International Rights Pros at Frankfurt: Trends and Titles

In Feature Articles by Jaroslaw Adamowski

With the sold-out Literary Agents & Scouts Center here at Frankfurter Buchmesse in full swing, we hear from literary agents on what issues and books are top-of-mind this season.

In the Literary Agents and Scouts Center at Frankfurter Buchmesse, 2009. Image: FBM, Alexander Heimann

By Jarosław Adamowksi | @JaroslawAdamows
With Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Comfort Fiction,’ ‘Longsellers,’ and Cozies
As the sold-out Literary Agents & Scouts Center (LitAg) here at Frankfurter Buchmesse gets into full swing this week, we wanted to get a sampling of what literary agents and rights experts are talking about this season.

Among the diversity and high-level expertise from these agents, there are so many cogent reactions and observations in how these industry veterans are seeing the business as we near the end of 2022.

You’ll even hear a term coined here that some dictionary practitioners don’t know yet: “longsellers.”

Gregory Messina
Linwood Messina Literary Agency, Paris
Table G33 in the LitAg

“I see recent trends continuing into 2023, such as cozy crimes. International editors still seem to be looking for series in the genre and also what I would call ‘comfort fiction.’  I’m not sure if the term is already out there but to me ‘comfort fiction’ is wider in scope than feel-good fiction.  It can encompass multiple genres but ones that provide comfort to the reader be it a cozy crime, romance, romantic comedy, and so on.

Books from Linwood Messina:

  •  “A French cozy crime series entitled in English A Murderous Melody in Saint-Malo: The Corrigan Ladies Investigate by Mo Malo, a book that Les Escales is publishing in early 2023, after acquiring rights at auction in a three-book deal.  German rights already sold to Lübbe in a two book deal.”
  • The Wall by Thibaut Courtois, the autobiography of Real Madrid’s goalkeeper, considered the best in the world right now. I’m selling rights on behalf of Borgerhoff-Lamberigts, the Flemish publisher.”

Andrea Vogel
Literarische Agentur Michael Gaeb GmbH, Berlin
Table E13 in the LitAg

“I think people are more and more looking for ‘longsellers’ instead of only bestsellers, and books that can work in different formats. I see a high demand for political books—in fiction and non-fiction, including literary voices from smaller territories retelling history. But understandably, in times like these, there’s also a hunger for optimistic and uplifting books, as well as a strong request for in-depth but accessible books on economy.”

Books from Literarische Agentur Michael Gaeb:

  • “Our most promising nonfiction book this autumn is going to be The Invention of Good and Evil: A World History of Morality by the German philosopher Hanno Sauer: An eye-opening tour de force through 5 million years of human history following the traces of the universal moral values that unite us all.”
  • “And we’re very excited about Requiem by Jewish-German author Karl Alfred Loeser, which is a stunning literary rediscovery from the 1930s, found in an attic in São Paulo.”

Laura Palomares
Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, Barcelona

“We feel that genuine and fresh new voices from Latin America are working well around the world, especially in English-language countries. We’ve seen good international attention in the publication of Witches by Brenda Lozano, for instance.”

Books from Balcells:

  • “Dainerys Machado’s Portraits from the Sea, a brilliant short-story collection with strong-minded women in their thirties as main characters—all somehow connected to the sea—from one of the most promising Granta-selected writers under 35, the Cuban writer Dainerys Machado.”
  • “Santiago Posteguillo’s Roma Soy Yo. Taking into account that Spain is guest of honor at Frankfurt this year, this first incredible installment of the saga of Julius Caesar, with more than 150,000 copies sold in Spain and rights sold to Ballentine in English, Piemme in Italian, Bourdon in Czech, and Otwarte in Polish is certainly one of our highlights.”

Lena Stjernström
Grand Agency, Stockholm
Table D32 in the LitAg

“The main trend we’re seeing for 2023 is a curiosity for what has sold well during the years we haven’t seen each other. Stories that stand out. So if it’s a crime novel, it should have something more than just a police investigation. If general fiction, it should be something we haven’t seen before in time or place or style.”

Books from Grand Agency:

  • “Charlotte Al Khalili’s Maelstrom, an innovative approach to Nordic noir focusing not only on the victim and the police, but on all the people who are affected by a horrific crime.”
  • “Cilla and Rolf Börjlind’ The Astonishing Tale of Georg von Nothing, a tall tale with humor, generosity, and pure joy in the spirit of John Steinbeck or the early John Irving books.”

Elina Ahlbäck
Elina Ahlbäck Literary Agency, Helsinki
Tables J24, i24 and i25 (“i” is a letter, not a numeral) in the LitAg
(“We are four agents attending. Last time we attended was in 2019. After so many years, it’s wonderful to be back!”)

