Friday, 19 April 2013

Lucky thirteen at LBF?

There were nearly three weeks between Bologna and the London Book Fair but in the meantime I had another trip to Italy, teaching American women writers on the Writers' Renaissance course. The organiser for that, Julie Hedlund, took the above photo of the LBF entrance, where I managed to meet her at the end of a bewildering day. I wonder how many people, like Julie and myself, have had a really hectic literary spring?

Last year, three of us went to LBF together: myself, Lucy Coats and Anne Rooney. This year, with the same companions, I had fewer appointments and more time for talks and seminars (must get my act together sooner next year!). But I found almost all the sessions I went to deeply disappointing - not enough preparation or thinking by the participants and too many people not delivering what the label said on the tin.

There was nothing I went to as good as Nicolette Jones' interview with Patrick Ness last year but I might just have been unlucky. Not sure why I wrote "kill me now" in my notes but that was in one of the better sessions.

As always, it's the serendipitous encounters that make a Fair worth attending by an author.

This was our "office" last year, a table in the Illustrators' Bar in the Children's Zone. And indeed we did start with coffee there this year but soon found a quieter area near the seminar rooms upstairs. The only trouble was at times many other people had found it too but I did have one very good talk with an academic I had arranged to meet at LBF.

People ask "why should a writer go to a Rights Fair?" and mutter darkly about cattle and markets but I think you need to know what you want to get from your visit. Here's my list:

• a chance to meet people who will be in London for the Fair (convenient to fit appointments all in one time and space, especially if you no longer live in the capital)
• a further chance to catch up with your publishers when the whole team is likely to be there - editorial, sales, rights, publicity
• an extra meeting with your agent
• serendipitous encounters in the aisles
• random parties and launches which are fun and might lead to useful new contacts
• a sight of forthcoming books and possible identification of trends
• possible insights from sessions attended (sparse this year)

You come back from the Fair with catalogues, flyers, a sheaf of business cards and, if you're lucky, a headful of ideas. But you have to go with an open mind and be determined not to be overwhelmed by thoughts of insignificance in the face of giant posters of authors' faces and book jackets of bestsellers. You have to be more like Zaphod Beeblebrox faced with the fairy cake in the Total Perspective Vortex and less like Fanny Price arriving at Mansfield Park.

Chutzpah is the essential ingredient that will get you into parties, make you memorable to publishers and promote your books or even your "brand" if you are lucky enough to have one.

These charming young people were advertising Superego by Julia Wurz, wife of Formula 1 racing driver Alex Wurz, who had self-published her novel.  I haven't read it but I admired the promotion.

Self-publishing was one of the dominant themes of the Fair, according to the Bookseller, who bring out a daily edition on all three days. The Alliance of Independent Authors was celebrating its first birthday and if you want to know what they do, you'll get a better idea from Orna Ross's article in Publishing Talk than from the session at the Fair.

Self-publishing and the setting up of small independent publishing houses, like Peirene Press, were everywhere. You have to find a gap in the market, a niche that no-one else is interested in filling.

Su Swallow, Andrew Macmillan and Anne Rooney

This is the launch of a brand-new imprint, ReadZone, so new they weren't in the Fair catalogue and didn't have a stand. This was their office this year:

But I expect they'll have a much bigger presence next year! ReadZone launched on the first day of the Fair, offering titles for 5-25 year-olds. They bought a lot of books from Evans when it ceased trading and have an attractive catalogue full of everything from a tie-in with the film Untouchable to graphic novel versions of Dickens and Shakespeare. I predict we'll be seeing a lot of their stylish orange owl in future.

Social Networking continues to be a big issue, though there are few signs of its being well-used by writers. We can't all be John Green - alas - but it should surely be easy enough to help writers learn the difference bewtween a website and a blog, Twitter and Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest. The difference between a personal Facebook account and an Author Page.

