Silvia Molteni on pandemic lessons and the hot trends in kids’ books

Silvia Molteni on pandemic lessons and the hot trends in kids’ books

Silvia Molteni, The Bookseller Rising Star who founded Peters, Fraser and Dunlop’s children’s books department in 2015, speaks to us about pandemic lessons and the hot trends in kids’ books. 

What do you think makes Bologna special, and what do you think the children’s books world has missed in not having an physical book fair there for the past two years?
That Bologna is solely dedicated to children’s books, as opposed to London and Frankfurt, is what makes it special, vibrant and colourful, as well as more informal and relaxed. Bologna is not only the meetings and events that are held within the fair, but also what goes on outside it, at drinks, dinners and publishing parties, where networking and deals continue to take place.

Add to that the fact that it is held in one of the most energetic, young, atmospheric and down-to-earth cities in Italy. What we have missed these past two years is certainly seeing editors, scouts, agents and authors in-person and getting a first-hand overview of the industry around the world, but also the opportunity to take in an atmosphere which sparks creativity like nothing else.

What are you looking forward to doing when we can get back to Bologna?
Catching up with everybody in-person; strolling through the bright-coloured and fascinating stands to see what publishers have been up to; cycling through the streets of Bologna on the way to the fair, or to dinners; going to the publishers’ parties in the most amaz- ing locations around the city centre.

How has the past year or so impacted your work?
This past year has been really tough. Isolation, lockdowns, remote working, lack of travelling and buzz from book fairs has certainly impacted creativ- ity. On the other hand, it has sparked a reaction of resilience and unity across the industry that has been incredible to witness. As an agent, I’ve certainly struggled to keep up with the constant changes of trends and market demands. I’ve experienced a very uncertain slush pile, and our children’s authors (especially débuts) have suffered the challenges brought by the pandemic, with schools and bookstores being closed.

Are there lessons learned over the pandemic that you will take forward?
We have definitely developed much stronger technological skills that have enabled us to stay connected throughout this, as an industry. We have had meetings with foreign and US publishers, as well as virtual foreign trips and book fairs, catching up with authors and editors in the UK and abroad. There’s a tangible aware- ness that we are able to connect and catch up at all times and we don’t necessarily have to wait for the next physical book fair to be able to do that. Video calls, webinars, online festivals and events will remain an important tool to develop and grow cohesively as an industry.

With your foreign-rights hat on: how has foreign rights trading fared in the pandemic?
The first few months of the pandemic saw an abrupt halt in foreign sales, especially in the children’s sectors, mainly due to the lockdowns, schools and bookstores being closed and the uncertainty of the situation. Most publishers focused on obvious, cautious acquisitions. Things picked up again towards the end of last summer as we adjusted to the new normal, and they have been growing steadily ever since. Despite all the difficulties, the children’s foreign markets have been performing strongly, all through last year and the first half of this year, due to high demand for content.

If this was a normal fair, what books would you be bringing?
We’re excited about our imminent summer releases, such as Susie Bower’s The Three Impossibles, The Small Things by Lisa Thompson, Onjali Q Raúf’s The Great (Food) Bank Heist and After the Rain by Natália Gomes. But we have also have some brilliant titles on submission, such as two YA titles: Perfect Girl by David Thorpe and The Eighth List by Marissa Howard. We have also been developing a list of books in translation that have been performing strongly, such as the Norwegian Alma Freng series by Ida Tufte Michelsen, and the Italian débuts Viviana Maccarini (L’Estate Che Ho Dentro) and Annalaura Guastini (Lila Tre Codini).

Overall, what do you see as the hot trends in children’s?
The healthiest sector of the market remains the middle grade area, but it’s increasingly difficult to break débuts, due to the high number of titles published each year, with non-fiction and illustrative chapter books being a new area of growth. YA in the UK continues to struggle, as this is an area dominated by the US, although editors are becoming more focused on finding new, home-grown YA voices.