“We can already see that one main trend for 2023 in international translation and publication sales is the demand and the need for classic, epic, unique stories set in the Nordic countries, in atmospheric settings and landscapes. Readers want uplifting, big epic stories in wonderful unique and exotic settings with important messages: escapism is a big trend. Another main trend is how to find meaning and gentleness in this turbulent uncertain world. This is where big thinkers and visionary researchers and authors can give gifts to the world by helping people to find meaning in work-life balance and to find gentle power, sisu, in the world of constant challenges and crises.”

Books from the Ahlbäck Agency:

  • “Our big title for Frankfurt is a family saga called Inherited Land by an award-winning and internationally bestselling author, Maria Turtschaninoff. In the tradition of family sagas like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez this episodic novel depicts human relationships with nature across centuries and generations, and tells multiple enchanting stories about short human lives on a small farmstead in the north of Finland with its golden cloudberries and the mythical woodland animals. A marsh close to the family’s farmstead holds a magical secret and humans are like dragonflies.”
  • Meaning Manifesto by the internationally bestselling author and leading explorer Frank Martela opens our minds to understand why work needs to have purpose and what needs to change: Frank Martela explains the why, what, and how of meaningful work for both employees and for managers, to guide a revolution towards work with authentic purpose.
  • Gentle Power by sisu researcher Elisabet Lahti, a former student of Angela Duckworth, gives the world more gentleness and kindness in our everyday life and leadership. It’s about learning to develop a good heart and fighting a fair fight to integrate both our strong and soft sides.”

Marina Huguet
Editorial Flamboyant, Barcelona
Spanish collective stand E30, Hall 4.1

“I believe the trend of books on climate change and conservation will remain steady, and we’ll be seeing more books on different subjects related to feminism, such as body confidence. Another steady trend that will keep going is social emotional intelligence. Politics will be in many books, as well. In middle grade or even work for early readers, we see a strong comeback of detective stories with animals as the protagonists. STEAM subjects [science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics] will stay on the rise, too, especially in robotics.”

Books from Editorial Flamboyant:

  • “We’re presenting a hilarious picture book titled A Terrific Gift, and another book in our catalogue is Fake Over, a humorous and helpful guide to help teenagers detect fake news.”

Marleen Seegers
2 Seas Agency, Ojai, California
Tables i10 and i11 in the LitAg (“i” is a letter, not a numeral here) in the LitAg

“We continue to see more publications of diverse, under-represented voices, books that explore identity, and are seeing an increase in demand for literary fiction with an apocalyptic/sci-fi setting or that contain other fantastical elements.”

Books from 2 Seas:

  • “Alejandro Varela’s debut novel The Town of Babylon, which we represent worldwide on behalf of its publisher, Astra House in the United States. It’s on the longlist of the 2022 National Book Awards for Fiction, which we’re all thrilled about and has already piqued the interest of many foreign publishers.”
  • “Touhfat Mouhtare’s Le Feu du Milieu (The Fire Within), which we represent worldwide on behalf of its French publisher, Le Bruit du Monde. Set in the author’s original home, the Comoros Islands, it’s a singular coming-of-age novel that tilts into Arabian Nights-like wonder. It’s a riveting novel, unlike anything I’ve read.”

Urtė Liepuoniūtė
Helsinki Literary Agency, Helsinki
Tables o22 and o23 (“o” is a letter, not a numeral here) in the LitAg

“I would say I’m seeing two quite clear trends at the moment that international publishers are looking for, at least, in literature from Finland at the moment:

  • “‘Captivating plot’ and ‘literary, yet accessible’ literature. In other words, our highly literary titles that have more complicated structures or themes will be definitely harder to push.
  • “A comeback of cozy crime in the department of crime/commercial fiction.”

Books from the Helsinki Agency:

  • “At this year’s Frankfurt, we have great expectations for Iiida Rauma’s novel Destruction: A Case Study. She’s a quite clear candidate to be nominated for the most prestigious literary prize in the country, the Finlandia Prize, so we’re hoping good things will happen this autumn.”
  • “In commercial fiction, Ann-Christin Antell’s Cotton Mill trilogy is a clear favorite. I’m quite confident that we’ll have at least 10 territories for this one by the end of the year.”

Valeria Agliuzzo
Edizioni Centro Studi Erickson SpA, Trento
Hall 4.2, Stand E28

“We don’t follow ‘editorial trends.’ We’re mainly focused on educational titles–books to support students, teachers, parents in the learning, teaching, support process, inclusive of methodologies. In our field, in the most recent years, the interest has been mainly concentrated on children’s game workbooks whose purpose is to let pupils learn while having fun.”

