Agents and Rights Directors at Frankfurt: At the LitAg and Stands

In News by Porter Anderson

Literary agents and foreign rights directors tell Publishing Perspectives that the energy was high, deals were plentiful, and business was serious this year at Frankfurter Buchmesse.

The Kogan Page stand at the 2018 Frankfurter Buchmesse

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

‘A Very Positive Feeling’
As we’ve reported, the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Literary Agents & Scouts Center grew once again in this year’s 70th iteration of  the big fair, with 528 booked tables, as compared to 500 in 2017.

This year’s tallies for the “LitAg” include:

  • 795 agents, compared to 788 in 2017
  • 337 agencies, compared to 321 last year
  • A representation of 31 countries, including 19 new agencies

And of course, much good rights activity also occurs on the stands of Frankfurt, too—which this year comprised 7,503 exhibitors from 109 countries.

After such a successful outing on so many levels in Frankfurt this year, Publishing Perspectives wanted to follow up with some of the agents and rights directors who were there to ask how things went for them this year. Here’s some of the commentary we’ve been glad to have from them.

Lena Stjernström, Grand Agency, Sweden

Lena Stjernström

Brisk is a very good word to describe this year’s meetings in Frankfurt. We came with a very strong list, but we also felt that the publishers and editors were very much on their toes, curious and interested to find good material. Even before the fair, editors were active and responded quickly and strongly on submissions. Most of the scouts were also very active and made connections between us, our material and the ‘right’ editors.  We made several sales in the weeks before the fair and had unusually high number of offers also at the tables. In other words, an exciting fair.

“As we’re selling Scandinavian properties, I can only speak for this but I feel the editors from different countries are very knowledgeable about Scandinavian writing and writers. They know what they want and what they don’t want. This makes our meetings and submissions more efficient and sharp, and the chances of selling the right book to the right publisher increases. This also leads to discussions not only about our newest titles. This year we had several sales, also on older titles which is really satisfying. A good book is still good even if it’s two years old.

“We had several big titles and had a lot of fun with Mats Strandberg’s The End, a pre-apocalyptic mystery and love story which takes place, literally at the end of the world. Seven international sales were made before the fair and we had an auction running during the week. We also landed the film rights with Yellowbird, Los Angeles (The Millennium movies, Headhunter, etc).

“The Winter of the Prophet is a new thriller trilogy by one of our best suspense writers, Håkan Östlundh. It mixes a Swedish-international plot with personal agendas. The Prophet started to sell at Göteborg  Book Fair with a long German auction. We had a pre-empt in Frankfurt, and we’re getting offers post Frankfurt.

“Our bestselling crime writers Cilla and Rolf Börjlind have a new title out in their Stilton/Rönning series. The series is already sold to 30 countries, and the new title Gangrene is now selling into all those countries.

“We feel that high-end thrillers and crime still sell but there’s also a big interest in family sagas and quality children’s books and YA. We also pre-launched a popular psychology book that we’ll bring to London and the interest is huge. We’re back from Frankfurt with a very positive feeling and we’re already excited for Bologna and London.”

Amy Joyner, independent publisher Kogan Page, UK

Amy Joyner

“As usual, Kogan Page had no free meeting slots for rights at Frankfurt this year. Rights partners seemed as focused as ever, looking for books to fill gaps in their publishing programs, or the next hot topic in business publishing. Better yet, we made sales at the fair. Lots of interest has already been followed up on. There’s a definite increase in pace from rights buyers nowadays, which we strive to follow up on as soon as possible.

“Publishing partners seem to know what they’re looking for far more [than in the past], which enables more detailed discussion of individual books and subject areas, and moves meetings on very swiftly, always welcome in the brief 30 minute slots.

“Our book Amazon was the book of the fair for Kogan Page, seeing sales at the fair and since, and resulting in an auction in Italian and Russian. Kogan Page Inspire titles generated a lot of interest, as did books such as Myths of Branding and Digital Marketing Strategy.

“New technologies such as AI, robotics, and machine learning seemed to drive interest, as did big data themes. Perennial topics such as dealing with difficult people always resonate, as do core management and leadership skills.”

“We left feeling ‘more upbeat’ about foreign rights to come, “given the positive feedback on our publishing program for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019 and the new titles coming. We received good feedback on covers and our publishing areas, so we remain upbeat about the quality of our content and opportunities for rights sales.”

Magalie Delobelle, So Far So Good Agency, France

Magalie Delobelle. Image: Philippe Mèmeteau lined ftw

“The fair was a productive one for my agency. I am thrilled and am even enjoying the gigantic level of follow-up.

“Quite surprisingly, all my meetings were honored. Every year, with a crazy 70 meetings planned, one or two of them usually bail out, but not this time. For me, it was no less hectic than previous years.

“I had the chance to have in my list David Diop’s novel Frère d’âme and the title was on every lips. I sold rights to Aufbau in Germany, Cappelen Damm in Norway, and Cossee in the Netherlands a couple of weeks prior to the fair and their publishers were my best ambassadors.

“When a publisher sitting at my table has already heard about the book from other professionals, it helps a lot.

Frère d’âme [Soul Brother] sold into eight countries.

