Gone are the days when a biography of financial titan Warren Buffett could command a $7-million deal at the Frankfurt Book Fair, as it did in 2005. Even the seven figures paid for Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Myself in 2009 seems a distant memory. In fact, Frankfurt these days is much more about schmoozing, indulging in the book industry’s favourite pastime, navel-gazing and, lately, selling foreign rights to already-done deals.
But it’s also still about creating buzz around specific books, though in a somewhat more muted fashion. Biggish deals still get done, but they’re far more likely to command six figures than seven, and this year, much of the action took place in the days and weeks preceding Frankfurt. For instance, a book about the late singer Amy Winehouse, penned by her father, Mitch, and tentatively titled Amy, My Daughter, is set for next summer.
The biggest buzz at Frankfurt surrounded a trilogy from Sweden. Perhaps hoping to recreate some Stieg Larssonian magic, European publishers have gone bonkers for former screenwriter (your first clue) Alexander Soderberg’s debut, The Andalucian Friend, about a nurse in Sweden. It is, apparently, cinema-friendly and full of “explosive action.” Though the first volume is to be published in Sweden next May, agents are holding off selling U.S. rights, perhaps relying on even greater hype driving up the price.
The slightly less hot
Lots of excitement, too, about Deadmail, a second novel from U.S. writer Laurie Frankel that’s been described, Hollywood-style, as Nicholas Sparks meets William Gibson, high-end romance and highbrow science fiction. It’s about a computer genius who’s discovered a way to e-mail the dearly departed.
Oddly, perhaps responding to some sort of unfulfilled spiritual yearning, another buzzed-about book also features communicating with the dead via technology, Scott Hutchins’s debut, A Working Theory of Love.
Then there’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by another comparatively unknown U.S. writer, Ben Fountain, It’s being pitched as “a Catch-22 for our times.”
There was at least one million-dollar deal, but it was for a dozen books that will make up a new YA zombie series by Darren Shan, an Irish writer already celebrated in horror circles for his Demonata series, among other works.
The quietly hot
The book everyone wanted to read was The Man Without a Face, Masha Gessen’s biography of Russian honcho Vladimir Putin, to be published next March. Gessen lives in Russia, and her agent feared that too much hype could lead to leaks about the revelatory book and compromise her safety – which, one supposes, could be a form of hype in itself. Still, Russia has been a graveyard for journalists and caution seems appropriate.