Coronavirus Worklife: Sweden’s Grand Agency Navigates a ‘Really Slow Tempo’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

For this literature and film agency’s authors, ‘a drawback like this can be really painful,’ says  Lena Stjernström at Stockholm’s Grand Agency—which now is working off-site amid the pandemic.

Lena Stjernström

Lena Stjernström in the Grand Agency’s Stockholm offices. Image: Jesper Anhede

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

‘The World Is on Hold’
Ranking currently at No. 19 this morning (March 26)among world markets for confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 2,554 cases there at this writing, and 64 deaths. (Updated 7:29 a.m. ET / 1129 GMT)

While these figures seem relatively tame by comparison to some of the embattled hotspots of the pandemic’s attack—China, Italy, Spain, the United States, Iran—the headlines on the Swedish situation are at best concerned and at worst quite critical:

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Sweden has adopted the controversial “herd immunity” approach to the contagion, a theory the United Kingdom favored initially—and then abandoned. The theory is that while the most vulnerable, elderly parts of a population may need protection, allowing the larger, younger demographics to encounter the virus will develop widespread immunity.

As debate about the tactic goes on both in Sweden and among its Nordic and European neighbors, we’re glad to have input today from Lena Stjernström, CEO of the Grand Agency on Vanadisvägen Stockholm, a leading independent firm among the uniquely competitive and energetic Nordic markets in literature and film. Publishing Perspectives are accustomed to finding listings of rights sales from the Grand Agency in many of our Rights Roundups.

‘We Have To Sell Rights To Survive’

The agency, like so many companies in international publishing, has reconfigured itself to work remotely during the crisis, and we begin our exchange with Stjernström—whose educational background is in political science and marketing—what the more normal operating mode for her agency looks like.

Lena Stjernström: We’re six people, and we represent around 40 authors. Normally the office is filled with people and meetings. Authors come in for meetings, and we have a lot of meetings in town with authors, editors, and other people in the business.

“In the long run, it’s impossible to keep up the energy and inspiration for your work when the world is on hold and the future is uncertain.”Lena Stjernström

Being a rather small workforce, we have constant talks about ideas and about how to deal with different issues that turn up in normal agency worklife. Our normal communications with international publishers and editors are through email, phone calls, and digital communications services.

Obviously, this time of year we usually go to London and Bologna for the fairs.

Publishing Perspectives: And how is your team set up and functioning now?

LS: Our people  have been working from home for 11 days.

I come to the office every day, though. I don’t have to use public transportation to get here, and since we don’t have a curfew in Sweden—yet?—I walk to the office.

For me, it feels more like work, being in the office, and it’s also good that someone is here. I’m glad my colleagues have been able to set up temporary work spaces in their homes. They’re in four different spots.

PP: What are the key challenges in working this way?

‘Touched’ by Gustav Tegby is the title most recently listed in our Rights Roundups from the Grand Agency

LS: In the simplest things, it’s not being able to just throw out a question to the room and get feedback from colleagues. Instead you have to call or schedule a zoom meeting. Or write an email, of course.

It’s also concerning that our authors are worried about the launches and sales of their books. They can’t do public events, and our bookstores are empty. Many authors are on tight budgets, and a drawback like this can be really painful.

In the longer term, the problem is the uncertainty of how well the book business can get through this period. Some publishers, bookstores and others will probably have to close down, which will be devastating for them and for the authors. We also have to sell rights to survive. This is supposed to be a really active period for acquisitions and sales–and now everything is moving in really slow tempo.

PP: Are there any upbeat surprises you’ve discovered in being forced to work this way?

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LS: It’s great that people are able to work from home—and some may even say they can get more done at home than in the normal office environment.

But I think that perspective is for the shorter term. In the long run, it’s impossible to keep up the energy and inspiration for your work when the world is on hold and the future is uncertain.

PP: What about international communications? With such a prominent international rights stance, can your agency keep things going in terms of foreign interaction?

LS: Actually, I’m glad to say that international communications are booming. The number of our calls and Skype meetings have increased during this period, and since everyone is at home, there’s more time for long and interesting talks about not only the coronavirus, but also about private life and of course books and stories.

I like the kind of ”private side” I get to know about my publishing friends in the world as a result of this. It’s nice.

PP: And how is everybody holding up, in terms of keeping up their spirits and their outlook?

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LS: My staff is doing a great job, both in dealing with the everyday tasks and also in being creative about projects—which can be done now and which will be useful for the future. These are the type ideas you normally have to dismiss because of the lack of time.

PP: And have you discovered new networks of information and support coming together amid the COVID-19 crisis?

LS: There’s more time for supporting the networks that were already there, but there also are loads of great initiatives on how to survive during this time. They come from bookstores, publishers, authors’ guilds, writers, and so on. This is wonderful, and we want to support them all.

If You’d Like To Alert Us to Your Plans and Updates

We’re receiving good notice from many associates in the world industry, and we’d be glad to consider having you join them in telling us about your coronavirus-related news for our international readership. Please note that we don’t use articles written by industry professionals, but if you’d like us to consider doing an interview with you, contact Porter@PublishingPerspectives.com.

The world totals at this writing are 487,684 cases, 22,030 deaths. As you will know, Italy remains the hardest hit after China. Italy has 74,386 cases and 7,503 deaths at this writing, and specialists are saying they hope they’re seeing that devastated country move past its crest.

New York state and New York City in particular become, then, the next epicenter, with more than 30,800 of the United States’ total 69,197 cases.

New York City, as this article publishes, has 280 of the state’s total 1,046 deaths.


More from Publishing Perspectives the coronavirus outbreak is here. More from us on the Swedish market is here, and more on international rights trading is here.

Download your free copy of our Spring Magazine here

In our Spring 2020 Magazine, Publishing Perspectives has interviewed publishers, industry experts, entrepreneurs, and authors to present a look at the book business for the coming year. Inside this issue of Publishing Perspectives Magazine, you’ll find articles and resources including:

  • Publishing and the coronavirus
  • Richard Charkin’s view of key industry challenges
  • China’s growing comic book market
  • Brussels Book Fair debuts its rights center
  • Eksmo CEO Evgeny Kapyev on Russia’s book market
  • Matchmaking for publishers and producers in Latin America
  • Book market data
  • A world tour of copyright developments
  • Translation sales resulting from Norway’s Frankfurter Buchmesse guest of honor program
  • An AI startup creating interactive stories
  • An interview with author Andrew Keen

Download ‘Publishing in Times of Crisis’ free of charge here.

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 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.