One of the best sessions I attended was on Blogging. Nina Douglas, Publicity Manager of Orion and Kat McKenna, Children's Marketing and Publicity Executive for Simon & Schuster interviewed Casey Devoren of Dark Readers and Jo Stapley of Once Upon a Bookcase. They were both hooked on YA books and series, Jo especially on Urban Fantasy. Actually, from the way they spoke, it's probably New Adult (NA) that really floats their boats and they have extended their reviewing to cover adult titles too.

This session was full of useful references and links and even advice for would-be bloggers. Watch this space to see what I have learned!

New Adult was another theme of the Fair but does it really exist? Not many people had a satisfactory definition for it. Brenda Gardner of Piccadilly Press thought it a convenient term. Victoria Barnsley, HarperCollins m.d., had suggested to Radio 4's You and Yours programme, which broadcast live from the Fair on the first day that it was a "publishers' construct" that she didn't really believe in. Cat Banks, however,  who is the Children's category buyer for Bertrams, thought NA came "between where young adult ends and contemporary women’s romance starts”.

One very experienced scout, who shall be nameless, gave me the definition for NA = "badly written" and what I heard of the genre, if it is one, at the Fair gave some credibility to that. So far, it seems to be YA + sex. The most interesting thing I heard about it is that most titles sell 70% digitally and 30% print.

London Book Fair is not as easy to understand as Bologna; the signage is poor and people waste a lot of time getting lost - though this can also lead to those serendipitous encounters which are so important. Maybe it falls somewhere between Bologna (children's only) and Frankfurt (where I have never been). The Rights Centre on the first floor is certainly more Orwellian than the Agents' Centre in Bologna; maybe that's appropriate for the rash of Dystopian novels that keep coming.

But they do have a branch of The Ivy up there, where you can get seafood and champagne. I dread to think what that might cost when a small bottle of water is £2.20 and a sandwich and drink can set you back £8. On one of my visits upstairs, I limited myself to a cup of tea, courtesy of a friend and literary agent in the US. I am, please note, a cheap date.

Still, I'll be back next year. I think I have become a Book Fair addict. Is there an App for that?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Bologna 2013 Day Three

This was a special Bologna - the 50th anniversary of the Children's Books Rights Fair that had started back in 1964 with about twenty publishers round a table in a palazzo in the town centre. This year there were 1,200 exhibitors from more than 70 countries. Since 1967, there has also been an Illustrators' Exhibition and this year's Special Guest was Sweden.

My first official port of call on Day Three was Scholastic but I had time to nip in quickly and say hello to Kate Wilson on the Nosy Crow stand. They are now publishing in over twenty languages and are up to fifty titles a year - which Kate thinks is a good limit. Lucy Coats  has a very disgusting pirate picture book coming out with them next year, called Captain Beastlie's Birthday, illustrated by Chris Mould, who is currently on the shortlist for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Scholastic had some nice picture books too - The Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Docherty and Woolly by Sam Childs, about a baby mammoth born naked and chilly. M.D. Hilary Murray Hill was very upbeat about the future of books, not giving any credence to the idea that YA was on the wane.
"The quality of the writing comes first," she said, about any book that comes over her desk, whether YA or whatever age group and in whatever genre.

It was a bit disorientating to visit Alyx Price on the Macmillan stand! She had been their head of Publicity eight years ago, when she went to Scholastic at the same time as Marion Lloyd, Kate Wilson and Alison Green. Now she's back at Macmillan doing maternity leave cover and was telling me about their new books only weeks into the new job.

The gold standard picture book author and current Children's Laureate Julia Donaldson has a new title, Sugarlump and the Unicorn coming out next year, illustrated by Lydia Monks. And the new young talent Rebecca Cobb, who had just won the Waterstone's Prize, has a new book called Aunt Amelia, which was attracting attention. It was a bit retro, nicely reminiscent of the early days of Joihn Burningham and Brian Wildsmith.

