PRH Canada’s Kristin Cochrane and Adrienne Tang: Frankfurt and Rights Sales

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Pleased with Guest of Honor Canada at Frankfurt, Penguin Random House Canada CEO Kristin Cochrane talks about the trade show and her new in-house rights office.

Penguin Random House Canada CEO Kristin Cochrane at Frankfurter Buchmesse 2021. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

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

Cochrane: ‘Generosity of Spirit’
For once, those comfortable red sofas are empty, the ones you can never find a spot on in the sunlit lobby of Hall 4.2 at Frankfurter Buchmesse.

Kristin Cochrane, Penguin Random House Canada’s settles onto one of them between meetings and smiles. “It’s wonderful to be back.”

In fact, Cochrane says, the Guest of Honor Canada program has had more visibility than it might have had in a normal year with a more crowded schedule of events as competition. “The spotlight on Canada,” she says, “is shining brighter. It’s as if there’s more space and air in the room.”

Many who were at Frankfurt last month have mentioned this. Rights directors talk of having had time for longer conversations, and publishers talk of being able to walk the various halls’ spacious exhibition floors more easily, a chance to really see the stands.

Canada’s turn in that spotlight, of course, was extended to two years by the intrusion of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, but in a sense that, too, Cochrane says, has intensified the understanding of a guest of honor presence at the fair being, as she puts it, “bigger than this week.”

“Leading into the fair,” she says, “what I think I hadn’t realized” when Canada accepted the designation in 2016, “is that so much business would be done in those years between 2016 and today.”

As it turns out, she says, “It’s huge. You also have the momentum coming out of it. And I’m really hoping that what we’ll all do as Canadian publishers is ride that momentum. It doesn’t just end at the end of this week, if really we continue to build on the contacts we’ve made, the export of Canadian writers—and not just to Germany.”

Having spoken to a Canadian journalist earlier in the week, she’s realized, she says, that “Someone who’s not familiar with the book fair doesn’t realize how international Frankfurt really is. You know this. I know this. But many other people think it’s a German fair. And so just having been guest of honor has opened up so many doors to us in so many countries.”

She’s also pleased that the Canadian delegation was led by the first Indigenous Canadian governor general, Mary May Simon, whose moving opening ceremony address “hit just the right tone, the way she talked so beautifully about storytelling,” Cochrane says.

“I think Canadians have a fairly positive reputation,” she says, “and so the literature that we’re publishing and exporting is really reflecting that generosity of spirit.”

Indeed, we mention Cherie Dimaline, a PRH Canada author from the Georgian Métis Community in Ontario. Cochrane is excited about Dimaline’s new Hunting by Stars, a follow-up to her earlier breakthrough novel, The Marrow Thieves. The book’s challenging, dystopian vision references a fictional re-opening of Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous children, now the focus of the nation’s truth and reconciliation exercise in light of a profoundly dark period of atrocities.

Cochrane: ‘Growing in International Rights’

Penguin Random House Canada author Margaret Atwood speaks in a live digital feed to Frankfurter Buchmesse’s 2021 opening ceremony audience. Image: FBM, Marc Jacquemin

Cochrane discusses Dimaline’ work by way of noting that the premiere PRH Canada author, Margaret Atwood, is especially “generous to the new generation.” Dimaline has gotten to know Atwood, Cochrane says, “and there it is, that generosity within the community.”

“Someone who’s not familiar with the book fair doesn’t realize how international Frankfurt really is.”Kristin Cochrane, Penguin Random House Canada

Atwood, not only a formidable author but a ready and eloquent speaker who was a headliner in the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair closing gala, spoke by remote during the opening ceremony. And Cochrane also has had a chance to speak with representatives of the coming guests of honor at Frankfurt–Spain, Slovenia, and Italy.

And having been named to her role as Canadian chief executive by Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle in the spring of 2018, Cochrane made a canny move that now is paying off as rights and exports come to the fore in the wake of the guest of honor program. Publishing Perspectives readers will remember that in October 2020, Cochrane brought the PRH Canada rights operation in-house. Still maintaining a strong and appreciative regard for Cooke International, she wanted to make the move so that the company could be closer to its international outreach.

“It’s something that was top of mind for me when I was appointed CEO,” she says. And she turned to Adrienne Tang, formerly with Kids Can Press, to head up the new in-house unit. “We were growing in international rights, as well as sales,” she says, “which are terribly important to our growth,” not least because the Canadian market is fairly fixed in its scale. Cochrane says she’s been pleased with the result, as Tang leads the new division.

And we turn now to Adrienne Tang to ask her how things are going, a year into the new in-house rights program at PRH Canada.

Tang: ‘It’s Essentially Matchmaking’

“I love rights,” Adrienne Tang says in an interview with Publishing Perspectives, “and it’s just such a joy to be able to work on such fantastic lists” as those she now handles at Penguin Random House Canada, as its vice-president for subsidiary rights.

Adrienne Tang

Having moved from the prominent Canadian children’s publisher Kids Can Press, she moved to a much broader range of material in terms of sectors, genres, and sheer numbers. In fact, she says with a laugh, the first year has had several “Where do I even start?” moments, structuring and developing the right approach for seven lists, “each of them very distinct.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had an in house rights department here, and a lot of original processes just aren’t there. So a good portion of this first year has been kind of getting that foundation set, because we’re looking at this as a long-term investment.”  The contract processes, royalty procedures (“You want authors to get paid properly”), materials for catalogues, many things have had to be created from scratch.

