Stephanie Barrouillet at Frankfurt: An Outlook on Children’s Books

In News by Porter Anderson

‘The buzz and energy’ around the in-person Frankfurter Buchmesse, says literary agent Stephanie Barrouillet, ‘is needed,’ a chance ‘to step out of our daily work.’

Artwork by Daniela Pirata at the publisher NubeOcho

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

See also: A Frankfurt Conference Interview: Siv Bublitz on Publishing ‘Books That Speak to Each Other’

‘Today’s New Titles Are Tomorrow’s Backlist’
At Frankfurter Buchmesse, you’ll find SB Rights Agency‘s Stephanie Barrouillet at Hall 6.0. A37.

Familiar to many Publishing Perspectives readers, the Tel Aviv-based Barrouillet is specialized in young readers’ books, and she’s particularly adept at spotting trends in the marketplace. As a longtime player in translation publication rights—and getting books into territories in many parts of the world—Barrouillet sees the business from the seller’s side of the table.

On Tuesday (October 12), a session in the agenda-setting Frankfurt Conference trade-publishing track (tickets for the digital event are here) will look at things from the other side, in an exchange called What Rights Buyers Want: Lightning Talks featuring:

  • Anna Soler-Pont, Pontas Agency
  • Banu Ünal, Günışığı Kitaplığı
  • Ciccy Yuqi Shang, Phoenix Juvenile and Children’s Publishing
  • François von Hurter, Bitter Lemon Press
  • Thomas Tebbe, Piper Verlag

Emma House moderates that session, and we’ll also hear during Tuesday’s quick half-day conference from the new president and CEO of Scholastic, Peter Warwick, and many more influencers. More on that program is here. It starts at 2:30 p.m. CEST / 1:30 p.m. BST / 12:30 GMT / 8:30 a.m. ET.

You’ll also find our preview interview with S. Fischer Verlage president and publisher Siv Bublitz here.

Today (October 11), Barrouillet walks us through several trends she sees as a widely traveled rights agent in international children’s books.

‘Slowly Seeing More Events’

Barrouillet first turns to the big topic of the month—the fact that the world’s largest book publishing trade show is staging an in-person fair this year at Messe Frankfurt.

Stephanie Barrouillet

“Several months ago when the vaccination pace was accelerating,” she says, “I was hoping that we would be returning to ‘normal’ on time for Frankfurt Book Fair. We’re unfortunately still in the middle of the pandemic with high and rising numbers in some countries.

“Nonetheless, we all need a sense of normalcy and some indication of progress as, pandemic or not, life will go on and so will our industry. Some companies are welcoming their staff back and it’s encouraging to see a growing number of formerly digital meetings taking place in offices. We also are seeing more events in China, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates, all efforts to come back and manage to adapt. The Warsaw Book Fair, which normally takes place in May, moved to September and outdoors to maximize safety.

“In my case,” Barrouillet says, “a return to normalcy means making the decision to be at Frankfurt, provided of course that health and travel regulations allow it. Most publishers are currently confirming digital meetings, but some publishers and clients—in Germany, France,  Canada—have confirmed their participation. The prospect of being able to have some meetings in person is exciting. It will be an opportunity to reconnect, show and display physical copies, and make new connections.

“I also believe that publishers who can reach Germany by car or train will decide at the last minute whether to attend dependent on the Covid-19 situation.”

A Hybrid Business Model

Image from ‘O Quintal da Minha Casa’ (‘My Backyard’) by Fernando Nuno, illustrations by Bruno Nunes. Image: Grupo Companhia Das Letras

“The way we sell, meet, and buy has changed,” Barrouillet says, “and some of these changes will hang on.

“One aspect of digital book fairs and other events is that everyone can participate. The same applies to festivals, something we saw recently when the Reykjavík International Literary Festival organized physical events and its programming was also streamed online.”

Likewise, the new Frankfurt Studio program based in a newly constructed 500-square-meter production facility in Hall 4 will originate programming from the fair, seen both in the Agora on a large screen and also on the feed being streamed by organizers.

“Bookstores have reopened in most markets,” Barrouillet reminds us, “but browsing protocols come into place and buying books online has become common practice for many of us who may live far from a bookstore or may simply find it safer.

