of the Big Five being “the Big Six” again.

Alex Levenberg

And rights buyers at Bologna now, plus those packing for London, aren’t likely to overlook the fact that an Amazon title is a corporate cousin of the biggest retail operation out there.

“We pitch domestic and foreign rights to Amazon titles all year,” says Alex Levenberg, Amazon’s senior global rights manager, “and we’re always at Bologna, London, Frankfurt, and Guadalajara.

“We’ve sold foreign rights in more than 40 territories so far,” she says. And in Bologna, one of the titles her group is presenting from the Two Lions imprint for children’s books will make a lot of sense to parents who worry when the news from the White House is on television while the kids are watching.

What If Everybody Said That? is author Ellen Javernick’s forthcoming title (August 1) with illustrations by Colleen Madden. The book basically asks the question, “What if everybody chose to be kind?” And in promotional copy, we read:

“If you tell someone that they can’t play with you, there’s no harm done, right? But what if everybody said that? What if everybody forgot to be kind…and made fun of other kids’ artwork at school, or told a fib, or refused to share with a person in need?

“The world wouldn’t be a very nice place to live. But what if everybody thought before they spoke, so the world would be a kinder place?

“With clear prose and lighthearted artwork, this companion book to the bestseller What If Everybody Did That? explores the power of words and shows kids that the things we say matter.”

Javernick and Madden published What if Everybody Did That? in 2012.

And it’s interesting to note that these titles are in line with the kind of results that The Bookseller’s Charlotte Eyre and Tom Tivnan are reporting from Bologna: “Children’s nonfiction is the place to be,” they write–in that case, looking at a range of books in the instructional, often inspirational vein.

Another especially interesting work that Amazon Publishing’s team is presenting both at Bologna and at London Book Fair is fiction of the socially relevant kind, in this case about female friendship in a future/fantasy setting.

Storm Glass, the first book in a series called Harbinger, is from author Jeff Wheeler and published by 47North, Amazon Publishing’s science-fiction imprint. Scheduled for a release on June 19, the book is a rich girl/poor girl tale about the relationship between two protagonists in a sharply class-biased context.

“The privileged live in sky manors held aloft by a secretive magic known only as the Mysteries,” according to promotional copy. “Below, the Earthbound poor are forced into factory work to maintain the engine of commerce.

“Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

“Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity. Neither girl feels that she belongs.”

Romance, Book Club Titles, Literary

In adult titles, interestingly, “Russia and the Czech Republic are markets where we’re seeing an increase in sales over last year. We’ve heard that 2017 was a strong year for both markets.”

As Publishing Perspectives has reported earlier this month, the interesting linguistic background of the Czech Republic and Slovakia can mean a double rights sale for a strong title, too, Levenberg says. Because Slovakians are fluent in Czech but prefer their own language, titles that sell into one of the two territories may quickly work well in the other.

And what sells well into that part of Europe a the moment, Levenberg says, is often material from the Lake Union imprint, which is focused on “book club fiction” and includes the romantic suspense Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale as a good representative book.

Promotional material from that 2016 release reads, in part, “Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.

“As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.”

And another 2016 title Levenberg finds is working well in Europe is The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison.

Here, the book’s promotional copy reads, in part, “In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

“When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.”

A newer title that might be interesting in London Book Fair’s Rights Centre, in particular, is Marius Gabriel’s The Ocean Liner released on March 20.

Like Gabriel’s novelization of the rise of Christian Dior, last year’s The Designer, the setting in the new book is lavish and fraught with political upheaval. The Ocean Liner puts 1,500 passengers on a ship to the States—along with several well-chosen political figures from music and a political family dynasty. From the promotional information:

“Cousins Masha and Rachel Morgenstern board the luxury liner the SS Manhattan bound for New York, desperate to escape the concentration camps that claimed the rest of their family. America offers a safe haven, but to reach it they must survive a hazardous Atlantic crossing.

“Among their fellow passengers fleeing the war, each with their own conflicts, secrets and surprises, are the composer Igor Stravinsky, making a new start after a decade of tragedy, and Rose Kennedy, determined to keep her four children from harm. Particularly worrying to Rose is her daughter Rosemary, a vivacious but troubled woman whose love for a Californian musician may derail her family’s political ambitions. And then there’s young Thomas, a Nazi with a secret.”

