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Bologna Book Fair 2019 Roundup

Last week, our children’s & YA agents Alice Sutherland-Hawes and Chloe Seager headed to Bologna Children’s Book Fair to pitch our authors and illustrators to publishers from all over the world. Alice Sutherland-Hawes reports on the international trends.

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair has been running for over 50 years, and is built solely around Children’s and Young Adult content, attracting authors, agents and publishers from all over the world to talk all things non-adult.

The fair this year had a more prominent focus on middle-grade than we’ve seen previously. As it stands, the Young Adult market across international territories has become a difficult area, and editors are becoming increasingly selective about what they take on. This means that they have to be incredibly passionate about any Young Adult work in order to go for it.

On the flip side, there has been heightened interest in Middle-Grade (ages 9-12), and the genre is building at a healthy place, with lots of editors showing interest in titles across this age bracket.

An interesting point to note is the difference between the UK and the international Young Adult market. A few of the bigger territories need the crossover appeal to the point where they’ve moved their Young Adult imprints to their adult lists, but the UK market doesn’t usually allow for crossover, or New Adult. A crossover book will appeal to the teenage market, but also to the much bigger and generally more lucrative adult market. These books usually feature older protagonists (18+) and a subject that isn’t deemed to be too young – sometimes a first job or a more steamier romance than you’d usually find in Young Adult.

Equally, the British tendency to believe teenagers don’t drink, do drugs, swear or have sex is causing a few problems because the international feeling is that (quite rightly) they do, and so there is higher demand for books showing the everyday lives of real teenagers.

Despite this, there was lots to be positive about across the Young Adult genre. People still want to read it and publishers are still buying it – they’re just being pickier. They want really good standalones with important themes that matter to teenagers, but they also want escapism – love stories, comedy, feminist themes – Sex Education in book form. Germany in particular seems to be leaning towards standalone YA rather than series, alongside Brazil who are struggling because of their economic climate.

Middle Grade was the big winner for the fair, though. Series are hugely popular but so are standalone authors with buildable potential. Publishers were after strong female characters and strong friendships, though one editor was looking for books for boys and said he was struggling. There was also demand for books for Middle Grade readers who are a little older but not quite ready for Young Adult – first crushes, comedy and diary formats were asked for.

Overall, in Middle Grade, editors were keen for adventures, magical elements, fantasy and creepy stories, and in YA the lean was towards contemporary standalone titles.

One of the best things about this particular Bologna was the spread of interest across our titles. From The Last Girl On Sycamore Hill by Kereen Getten to Number 10 by C.J. Daugherty and Break The Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli, publisher interest spanned virtually all our titles on offer, and we’re looking forward to following up!

Both Alice and Chloe are actively building their lists. Send material to submission@madeleinemilburn.com