Brexit has not stopped the flow of deals struck by UK publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, as new imprints, “hungry” for big acquisitions, are stoking an “overheated” market.
Several agents and publishers spoke of competitive auctions culminating in “sky-high” prices ahead of the fair with new imprints such as Headline’s Wildfire, Orion’s Trapeze, Little Brown’s Fleet, HarperCollins’ HQ and Quercus’ riverrun eager to stamp their authority with eye-catching deals.
There were frenzied pre-fair auctions for psychological thrillers The Chalk Man by C J Tudor, won by Michael Joseph in the UK after a nine-way auction, and The Woman in the Window by A J Finn (a pseudonym for William Morrow vice-president and executive editor Daniel Mallory), which went to HarperCollins UK and William Morrow in the US. We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt, which has been sold in multiple territories, was won by Trapeze after a five-way auction. The Bookseller has previously reported all three books fetching at least a high six figures worldwide.
Alison Hennessey, editorial director of Bloomsbury, who is herself heading a new, as-yet-unnamed crime list, said: “It feels like there are a lot of new imprints, and people are hungry to buy books for those imprints. If something is good, everyone will go for it and the money will shoot up.” Agent Lorella Belli agreed: “People seem to be quite excited, with all these new imprints in the UK. The editors are in acquiring mode and there has been a lot of movement, especially in crime fiction, between editors.”
Yet Will Atkinson, m.d. of Atlantic Books, sounded a warning. “The market for copyright is overheated,” he said. “Therefore, if we’re getting into auctions we’re tending to lose them. Books of any distinction or name or strong ideas are going for a lot of money. I’ve sat around publishers’ acquisition tables for over 25 years and the numbers we’re losing out to are huge. The big companies on the whole [are paying high] but independents are also paying good money for books.”
Julia Silk at MBA Literary Agents, however, said the vibrancy was refreshing considering the negativity surrounding Brexit: “Certainly with the springing up of new imprints, all acquiring aggressively, it seems there’s hope, despite the doom and gloom.”
Belli, however, cautioned on currency. “It’s a really big difference if you are changing money: over 10%. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it can be a big difference if it’s an advance. I’ve noticed more people are asking to do deals in sterling, where before you would have done so in Euros.”