Indeed, just this week, another of PRH Canada’s authors, Omar El Akkad, has seen his visibility boosted by his win of the CA$100,000 (US$80,055) Scotiabank Giller Prize for What Strange Paradise which in Canada is published by the house’s McClelland & Stewart division.

The rights to El Akkad’s books are being handled, she says, by the American Knopf team. And this is an example of how, for Tang, the job never holds still: she’s spent a year organizing an ever-shifting base of strong content while putting into place the protocols and processes needed to mount an effective, cohesive approach to international rights.

“It’s essentially matchmaking,” she says, “finding the right book for the right editor or finding the right publishing house for a certain book. And when you’re able to do that it’s really satisfying. And when you have a backlist rich as ours, plus some fantastic authors with new and upcoming voices, there really are times you just don’t know where to start. That’s been part of the challenge, where to focus our energy.

“And that’s one of the reasons that rights are so exciting. It’s limitless. You can always find other territories, sell to other publishers. You just pinpoint where you want to spend that time right now.”

Highlights of PRH Canada’s Rights Sales

We’ve asked Tang to give us a feel for some of the strongest selling material—with many of those deals arranged by Cooke International before Tang joined PRH Canada to head up its in-house rights division—and then to look at several promising titles.

Here are some of the titles she’s pointing out to us.

Formerly the medical columnist for the Globe and Mail, Gabor Maté, MD, was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2018 for his work in the prevention and treatment of addiction and mental health. Several of his books, Tang says, are among the house’s most successful in rights sales. An example:

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Knopf Canada)

  • Rights have sold into 19 territories and languages:
  • Bulgarian: KIBEA
  • Chinese (simplified): Beijing Huazhang
  • Chinese (traditional): Green Futures
  • Czech: PeopleComm
  • Dutch: AnkhHermes
  • German: Narayana
  • Hebrew: Asia Publishers
  • Hungarian: Open Book
  • Italian: Ubiliber
  • Korea: The Whole Mind
  • Polish: Czarna Owca
  • Romanian: V&I Herald
  • Russian: Portal
  • Serbian: Kontrast Izdavastvo
  • Slovenian: Primus
  • Spanish: Capitan Swing
  • United Kingdom: Ebury
  • United States: North Atlantic
  • Vietnamese: Coral Books

Another center of rights energy she points to in nonfiction is Good Morning Monster (Penguin Canada), in which therapist Catherine Gildiner writes of her most memorable patients, people she terms “psychological heroes.” This one has sold into 10 languages and territories so far:

  • United States: St. Martin’s Press
  • Chinese (simplified): Guomai
  • Chinese (traditional): Faces
  • French: Jouvence
  • Korean: Life & Page
  • Polish: Znak
  • Portuguese: Darkside
  • Russian: Eksmo
  • Thai: B2S
  • Turkish: Yakamoz

In science-fiction fantasy, Tang says, the debut author Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Window (published in Canada and the States by Penguin Teen Canada) is “The Handmaid’s Tale meets Pacific Rim, where mecha-science-fiction and East Asian myth collide in this retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history.”

This one, too, has sold into 10 languages and territories so far:

  • United Kingdom: Oneworld/Rock the Boat
  • German: Blanvalet
  • French (World except Canada): La Martinière
  • Italian: Rizzoli
  • Spanish: RBA Libros
  • Portugal: Saida
  • Brazil: Intrinseca
  • Russian: Mann Ivanov Ferber
  • Romanian: Bookzone
  • Czech: Euromedia

And of course, when we asked for titles that Tang feels are promising, her quick answer was, “It’s really hard to narrow them down”–perfectly understandable. Here are just a few of the books she points to:

True Crime

The Wolfpack by Peter Edwards and Luis Najerja on the Random House Canada list. “Joined by award-winning Mexican journalist Luis Nájera, leading organized-crime author Peter Edwards introduces a motley assortment of millennial bikers, gangsters, and Mafia characters whose bloody trail of murders and schemes gone wrong led to the arrival in Canada of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations: the drug cartels of Mexico.”

Rights sold:

  • French: L’Homme
  • Film/television rights have been optioned by New Metric, the producers of the Netflix series Bad Blood which is based on PRH Canada’s title Business or Blood, which is also by Edwards

Work by Indigenous Authors

Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance is a work of memoir on the Penguin Canada/Allen Lane list by Jesse Wente.

And another work from an indigenous author mentioned by Tang is The Misewa Saga series, which she describes as “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle grade fantasy series from award-winning author David A. Robertson.

This is a five-book series, Tang says, with a long list of award nominations including the 2021 Governor General’s Award, and a starred review from Kirkus.

And it already has a sale:

  • German: Little Tiger Verlag

Tang’s in-house rights operation at Penguin Random House Canada has a page of information on various availabilities and contact information here.

Guests at the ‘Canada Night’ opening of the 2021 Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor Canada pavilion are reflected in the glossy surfaces of the exhibition’s design, crafted to reflect the topographical range of Canada’s lands. Image FBM, Marc Jacquemin

More from Publishing Perspectives on Penguin Random House is here, more on the Canadian market is here, more on international publishing rights is here, and more on  Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book 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.