So when last I wrote, I’d had two days at the London Book Fair, with another to go. And so I did, and it was terrific, and a wonderful experience. I feel like it’s a great idea for an agent—even one whose role is not to sell foreign rights—to go and take meetings in the International rights bullpen at Earl’s Court. Part of the reason is just because it’s a good idea to inhale the atmosphere—of camaraderie and commerce, professionals jacked up on caffeine extremely focused on meeting their schedules. It’s a bit like when I spent a few summers working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. If you look from above, or on TV, it looks like chaos. But really it’s a bunch of collegial folks doing business.
So last week I said that I’d go through some of what I heard in London; what markets were wanting and hesitant to take; eager to see and backing off. Here goes (realizing that these are gross generalities, and others might have heard different):
1) Europe’s economic struggles are clearly affecting its publishers. Spain and Eastern Europe in particular were very frank in saying that previous aggressive buying has been curtailed. I went with fifteen or so books at the front of my list; my Eastern European co-agent said that they could only see being successful with around three—two of which already had buzz and several other foreign sales; the third was Anne Tyler. With Spain it was somewhat less specific, and more sad smiles and “times are hard.”
2) On the other hand, Brazil seems to be very healthy. Whether from not being in Europe or from having a large population with burgeoning readership, the word from Brazil was “lay it on us.”
3) France is…unique. I have three British historical novels (my joke is that I’m looking for one novel set in every century—to date I’m good with the 11th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries. So if you have a good thriller set around Edward III, I’m your man!). A French editor smiled, shrugged, and said “what else do you have?” She was very pleased, however, when I said that I thought the French Revolution could be the next Tudors, and was looking for a good novel set around the storming of the Bastille.
4) Everyone wants a “tentpost thriller” with a Franchise protagonist. Yes, well…
5) Nobody wants to see any more dystopian YA, particularly paranormal. Unless, of course, you know…it’s good. But that’s glib. It’s really that from the YA side, there’s a sense that we’re ready for a next trend, to come after the Hunger Games followers are exhausted, which came after the Twilight followers were exhausted. There was a bit of a sense it could simply be realistic fiction, a la John Green; or perhaps witches or angels or new shapeshifters. Zombies are finishing their cycle too, it would appear. The amazing thing, of course, is that it’s going to be the one incredible story, rather than any industry-wide desire for a trend, that will ultimately determine what will be the next Big Thing.
On Wednesday night, after the nice announcer lady kicked everyone out of Earl’s Court, I went to a pub and had my last supper in London, while I read a manuscript. While I was eating, I noticed that the pub was becoming more and more crowded, and the predominant color being worn by the locals was blue. I discovered that the Chelsea Football Club was playing a Champions League semifinals match against the powerful first-seeded Barcelona club, and the match was about to start. I almost stayed to watch, but knew it was going to become extremely crowded, and I was going to be leaving for the airport early the next morning. So I went back to my cupboard under the stairs, petted Scabbers, and watched while I packed. I’m a very big sports fan with a wide range of likes. I’d never watched a high-level soccer match of this type before, though. It was exhilarating. And Chelsea, which won 1-0, had precisely ONE shot on goal in 90 minutes. And I couldn’t take my eyes off it. This evening I saw on my friend Mark James’ Facebook page that Chelsea had—almost miraculously—defeated Barca again to advance to the finals. All I can say is Go Blues! And next time I’ll watch from the pub.