Simon & Schuster Children's UK and US have won a hotly contested multi-publisher auction for debut author A F Steadman's fantasy adventure series, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, in a seven-figure (sterling) co-publication deal described by S&S Children's UK m.d. Rachel Denwood as "momentous".
Ali Dougal, publishing director at S&S Children's UK, and Kendra Levin, editorial director for Young Readers, acquired world rights in all languages for three books from Sam Copeland at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
Meanwhile, Sony Pictures pre-emptively acquired the feature film rights, after moving fast to close another seven-figure deal.
The series, for readers age nine plus, is set to launch in hardback in spring 2022. Stephanie Purcell, rights director at S&S UK, will be handling translation rights, and pre-empts have been accepted in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, with auctions ongoing in several other major territories.
Dougal said: "The instant, seething excitement about this series across S&S is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Annabel has created the most jaw-dropping new world we’ve seen in years and I know this is going to be a huge global hit. The world has been waiting for these noble, savage beasts."
Denwood said: "Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is a momentous global acquisition for Simon & Schuster and we make it at a time of exciting growth and change for the children’s book business. That Annabel’s compelling storytelling and epic world-building has so quickly caught the imagination of movie studios and international publishers is testament to her enormous talent and the strength of vision she has for this brilliant series."
The synopsis explains: "'Unicorns don’t belong in fairytales; they belong in nightmares.’ So begins Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. Soar into a world where unicorns are real – and they’re deadly. They can only be tamed by the rider who hatches them. Skandar Smith has only ever wanted to be a unicorn rider, and the time has finally come for him to take his Hatchery Exam, which will determine whether he is destined to hatch a unicorn egg. But when Skandar is stopped from taking the exam, and the mysterious and frightening Weaver steals the most powerful unicorn in the world, becoming a rider becomes a lot more complicated than he could ever have imagined. And what if Skandar was always destined to be the villain rather than the hero?
"Get ready for unlikely heroes,elemental magic, fierce sky battles, ancient secrets, nail-biting races and, of course, bloodthirsty unicorns."
Copeland described the auction as "the most exciting of [his] career". He added: "I knew the moment I first started reading this, I had found someone extraordinary in Annabel. This has been matched by the excitement from publishers and the world record-breaking offers for a children’s debut — with a number of publishers offering well into seven figures."
A F Steadman, who is 28, was awarded a distinction in a Creative Writing Masters from the University of Cambridge last year. Before focusing on writing, she worked in both corporate and family law.
Commenting on the acquisition, she said: "I was the child who’d borrow 14 fantasy books from the library and be back the next week for more. I’ve dreamed for so long of being an author and I am unbelievably excited that Simon & Schuster will be publishing Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, and that readers will soon get to meet Skandar, his friends and quite a few bloodthirsty unicorns!"