If historical fiction isn’t what you’re looking for, Levenberg’s group is ready with “a plausible near future” in which Caeli Wolfson Widger’s title for the literary imprint Little A is called Mother of Invention.

From the sales copy: “Meet Silicon Valley executive Tessa Callahan, a woman passionate about the power of technology to transform women’s lives. Her company’s latest invention, the Seahorse Solution, includes a breakthrough procedure that safely accelerates human pregnancy from nine months to nine weeks, along with other major upgrades to a woman’s experience of early maternity.”

The book–scheduled for a May 22 release, just in time for BookExpo in New York City—”examines the fraught sacrifices that women make to succeed in both career and family against a backdrop of technological innovation.

“It’s a story of friendship, risk, betrayal, and redemption—and an unnerving interrogation of a future in which women can engineer their lives as never before.”

French, German, Italian, Spanish–From Many Others

At London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Centre, sponsored by Amazon Publishing’s AmazonCrossing translation imprint

Despite the fact that AmazonCrossing’s translation titles draw on an ever-growing range of languages–its submissions portal at the Frankfurter Buchmesse in October was expanded to be navigable in Punjabi, Portuguese, Hindi, Dutch, Arabic, Russian, and eight more languages—its titles very much figure into Levenberg’s team’s offerings.

Once again, AmazonCrossing is sponsoring London Book Fair’s Literary Translation Centre, this year with 16 Insights Seminar sessions planned around the theme “Making Words Travel.” The sessions run from the educational and informative—as in discussions about editing and pitching translations—to the practicalities of the translation industry in such issues as diversity, the recent determination that Montenegrin stands as its own language, and censorship issues around Maltese translation.

“We’re pitching books that we’ve translated” at AmazonCrossing “into English from other languages,” says Levenberg, “as well as books that our local editors acquire and publish in their original languages, meaning French, German, Italian and Spanish.”

One of the company’s biggest titles of the year—published on New Year’s Day—is A River in Darkness by Japanese-Korean author Masaji Ishikawa. The book is a memoir, originally written in Japanese, of Ishikawa’s family’s crushing experience in North Korea where the writer lived for 36 years before making a harrowing escape and repatriating to Japan. It’s translated from the Japanese by Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown.

A River in Darkness, Levenberg says, has rights in negotiation currently in six languages, following its English translation in January.

A month prior to the Ishikawa release, AmazonCrossing published The Night of the Moths, journalist Riccardo Bruni’s dark literary novel about a decade-old cell phone and the text messages still lodged there by his murdered girlfriend. The book is translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel.

“We’ve just sold Lithuanian rights to The Night of the Moths, Levenberg says, even before arriving in London where Lithuania is one of the Market Focus Baltic countries, of course.

And she admits to finding herself unexpectedly captivated by a book called All the Little Lights by Jamie McGuire. The book releases May 29, during BookExpo.

It’s a story of changed realities and faltering love, a romance from the Montlake imprint. “He’s a star high school athlete,” according to the promotional copy, “and she spends all her free time working at her mother’s mysterious bed-and-breakfast. Catherine hasn’t forgiven Elliott for abandoning her, but he’s determined to win back her friendship…and her heart.

“Just when Catherine is ready to fully trust Elliott, he becomes the prime suspect in a local tragedy. Despite the town’s growing suspicions, Catherine clings to her love for Elliott. But a devastating secret that Catherine has buried could destroy whatever chance of happiness they have left.”

And lastly, there’s a timely entry in Natalia Sylvester’s Everyone Knows You Go Home, just released this month by Little A on March 13.

A story about immigration and a Mexican American family, the book is about “Isabel and Martin, who settle into married life in a Texas border town, and Omar,” the spirit of Isabel’s father-in-law, “returns each year on the celebratory Day of the Dead.

“Every year Isabel listens,” says the sales copy, “but to the aggrieved Martin and Elda, Omar’s spirit remains invisible.

“Through his visits, Isabel gains insight into not just the truth about his disappearance and her husband’s childhood but also the ways grief can eat away at love. When Martin’s teenage nephew crosses the Mexican border and takes refuge in Isabel and Martin’s home, questions about past and future homes, borders, and belonging arise that may finally lead to forgiveness—and alter all their lives forever.”

The book, many can hope, might be an important read in a world that calls less for going home, and more for building walls.


More from Publishing Perspectives on rights and related issues is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.