Children’s publishers expect ‘upbeat’ Bologna
26.02.10 | Caroline Horn

Children’s publishers are reporting an upbeat mood as they make their final preparations for this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair (23rd to 26th March). Early indications are that there are solid reasons for publishers’ optimism, with the young adult (YA) market expected to be the focus of rights activity and signs of improvement in sales of picture books.

There is also more interest in one-off fiction deals as publishers shy away from committing to longer series. The Americans, too, are returning to Bologna, although not yet in pre-recession numbers.

Meyer’s sales may decline here and in the US this year, but internationally, the YA market is still growing, said Alex Webb, director of the Rights People agency. “YA is really taking off for us in Asia, particularly in China, and countries such as Germany, France and -Brazil are still very strong.”

Outside the paranormal genre, fiction in general will be a strong category at Bologna, said Carla Alonzi, head of children’s rights at HarperCollins Children’s Books, particularly high-profile, author-driven fiction with a strong focus on teen, YA and cross-over. Candace Bushnell’s The Carrie Diaries (Carrie Bradshaw before “Sex and the City”), for example, sold in 17 languages in pre-emptive deals before sight of the manuscript.

Interest in digital rights for fiction titles is not yet uniform although UK publishers are moving ahead with their digital developments. Hachette will launch its first range of e-books including its bestselling brand Jiggy McCue (Orchard) at Bologna, and Usborne will be releasing some key fiction titles later in the year for e-book readers.

After a “dire” two years for rights sales for picture books in the US, there are signs of improvement, said Hachette’s group rights director Andrew Sharpe. Rights business for both Orchard and Hodder picture books is up on this time last year and Orchard has high hopes for Slightly Invisible, Lauren Child’s new Charlie & Lola picture book.

Other big names likely to attract attention at Bologna are Oliver Jeffers’ Up and Down, the sequel to Lost and Found (HarperCollins) and Mr Henry, a new picture title from Judith Kerr. Random House Children’s Books will showcase Playing the Shape Game by children’s laureate Anthony Browne, a major retrospective of Browne’s life and work, which will publish in the UK in March 2011.

Bologna also provides a platform for publishers to explore licensing opportunities for their own book-based brands as television and film-based licensing becomes increasingly risky and expensive. However, the flurry of excitement in film rights deals at Bologna over the past few years, however, has abated. While the agents and scouts will be at Bologna in force, publishers predict that the keyword in the film world too, will be caution.

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