Children’s Books Edition: Agent Karolina Jaszecka’s Outlook for Bologna

In News by Publishing Perspectives Staff

The Barcelona-based literary agent Karolina Jaszecka heads for Bologna with a specialty in Polish literature for young readers. (Sponsored)

Karolina Jaszecka will be at Bologna Children’s Book Fair on the Polish collective stand. Image: KaBooks

Publishing Perspectives Staff Report

In Bologna: KaBooks Will Be in Hall 29, B24
When she set up her KaBooks agency in Barcelona, Karolina Jaszecka says, “one of my basic principles was to represent only the books that I’d like to have on my personal bookshelf, and I hope that everyone who browse my Bologna rights list [PDF] can notice its consistency.”

At Bologna Children’s Book Fair (March 21 to 24), the trade show’s attendees will find Jaszecka on the Polish collective stand (Hall 29, B24), and she’ll also be speaking in Jacks ThomasBologna Book Plus program “Call Your Agent: How To Become a Successful Literary Agent” on March 22 (Bologna Tuesday) at 10 a.m. CET.

“My tastes are rather closer to Dwie Siostry than to commercial literature,” she says, referring to the highly regarded, determinedly offbeat Warsaw publishing house Dwie Siostry (Two Sisters) created by Jadwiga (Jadzia) Jędryas.

Polish by background and now based in Barcelona, Jaszecka’s specialization as a literary agent in the international rights sphere is in the distinctive character of Polish work for young readers.

And the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Jaszecka says, has made it hard to spot concrete trends at the moment.

“I think that in the rights business, we lost somehow the rhythm we had thanks to book fairs. We’ll see if we can recover it,” she says.

“There’s still high demand for nonfiction books about nature, environment, and original topics,” she says. “Editors ask frequently about books explaining emotions. And I see a growing interest in comics for the youngest readers.”

‘A Lot of Space for Imagination’

When it comes to the character of Polish literature for young readers, “I’d say that a very strong point is that these books are really written for children,” she says.

One of KaBooks’ illustrators has become a winner in this year’s Bologna Illustrators’ Exhibition. “That’s Marianna Sztyma, whom I’m happy and proud to represent.”Karolina Jaszecka, KaBooks

“If there is some didactic message, it’s well hidden. You can learn a lot of important things from chapter books written, for example, by the bestselling authors like Justyna Bednarek, Grzegorz Kasdepke, Tomasz Samojlik, but above all, you enjoy the stories and feel many emotions.

“And there’s a lot of space for imagination.” That’s especially true, Jaszecka says, in illustration.

“Polish illustration is simply marvelous,” she says. “It has a long tradition and many illustrators like Gosia Herba, Emilia Dziubak, Nikola Kucharska or Marcin Minor are known internationally. But there are still many others undiscovered. It’s so nice when I get a request from a foreign commissioning editor: ‘Karolina, I love these illustrations, can you send me all the books of this illustrator that you handle translation rights for?”

Indeed, one of Jaszecka’s illustrators has become a winner in this year’s Bologna Illustrators’ Exhibition. “That’s Marianna Sztyma, whom I’m happy and proud to represent,” Jaszecka says. As regular Bologna-going professionals know, Bologna director Elena Pasoli is a faithful supporter and promoter of the illustrator’s special place alongside authors in children’s literature, and the trade show’s 56th Illustrators’ Exhibition has produced 78 winners from 29 international markets.

In Polish nonfiction, Jaszecka says, “the information is usually very well prepared and documented because Polish readers are very exacting. If they discover a mistake, they write to the publishing house or point it out in social media. I know plenty of cases like that.”

Translations the rights for which KaBooks handled in 2021. Image: KaBooks

‘My Dream Place To Live’

‘Barcelona was always my dream place to live. And since I’m a translator and literary scout in Spanish and Catalan literature,” Jaszecka says. “I used to travel a lot between Poland and Spain” while still living in Poland.

“It takes a lot of patience, objectivity, and understanding of different markets’ characteristics to suggest the right Polish book to a rights person.”Karolina Jaszecka, KaBooks

“About seven years ago, my family and I decided to pack our things and move to Barcelona. So I worked there as a freelancer and also as foreign rights agent in a prestigious Antonia Kerrigan agency, as well as with Planeta.

“Because people in the Spanish publishing world knew I’m Polish—Karolina, ‘la polaca’—editors were sometimes asking me about Polish books, authors, recommendations, and even some reading reports. I found out that in Poland there was no literary agency specialized in books for children. But the demand was huge because with some great exceptions—such as Dwie Siostry—smaller, independent publishing houses didn’t have their own foreign rights managers. I had the know-how.

“As a scout working with many agents, I knew exactly what kind of agent I’d like to be. And setting the agency in Barcelona was an added value, because it’s in the heart of the Spanish-language publishing world. Normally, however, I don’t emphasize that KaBooks is based in Barcelona, because I specialize in Polish books—so it might be confusing.”

The easiest part of her success,” Jaszecka says, “was to persuade Polish publishers to collaborate. They trusted me, they were very open to all my suggestions, supported my work, and had a lot of patience. Working with all of them is a pure pleasure and I think that during these five years we’ve learned many things from each other.

“The greatest challenges,” she says, “appeared at the beginning when I had to organize my work, because I’m still actively scouting and translating. But I’m a woman and a very organized person, so I was able to split my time between all the tasks.”

Jaszecka says she’s aware that, even now, there’s “a kind of resistance to Polish literature. Some editors think it’s very exotic. The language is strange. Sometimes the illustrations’ style is considered too sophisticated. So it takes a lot of patience, objectivity, and understanding of different markets’ characteristics to suggest the right book to a rights person.

“It’s a big challenge,” Jaszecka says, “but I also find it fascinating. I closed my first deal almost a year after founding KaBooks, but now that book is translated into eight languages.”

Her newest challenge, she says, “is to represent a few selected authors and illustrators directly, with their new projects.”

‘A Wise Tool’

As regards the unprovoked Russian war on Ukraine, Jaszecka’s catalogue includes a previously created listing of pertinent young people’s literature from Poland—now universally applauded for its generous reception of more than 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees, at this writing.

That listing, called “Big People’s Wars/Small People’s Stories,” includes  Now Our Home Is Here by Barbara Gawryluk and Maciej Szymanowicz.

“I think these books can be a wise tool to talk with children about many difficult topics related to conflicts, refugees,” Jaszecka says.

“The stories are told from the point of view of children, and the protagonists are from different countries and live in different times. Some of them are fictional, some are true stories, especially the ones from the Second World War.”

In Now Our Home Is Here, “a family has to escape from Donetsk in 2014 to Poland,” Jaszecka says, “and the main protagonists, two boys, are trying to assimilate the thought that they won’t go back to Ukraine. They have to get used to a new home, school, children, which is not easy.”

She says she also supports an initiative of Wroclaw’s city library “to collect books already published in Ukrainian and Russian to use them in workshops and events for refugee children.

“Many foreign publishers have complimentary copies of different translations that usually collect dust on the shelves and now they can make good use of them.”

Publishers with which KaBooks is working

Catch up with all our coverage of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing industry and players. 

More from Publishing Perspectives on literary agents is here, more on rights is here, more on Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here and more on younger readers’ literature is here

More from Publishing Perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic and its impact is here.

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