If a theme emerged from the deal-making at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, it was the aggressiveness of HarperCollins as a buyer of big books, and of William Morris Endeavor as the seller of those books. While WME and HC were, of course, not the only players involved in the high-ticket book deals in Germany, the two dominated chatter, buying and selling an unusually high number of the buzzed-about books at the show. Here, a recap of some of the the books that drew attention—and, in many cases, massive advances—at the fair. HC's actions at Frankfurt are in keeping with the publisher's commitment to increase its share of the fiction market.
In an HC-WME deal before the fair (which we reported on last week), Terry Karten bought North American rights to Alix Christie’s historical thriller, Gutenberg’s Apprentice (which puts a sexy veneer on the creation of the printing press). Karten also nabbed, for a rumored $1 million, Katy Simpson Smith’s Revolutionary War-set The Story of Land and Sea, which Bill Clegg sold.
Two other big books Harper nabbed at the fair went to editor Claire Wachtel—in high-figure deals. The first, which some insiders dubbed “the hot book of the fair” is a nonfiction work called The Devil’s Diary by Robert Wittman and David Kinney (Wachtel bought world rights several months ago but did not announce the acquisition until Frankfurt). The work is about the recently discovered diary by Alfred Rosenberg, who was known as the “philosopher” of the Nazi party. Wittman, a former FBI agent, found the diary in April, and it offers a window into the mind of Rosenberg, who was a significant influence on Hitler during the creation of the Nazi party, and who was instrumental in providing justifications for the actions taken (and planned) by the party.
The other big book Wachtel bought is The Swede by Robert Karjel, a thriller that agent Jonas Axelsson, from the Swedish agency Partners in Stories, sold, and pitched as "le Carré meets Homeland." Wachtel took world English rights in a two-book deal for a sum Axelsson confirmed was in the "substantial" six-figure range. Following the sale to Harper, the book sold in five other countries, including Italy and Brazil, with an auction set in Holland and offers in from Germany and France.
Axelsson said Karjel, who went to college in the States (at Amherst) and was in the Swedish Air Force, is the only Swede to have trained with the U.S. marines. Among Karjel's notable military credentials is the fact that he worked undercover with the unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. This novel, which marks his fourth, has been optioned by the production company Yellowbird (which did the Swedish film adaptations of the Stieg Larsson books); Yellowbird also has a development deal with, per Axelsson, a "major studio" in Hollywood to develop an American TV series based on the novel.
Also getting people talking in Germany was The Encyclopaedists by Chris Robinson and Gavin Kovit, which WME agent Eric Simonoff represents. The novel (reported on earlier this week) is about two friends whose lives diverge post-college with one entering academia and the other going to fight in Iraq. The agency was selling the book outside the U.S. and U.K., before accepting any English language deals in those countries. No word yet on sales of this title.
But the Suzanne Gluck-represented I Take You, by Eliza Kennedy (reported on earlier this week), has, it’s rumored, caught the eye of two U.S. houses. The houses are currently competing for the novel and, we hear, there are offers on the table in the seven-figure range. Kennedy, who is Joshua Ferris’s wife, depicts a promiscuous, boozy bride-to-be in the book, who is panicking before her impending nuptials. Insiders have compared the book, which WME said delves into deeper questions about “the nature of choice” and “the implications of desire,” to things ranging from Bridesmaids to Girls.
A Norwegian author drawing buzz was Samuel Bjork (a pen name) whose novel, translated into English as I’m Traveling Alone, sold in three-book deals in several countries during the fair—Denmark, Italy, Spain and Brazil, among others—with offers currently in from France, the U.S., and the U.K. The novel, about a depressed female detective in Oslo who dashes her plan to commit suicide when she is assigned a case involving a serial killer targeting young girls. Agent Astri von Arbin Ahlander at the Ahlander Agency (who made a name for herself when she sold the buzzed about literary debut and political thriller, The Swimmer, to Harper’s Jennifer Barth in September in a high seven-figure deal) said that she was currently handling a seven-house auction in Germany for the book. She also said that the author is a literary writer based in Norway who has penned two novel, and written regularly for television and the stage.
Another book that went to Harper that sparked talk, was the originally self-published novel One Step Too Far (reported on earlier this week), by Tina Seskis. Jennifer Brehl acquired the book for a rumored $500,000, after the author, an American based in London, hit the Amazon bestseller list with the title after releasing it as a Kindle e-book in April. Seskis followed that success with a paperback edition, that managed to land on the bestseller list of the British book chain, W.H. Smith.
Agent Felicity Blunt at U.K.-based Curtis Brown was handling two buzzed-about novels at the fair. The first, a debut novel called The Serpent Papers by Stanford English major Jessica Cornwell (and granddaughter of international bestseller John le Carré), introduces the character of a detective named Anna Verco who the agency described as a “savant” and “book thief.” The novel, which is pitched as one about “centuries-old mysteries, persecution of witches and alchemist codes,” sold in a six-figure, three-book deal to Quercus in the U.K. Blunt said a Candian sale will be closing soon, and that she is fielding strong interest from houses in the U.S.
The other buzz book Blunt was handling in Frankfurt, that Jennifer Joel at ICM is selling in the U.S., is called Dark Rooms, a thriller by Lili Anolik (who has written for, among other publications, the New York Observer and the Believer).
Foundry Litrary + Media drew attention for one of its big books, the novel The Moment of Everything by Shelly King. The U.S. agency reported receiving over 100,000 euros in pre-empts from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. The other book from Foundry drawing major interest was Bridget Foley’s debut, Hugo and Rose, which was pre-empted in Italy, and which has an offer in from a house in Brazil.
On the children’s front, among the books that drew buzz was the packaged middle-grade series Ferals (reported on earlier this week), which sold to HarperCollins U.S. and U.K., and to Fox 2000 for film. Another kids' book drawing interest was Jasmine Warga’s YA debut novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes. Sanford J. Greenburger was selling the book at the fair, and called it “a black comedy about two teenagers who want to end their lives till they find each other.” Brenda Bowen sold the title to HC's Balzer + Bray imprint in the States, in a two-book deal; two-book deals also closed in the U.K. and, for six figures, in Germany. The novel was also pre-empted at the fair by houses in Spain and Italy, with another deal closing in Brazil.