I promised to tell you the story about the Faroe Islands. Above you can see me and Ros talking to our Faroese Publisher, Niels Jakup Thomsen at the launch party. Janetta mentioned it in her speech but this what happened: The Faroese government had a debate coming up on Gay marriage, so Niels thought he would give every MP a copy of The Great Book Book of Families, which happens to contain one line and one illustration that takes it for granted that some families have two mums or two dads.

There are only 33 MPs in the Faroese Government but it was an imaginative plan. A television company filmed one of the three Christian Party MPs opening the book, with the predictable harumphing. So then Niels himself was on the TV defending the book!

So, it was Day Three and we were going home in the afternoon. I just had time for three more appointments.  First up was Stephanie Thwaites, the Children's Agent at Curtis Brown. She made an interesting point that it's harder to sell books with male protagonists than female. (My two current projects both have male leads!) Her client Martin Bedford, who had done so well at Walker with his book Flip, had switched to a female lead for his new title, Neverending.

Stephanie was not the only person to suggest there is a trend developing towards contemporary romance.

I met three students from Oxford Brookes' Publishing MA, who were enterprisingly visiting the Fair and seemed very on the ball with all the latest developments. And then it was time for a final lunch in one of the restaurants at the Fair - this time with Venetian Professor Laura Tosi, who has written a book in Italian about English children's books, and critic Peter Hunt, a now retired academic, who wrote many articles for the children's literature journal Signal.

And back to the UK, after another 40-minute wait on the runway for the same reason as on the way out and a baggage-reclaim delay caused by a machine getting stuck in the doorway!  I crawled into bed at midnight after three full days and three short nights, knowing I must sort through pages of notes, handfuls of business cards and a suitcase full of Rights catalogues.

Not everything was the same as in years past - including the weather - but on the whole another good Fair and a sense that children's books were holding up well in the recession.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Bologna 2013 Day Two

Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre and the Seawigs at OUP's stand

My last post began with a picture of Sarah McIntyre  and this one opens with the lady herself in all her pantomime glory! She and Philip Reeve attracted a lot of attention in the costumes they donned to promote Oliver and the Seawigs, a quartet of books initially inspired but soon elaborated from the CWIG group of the Society of Authors (which actually stands for Children's Writers and Illustrators Group). A happy conjunction all round for OUP.

And a more cheerful sight than Lucy and me gnashing our teeth and pulling our hair over the non-functionality of WiFi in our hotel and at the Fair. That is not pretty.

But there was not long to lament it as my first hour was at the big Bonnier stand, first with Hot Key and then with Templar.

Hot Key go from strength to strength. They publishing nine titles last year, one of which - Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon - won the children's Costa Award and is shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. In 2013 there will be fifty! This is Maggot Moon's adult cover, which I much prefer, with its flavour of Stalinist propaganda posters.

One of the things much talked about as a new trend in YA was crime and thrillers and Hot Key are publishing next year the sequel to Anne Cassidy's Looking for JJ, which will be called Finding Jennifer Jones. It will be ten years, coincidentally, since Anne herself was shortlisted for the Costa, when it was still called the Whitbread, with Looking for JJ (and won the Booktrust Teenage Book Prize for it).

If YA Crime really is making a comeback., Anne Cassidy will clean up, since she has always written in that genre and has a series out at present with Bloomsbury, called The Murder Notebooks. Hot Key publish a large range of genres, from historical fiction by Lydia Syson to Matt Whyman's The Savages, about a family of cannibals.

Templar had one of the most attractive picture books at the Fair, Winter's Child by Graham Baker-Smith.

They were celebrating ten years of their -Ology titles with Dinosaurology, the twelfth in the series, which has sold 16 million copies in 35 languages. Another exciting forthcoming title from them is Cate Cain's The Jade Boy, a d├ębut novel in September about what really started the Great Fire of London.

