Publishers are looking to move beyond the “smoke screen” of erotica as the Frankfurt Book Fair begins, with one leading UK editor saying a new era of acquisitions has dawned.
Looking to this year’s FBF, Faber editorial director Lee Brackstone said conversations will be more wide-ranging and collaborative. “The idea of sitting here in the two weeks before Frankfurt and waiting for big agents to send in their manuscripts is gone really. The era to seize the day and to not be passive has come. I think the way we’re acquiring is changing. We’re not necessarily starting with books now, we are copyrighting ideas and turning them into books down the line. I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he said.
However, Brackstone was also among the editors that stressed print rights must not be ignored in favour of digital deals and excitement over self-publishing properties.
Simon & Schuster publishing director Suzanne Baboneau agreed. “Digital is here but the world is not all digital . . . they can co-exist. We are excited about the self-publishing opportunities but also excited about the more traditional submissions that are coming forward, too,” she said.
Meanwhile, publishers agreed Fifty Shades and erotica would remain a talking point, but the “smoke screen” created is being lifted, leaving editors looking to more traditional genres, such as thrillers, for their acquisitions.
Macmillan publishing director Wayne Brookes said: “I think that smoke screen is rising now, and probably the J K Rowling publication has released other books, and taken some of the thunder away. We are allowed to publish [other] things again.”
Kate Elton, HarperFiction publisher, argued that Fifty Shades had opened up the women’s fiction market, with romance likely to be a key trend in fair acquisitions.
Other publishers countered that the dominance of Fifty Shades had brought an element of uncertainty as to what else might succeed, but on the other hand it proved that it was still possible to sell high volumes of books.
Constable & Robinson editorial director Andreas Campomar said: “Where do you go from here? These big books influence buying decisions. There is always going to be a hangover when the market has been phenomenal. It’s like going to the best party of your life and the next night being offered a quiet dinner party. It’s a comedown. On the other hand, it is very encouraging the sheer scale of books that can be sold in the current market.”
One of the big acquisitions of the fair so far is a digital-first deal for Faber, which has acquired a new novel from art historian turned author Iain Pears. It will be published in app form six months before the print version is published.
Henry Volans, Faber’s head of digital, described it as a “natively digital novel in how it is written, edited and read” that Faber had long been seeking. He added: “Iain’s project does not seek to be digital for the sake of it, instead it enables Iain to tell stories as he has always wished to do.”
The novel, Arcadia, takes the form of a purpose-built app for different mobile devices, and is made up of a mix of genres, periods and styles, with readers gaining different understandings of the novel depending on the order in which they access the narrative.
Pears’ novels include The Instance of the Fingerpost, Stone’s Fall and a series of mysteries with art historian/detective Jonathan Argyll.
He described digital publishing as “scary” but said it provided the unique flexibility he wanted. “Arcadia is, first and foremost, a story. But to work it needs the flexibility which only a digital format can provide. Fortunately, the editors at Faber immediately grasped what I am trying to do, and rather than trying to force the project back into more orthodox publishing formats, have enthusiastically offered to help.”
Arcadia is planned for digital launch in autumn 2013, with a revised print and e-book edition in spring 2014.
Faber has world English language rights to the app edition, with agent Felicity Bryan handling US rights. Translation rights will be handled by Andrew Nurnberg Associates.