Books from Edizioni Centro Studi Erickson:

Florence Pariente
Ttipi, an international children’s book rights agency in Nantes
French collective stand, Hall 4, A42

“I represent three French publishers: Amaterra, La Cabane Bleue, and Talents Hauts, as well as Lecturita (Argentina), Tra Publishing (United States), and Viction Viction (Hong Kong). I don’t really work with ‘main trends.’ I represent upmarket publishers who try to convey original stories in the most enjoyable, creative, poetic way.

“More than a trend, we’re definitely facing a down-to-earth challenge for innovative formats: the printing cost! We have to find the right balance between the ‘wow’ effect our books produce on readers and international publishers, and a cost that remains as reasonable as possible. I do hope the main trends of the previous years, with topics such as diversity, differences–ethnic, cultural, physical, mental–genre, and ecology will continue to spread in countries where they’re still too rare, whereas I hope they’ll remain important but implicitly evident in all books elsewhere. I feel it’s time to stop giving heavy moral lessons to children whom we keep telling they can change the world, putting a lot of pressure on their little shoulders.”

Books from Ttipi:

“One of the publishers I represent, Tra, has just released a clever and fun nonfiction title, Octopuses Have Zero Bones by Anne Richardson and Andrea Antinori. It’s already sold in 11 languages but it deserves more, so I will highlight it in Frankfurt. It’s an unconventional and delightful counting book for curious minds, with numbers as an entry point to discover the amazing, diverse, fact-filled world of wonders all around us, from zero to infinity.”

“As for the most impressive format, it would definitely be at Éditions Amaterra, All Dark by Gilles Baum and Amandine Piu, whose previous book Fear Street has been published in six languages. Telling the poetic story of a little girl who goes search for her mum in the dark streets of New York during a power failure, All Dark is a stunning three-color leporello with delicate die-cuts that opens like a matchbox.”

Alexander Dobler
UnderCover Literary Agents, Cologne
Table D25 in the LitAg

“There’s a lot of buzz about new female authors from all around the world but my personal guess is that the trend to focus on is established brands and authors–likely to continue with times being as insecure as they are. However, a new curiosity [about new female authors] is notable in all meetings we’re having ahead of the fair, both digitally and in person.”

Books from UnderCover:

  • Alberto Camello by Gusti is a very powerful fable about diversity, colorfully and charismatically illustrated in friendly tones and absolutely gorgeous.”
  • “Rabia by Sebastià Alzamora is masterful, terrifying take on the existentialist novel.”

Gina Winje
Winje Agency, Porsgrunn
Norway collective stand, Hall 4.0, A82

Books from the Winje Agency:

  • “As a small, independent agency, I work in the literary field, and see literary novels of high quality. One is My Men by Victoria Kielland, a novel which continues to sell well in 2022.”
  • “Epic thrillers and family sagas with compelling plots are always interesting, as well, such as The Cemetery of the Sea by Aslak Nore, a huge seller in 2021 which continues to sell in 2022.”

LeeAnn Bortolussi
Giunti Editore, Milan
Giunti Editore’s stand is in 4.1, G19

“In terms of trends, of course it’s not the best moment for full color books, illustrated books. We’re seeing a lot of activity with lifestyle and health-related titles. Children’s nonfiction is always strong, as are vivacious characters for young readers. And adult fiction and nonfiction are holding their own with big, strong stories and smart, often scientific, nonfiction being well-appreciated by most markets.”

Books from Giunti:

“We’ll be bringing many titles to Frankfurt from the Giunti group, but two I have my eye on are:

  • “A beautiful art book on architect Renzo Piano & RPBW that we’ve just published.
  • “A women’s fiction family saga coming in early 2023 entitled La donna che visse nelle città di mare (The Woman Who Lived in Seaside Towns).”

This is a story from our Frankfurter Buchmesse Show Magazine, now out in print on the Messe Frankfurt for trade visitors and exhibitors, and here in a free digital download for our world readership online.

The magazine has extensive coverage of issues and trends that are leading discussions and debates at the trade show this year, along with interviews, profiles, and commentary in this strongly attended Frankfurt year. Click here for your download (PDF).

More on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, more on the international rights trade is here, more on this year’s Guest of Honor Spain is here, more on guest of honor programs and markets is here, more on international book fairs is here, and more on industry statistics is here.

More from us on the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Jaroslaw Adamowski

Jaroslaw Adamowski is a freelance writer based in Warsaw, Poland. He has written for the Guardian, the Independent, the Jerusalem Post, and the Prague Post.