The rest of the day went on my own work, first meeting with Liber magazine, an Itlain journal for children's books, for which I write the occasional article and then the Italian publishers Lo Stampatello, who publish my Great Big Books from Frances Lincoln.

Riccardo Pontegobbi of Liber and Maria Silvia Fuengo of Lo Stampatello

I am writing a very hard book for Frances Lincoln and Lo Stampatello! More of that next year perhaps. But in Bologna we were spending part of the second day launching The Great Big Book of Feelings, written by me, illustrated by Ros Asquith, edited and published by Janetta Otter-Barry and Art Directed by Judith Escreet. We really are an "awesome foursome" when working together.

First there was a splendid party at Frances Lincoln's new stand, as part of Quarto.

Me with my Slovenian publishers and Rights Manager Caterina Favaretto
That's prosecco we are drinking. I don't - perhaps fortunately - have a photo of the multi-course meal we had at da Fabio afterwards, so here is a picture of the book we are celebrating!

Next time I will try to post a link to the video and tell you the Faroese story.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Bologna 2013 Day One

Photo by Sarah McIntyre At Heathrow 24th March 2013

It starts Day One minus one really, as large numbers of publishers, agents and a small sprinkling of writers and illustrators gather at the airport on Sunday. In this picture you see Liz Cross from OUP, Christine Baker from Gallimard, myself, Jane Churchill, who organises the Cheltenham Book Festival and scouts for Gallimard, and fellow author and Fair Companion Lucy Coats. Whacky artist (of which more below) Sarah McIntyre took the shot.

We also saw writer Philip Reeve, illustraor Axel Scheffler, agents Catherine Clarke, Claire Wilson and Sophie Hicks and publishers Fiona Kennedy, Helen Boyle and Ingrid Selberg. On the plane I sat next to agents Sarah Molloy and Jennifer Custer from A M Heath and had plenty of time to chat as we waited for an hour for an unaccompanied bag to be taken off the plane. Surely no-one in the children's book world would have gone to the bar at 3pm and become too tired and emotional to board the plane for Bologna?

So we missed our first party (Random House) but had a much-needed glass of prosecco with Lucy's agent Sophie Hicks and then dinner. We were all ready to hit the Fair bright and early for the first real day.

We both visited the Press Office first, bypassing the huge queues, as I was covering the Fair for BookBrunch and Armadillo and Lucy for Publishing Talk.  And my first appointment was very easy - coffee with my Finnish publisher from Tammi in the Agents' Centre bar.

I am always amazed by the output and fame of writers in other countries that we simply don't know about here.Salla Simukka has written ten books already and is still only thirty; Elna Rouhiainen is only 24! If only we were less resistant to translated European literature.

Then my proper meeting with Sarah Molloy and Jennifer Custer and an introduction to a new genre for me - the "wilderness thriller." S. R. Johannes had developed her book Untraceable through the Alliance of Independent Authors, a collective of self-publishing authors and advisers that Jennifer works with a lot. Untraceable is already an Amazon bestseller and Johannes is not bothered about a conventional publishing deal.

Dodging two ?men in bright green velour onesies (this sort of thing happens all the time at Bologna) I met with Jane Walker from Barrington Stoke. They've had a great year, which saw their fifteenth anniversary, with profits up 20%, reflecting the wider scene in children's books, which has been by far the healthiest part of the publishing industry. Barrington Stoke prides itself on getting top names to write for them and have new titles from Meg Rosoff, Darren Shan, Anne Fine, Gillian Cross and Eoin Coifer.

They are also getting into picture books, with titles by Michael Morpurgo, Mike Rosen and Charlie Higson. And they are not the only ones. I met with Charlotte Williams who was covering the Fair for The Bookseller and we agreed that though day one was early to judge, the revival of picture books was a marked feature. Faber were starting a picture book list - four titles at year - and Templar have started the Big Picture Press.

I'll have more to say about picture books in my next couple of posts.