Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Things Looking Good for Middle Grade (if you Believe the Bologna Reports): by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

You guys may know that in my other blogging manifestation I'm known as the Middle Grade Mafioso, so it stands to reason that all things Italian make me reach for my accordion. The fact that there's a book fair in Bologna is even more awesome. Mayhemers, how about saddling up and heading over there on a group junket next year?

Anyway, Bologna Children's Book Fair just celebrated its 50th birthday (as did I)--and it did so with some hopefully good news for middle grade writers. In case you didn't see the original article in Publisher's Weekly, here's a condensed version:

Agents, publishers, and rights managers alike reported increased interest in middle-grade fiction. “I have two funny middle-grade books, which is great because that’s what people want. I’m happy about that,” said Brenda Bowen, agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. “People want lightly illustrated middle-grade or standalone contemporary,” said Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. “They’re skeptical of trilogies. I haven’t heard a specific genre that people want, except contemporary YA – that’s refreshing.”

Interest in YA was slowing down (according to some) and shifting away from paranormal/dystopian to more realistic themes (according to many). “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie. “They’re looking for romantic comedies, well-written contemporary stories, maybe with some romance or another kind of element."

“At one meeting I was told, ‘I’m looking for fang-free fiction,’” said agent Josh Adams. “Then at the very next meeting, ‘I’m only looking for paranormal.’ There’s no consensus.” The interest this year in contemporary realistic fiction has been a “complete 180,” according to agent Barry Goldblatt. “Last year nobody wanted it” – last year being the year of the thriller.

For former film scout Fiona Kenshole, now a newly minted agent with the Transatlantic Agency, this year’s fair has been all about fortuitous meetings – running into the right people at the right moment and sharing news of projects. Speaking about fiction properties she’d seen and heard about, she joked, “The Germans and the Portuguese are all about sick lit. What does this say about our business?! And I’m hearing a lot about ‘witches, dead mums and sci-fi.’ ”

Middle-Grade Highlights
As far as middle-grade fiction, one title attracting attention was Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre, which will be published in the U.K. in September by Oxford University Press. It’s first in a four-book series that will be “linked by style and format,” said rights assistant Laura Buchan, but “set in very different environments” and starring different characters. German, Japanese, Bulgarian, and Turkish rights have sold, among others, said Buchan.

At Disney-Hyperion, editorial director Emily Meehan was excited about Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, which she called “our Wonder,” though she says it’s a very different book. Meehan sees the book as fitting into a trend of issue books that aren’t “issue-issue” books. “It’s all in the way the story is told,” she said. Written for middle-grade readers,Gracefully Grayson is about a boy realizing he identifies as a girl, but Meehan says, “It’s more about identity than sexuality.”

A hot property for agent Rosemary Stimola is Scare Scapeby Sam Fisher, illustrated by Sam Bosma. It’s the first in a two-book series about three children, and how the monsters in a comic book come to life; the book will come packaged with a deck of monster tarot cards. Scholastic Press will pub the book in September, with the second due in 2014. Stimola said she’s had a lot of interest because “it’s different.”

Publisher Elise Howard at Algonquin Young Readers was having success pitching middle-grade, as well.
The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick was a “Can I take a galley with me?” kind of title, and Howard believes it benefitted greatly from its recent selection as a Buzz Panel pick for BEA. Algonquin was also featuring Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! from sisters Kate and M. Sarah Klise, a team that Howard says already has international recognition, giving the book heightened appeal at the fair.

Kim Ryan, associate director of subsidiary rights for Penguin Young Readers, was high on a pair of middle-grade titles: The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston and The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. “I thought that science fiction would be a trend,” Ryan said, “but no one has come to me with a mandate. Instead they ask what’s big.” (From Publisher's Weekly, March 28. You can read the full article here.)

Doesn't that all sound great for we Middle Grade writers (and readers)? What books or topics are you excited about in the coming year?

18 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday, Michael! I saw that about Bologna too. We can only hope the publisher/agent excitement for middle grade is real.

    I am sorry there will be less YA and I hope it's not all contemporary. Even though it's a good genre, it's not my favorite.

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    1. I love to compare your comment, Natalie, with Ms. Yingling's below. Shows there is room in the great big writing ballroom for everyone.

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  2. Argh. Still SOOOOO much fantasy, and I just don't have as many readers for that. Why not an awesome book about identity that has as its main character a football player? Take pity on all the boys who have to do language arts unit novels and have to read Stargirl because their teachers think it's fabulous.

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    1. I always enjoy your insights, Karen. Anyone got an awesome football player book?

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  3. Hey, Sam Bosma illustrated my friend Andrew's book, Winger. Happy Birthday, Mike!

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    1. I was excited to read this too. Thought there does seem to be a gap between what we hear editors want, and what they actually buy. (My unscientific observation from deals posted on PM.)

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  5. I look forward to the MG 180. In all things, balance is needed.

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  6. Happy Birthday, Michael!!

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    1. Thanks, Paul. I don't feel a day older than 49.

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  7. I was hoping to make an impression with MG paranormal - that didn't happen. Now, I have written for boys - historical.

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    1. Best of luck, Elaine. I caution that one shouldn't write to a perceived trend, though. Write well, and start your own trend!

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  8. For those of you who write animal fantasy, there was a lot of new enthusiasm for the genre at this year's Bologna.

    Go rats, and bats, and alley cats! ;)

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    1. Yay, cats, bats, and rats. (Especially your rats, Hilary.)

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  9. I'm excited because my manuscript was at Bologna!

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  10. Thanks, Michael! Looking forward to hearing about David's MS!

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!