“But what readers buy online is different from what they’d buy in a bookstore,” she says. “Readers will click more easily on the book of an author they know or have heard of. And booksellers who are aware of their customers’ tastes and buying habits stock up these titles in higher quantity to the detriment, at times, of new authors or less known publications.

“Partly as a result of the pandemic, social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok are key tools to push sales and promote some titles,” she says, even as many platforms—particularly those under Facebook’s ownership such as Instagram—are under intense pressure for allegations that they can be damaging and even dangerous for youngsters.

Drivers in the Children’s Markets

Image: Hachette / Running Press Kids

“Backlist sales have soared during the pandemic,” Barrouillet says, “but we have to remember that today’s new titles are tomorrow’s backlist titles. At some point, readers will want to read new books and backlist titles will lose their appeal and financial reliability.

“During Frankfurt, publishers will be looking at newer projects for up to 2023 or even 2024, not least because as some publishers still have a backlog of titles from 2020. New titles and new voices should be priorities at this year’s fair, and that’s an opportunity to discuss ways of giving more visibility to new titles that may have been overshadowed by backlist titles.”

In an interesting observation, Barrouillet says she sees publishers “paying more attention to titles and covers because the content has to be clear and easily recognizable, especially when consumers are buying online.” That aesthetic requirement, of course—often stressed as how well a book cover design has to function at thumbnail size on digital realtor’s site—is hardly new. But it carries fresh urgency when more book-buying is occurring in online channels.

Following the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Barrouillet says, “The importance of books on mental health, mindfulness, and self-care is unquestionable.”

Hachette’s Running Press Kids, for example, has a “Self-Care for Kids” focus.

“In Frankfurt, I’ll be presenting Tu cuerpo es tuyo (Your Body Is Yours) by Lucía Serrano from NubeOcho,” Barrouillet says.

“Nature, the environment, and preservation are major issues and consequently major topics in publishing.”

Barrouillet mentions that one of Beltz & Gelbert’s autumn releases is Die ganze Welt ist voller Energie (The Whole World Is Full of Energy) by Christina Steinlein and illustrator Anne Becker (illustration), and Imagnary House recently published Earth Takes a Break by Emily House, a modern fable inspired by the pandemic.

“Diversity in children’s books—through kids’ representation, cultural settings, or family structures—is a concern that has reached many markets,” Barrouillet says.

The French publisher Talents Haut’s success of Mes deux mamans is a good example, she says. The title was originally published in English by Scribble Kids’ Books under the title Who Is Your Real Mom? Coming from South Korea with Woongjin Thinkbig, My Grandma Mom by Lee Gee Eun is a touching portrait of a grandmother through the eyes of a child. Lee is the winner of the Bologna Ragazzi 2021 Comics Early Rader Award.

“Although not without some controversy in some markets,” she says, “most of us may have read about a Hungarian book chain fined for selling Lawrence Schimel and Elīna Brasliņa’s children’s books featuring the lives of two children with same-sex parents,” Barrouillet says. “And sales of comics books, especially for children, are growing with an amazing range of genres–from titles for 3 and older, to character-driving series, nonfiction, biographies, and memoirs.”

The coming Bang Édiciones Comics Classics edition of ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’

Bang Édiciones, she points out, will be launching a new series of Comics Classics this autumn with L’homme qui plantait des arbres (The Man Who Planted Trees) illustrated and adapted from Jean Giono’s short story by Sandra Hernández, which was published in 2018. More and more trade publishers are stepping into the world of comics and of manga.

“The pandemic is unfortunately sticking around longer than any of us would like, and for all the pain and suffering it has unleashed, I believe we need to continue to find a way to live and work through it and to look forward,” Barrouillet says.

“Even if the physical Frankfurter Buchmesse is scaled down a bit to guarantee everyone’s safety, the buzz and energy around the event is needed and will hopefully mark a new beginning to the return of major book fairs in 2022, at least in a hybrid format. Book fairs offer the opportunity to step out of our daily work and to discover exciting and fresh new voices from around the world.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here, more on translation rights and the marketplace is here, more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here.

And more from us on the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on world publishing is 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 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.