Nelson’s internationalist roster pays dividends for Janklow & Nesbit

Nelson’s internationalist roster pays dividends for Janklow & Nesbit

The organisers of the Eurovision Song Contest aren’t aware they are helping rights sales in the publishing business—but that’s because they haven’t spoken to Janklow & Nesbit foreign rights director Zoe Nelson.

She is a passionate “Eurovisionist” and believes you can learn a lot about markets from watching the show and studying the voting blocs. “We re-submitted Rangan Chatterjee’s The 4 Pillar Plan in Scandinavia following the huge success of the Swedish edition, and got a five-figure pre-empt in Norway. In Eurovision, Sweden and Norway definitely do vote for one another.”

Nelson also enjoys the annual extravaganza because “you can also learn about the characteristics of different countries”, something that she likes to use when selling, taking an emotional intelligence approach. “I think that to sell well you have to understand people, to understand cultural differences and to change your pitch according to the person. I don’t like to talk about more than five books in a book fair meeting and it’s more of a match-making process. I like to ask editors what they’ve loved recently, find out what they’re passionate about, and then try and match them with the right book. It’s like buying the perfect present for someone.”

Without wishing to labour a point, like many of us she also finds the show absurd fun, too. It clearly appeals to Nelson’s love of larger-than-life spectacles, something that may have its roots in her childhood in London’s Notting Hill—where Janklow has its UK office—with the famous carnival just a few minutes’ walk from where the family lived. “I grew up in this international environment, which informs what I do now.”

States of change

This year’s Frankfurt is an important one for Janklow, since it is the first which sees the UK outfit representing titles from the US office. Explaining the move, Nelson says the contract with Janklow’s previous representation had come to an end, and it made sense to bring all the agency’s books underneath the Janklow umbrella. “It gives us this incredible opportunity to offer a completely bespoke service for our authors, pairing our US authors with a UK agent in our office here, in addition to their US agent, and a dedicated rights team of four leading international strategy and dividing up international territories between them.”

To cope with the increased workload—the US office has 17 agents—Janklow UK has hired Emma Winter from Pan Macmillan as foreign rights manager, which, alongside rights executive Ellis Hazelgrove and new rights assistant Maimy Suleiman, brings the team up to four. Titles from the US office include some distinguished names, among them Danielle Steel, who is still producing an incredible seven books a year. She is published in more than 30 territories, Nelson notes, adding that with some of the authors they will now be handling, they will look again to see if there are any brands that can be refreshed and taken into new territories.

On the books

Among authors the team will now be looking after are Michael Crichton, Thomas Harris, Anne Rice, Jeffrey Eugenides and André Aciman, whose Find Me, the sequel to Call Me By Your Name, has sold in 35 territories. It will also sell the writer and critic Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts (one of Nelson’s favourites), and a strong YA list that includes Becky Albertalli, author of Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give.

Nelson and Winter are splitting the major direct territories (Germany, Italy, Holland, France and Spain) by genre, with Nelson looking after literary fiction and literary non-fiction, and Winter looking after commercial fiction and non-fiction, children’s and Young Adult fiction. “This way we’re not spread too thin,” says Nelson, “and it enables us to see multiple editors in a house”.

Hot books from the UK side include Dutch author Rutger Bregman’s Humankind, his follow-up to Utopia For Realists, and Antonio Padilla’s Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them, which has sold in 10 territories already.

The US side has Ronan Farrow’s full account of the Harvey Weinstein scandal Catch and Kill, published simultaneously on 15th October in the UK, US, France, Germany, Holland and Italy, and sure to rack up more territories at the fair. There is also a literary début, Paris is a Party, Paris is a Ghost by the Korean-American author David Hoon Kim, and The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, a literary historical novel about the Italian takeover of Ethiopia.

The long game

On the market in general, she says publishers are more cautious, particularly in Europe. “There is a shift in non-fiction, from buying on proposal to buying on finished manuscript or publication. So Matt Parker’s Humble Pi sold on proposal to two countries, but notched up close to 20 territories post-publication.”

Which just leaves the inevitable B-word. Nelson smiles. “I think with Brexit, the role of the agent gets even more important. Fortunately we’re dealing in dollars and euros, which is a help. But it’s more important than ever to maintain international relations and not become isolationist.”

Like so many Brits at Frankfurt, she will likely have to cope with a good deal of gentle mockery, too. “There’s a lot of schadenfreude around. There’s a German publisher who said to me a while ago: ‘You know, I don’t think the Brits seem so depressed right now. There is a small glimmer of light...’ Then he paused and added: ‘It’s like the glimmer of light you see before you die.’”