“And congratulations to our friends from Quebec and Canada who already started to buzz with their titles. Several German publishers asked me about authors from Canada,” which will be Frankfurt’s 2020 Guest of Honor.

Anna Soler-Pont, Pontas, Spain

Anna Soler-Pont

With 2018 being her 27th consecutive Frankfurter Buchmesse, Anna Soler-Point tells us, “We felt that this year—as seems to be the trend or the past couple of years—the fair has been more about meaningful conversation and strengthening relationships rather than hype for a particular book and a flurry of deals.

“Deals happen all year ’round more and more, and the seasonality of deals and submissions is fading away, with people staying in touch.

“Fairs are relevant because the more technological the industry becomes, the more important face-to-face meetings are. For us agents, a 20-minute meeting is precious and the quickest way to understand what publishers and producers are looking for.

“Among the stories represented by the Pontas Agency that drew most of the attention were the three-book deal by Italian bestseller writer Federico Moccia with Hachette’s Grand Central. This deal will mean that Moccia, in 2020, will be published in English for the first time. The deal was highlighted in the Publishing Perspectives magazine distributed at the fair, and editors came to our table in the LitAg to ask about it.” [Editors’ note: The deal also is featured in today’s rights roundup here.]

“Another was the new novel by Peruvian writer Gustavo Rodríguez, Dawn (Madrugada), thanks to a French  pre-empt by Denoël right at the beginning of the fair and the full English translation being submitted to publishers.

“Saskia Vogel’s debut novel Permission (to be published in 2019) also gathered a lot of attention, especially among German publishers because the author lives in Berlin and we’ve already closed six rights deals in total, and an option to develop a TV-series adaptation of the novel with a London-based production company.

“We also reconfirmed increasing interest in African literature.

“Since Pontas represents several authors from the continent, we were happily talking about the novels of, for instance, South African Kopano Matlwa (whose Evening Primrose is currently being published into several languages) or Ugandese debut author Ijangolet Ogwang s An Image in a Mirror.

“We left the fair with the feeling that many deals will come through, and that no one book registered all the interest of publishers, but many.

“We were able to talk about most of our clients with different editors and publishers from all corners of the world.”

Marleen Seegers, 2 Seas Agency, Ojai

Marleen Seegers

“We closed more deals than ever during this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where we continued to see strong interest for nonfiction titles in particular.

“Nature writing remains a hot topic, and A Short Philosophy of Birds (Petite philosophie des oiseaux), which we represent worldwide on behalf of Editions de la Martinière Littérature was one of our big titles before and during the fair. We concluded pre-empts for German (Droemer Knaur), world English (WH Allen/Penguin Random House UK) and Dutch rights (Kosmos), and had multiple publisher auctions in Spain (Grijalbo), Italy (Solferino), and Korea (Darun). A Greek offer is also in, and during the Frankfurt Book Fair we received interest from around the world for this charming nature-writing-meets-philosophy book.

“We also noticed a surge in interest for non-English-language fiction. During my European tour, which started early September, editors mentioned that they weren’t seeing any strong fiction titles coming out of the USA. Our second ‘hot’ title of the fair was The Children’s Train (I Treni dei Bambini), an Italian novel forthcoming with Einaudi Stile Libero that we represent on behalf of the Alferj y Prestia Agency in a select number of territories.

We accepted pre-empts for Dutch (Xander), Swedish (Norstedts), and Norwegian rights (Gyldendal Norsk), and received a first offer from Portugal, where Porto Editora ended up winning the auction. We’re currently talking to interested publishers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and North America, where things should move soon (territories that are not mentioned are handled by Carmen Prestia or other sub-agents).

Overall, I felt an upbeat atmosphere, which was helped a lot I guess by the extraordinary weather. Many people held meetings outside, which balanced out the crowds in the hallways of the fair and made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Bettina Nibbe, Nibbe Agency, Germany

The Nibbe Agency is handling Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, and you can find an interview with him here. His new novel from Russia’s AST, Text, is to be released shortly in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian cover for Dmitry Glukhovsky’s ‘Text’

“We all know that the conditions we work under are not getting more ‘cozy.’ Booksellers in Germany are on alert. We’ve lost male readers under 50 and many among the young adult readership.

“Publishers are about to lay off more employees. So yes, meetings are more to the point: ‘Let’s not waste any time. This we take, this we don’t even look at.’ Business never seemed more authentic, though. Honest comments, no show time. Maybe it’s just me, but I never felt more understood and real than this year.

“I do find that decision-making these days either takes much longer than it used to, or is very fast. There’s nothing in between. And there wasn’t one major book that agents talked about, from what I gathered. The atmosphere was rather sober, a diligent scanning of what there is.

“I do see an ongoing trend in intelligent and sexy nonfiction, worldwide. But the light years are over. I do feel more motivated but we’ll see more changes in our field than we can foresee now. Digital is so fast and powerful, we need to reconsider old habits. Especially here in Germany where things change slowly.

“For better or worse,  I see a clear demand for substance and real emotions. We all believe in the messages a strong book can carry. But will it succeed in reaching ‘a critical mass’ out there again soon?”

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Frankfurter Buchmesse is here; and more of our coverage on rights is here.

You can review our coverage from the 2018 Frankfurter Buchmesse with free downloads of our Publishing Perspective Show Daily magazines. 

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.