This year’s virtual conference gave us a rare opportunity to gather international publishing professionals to discuss their work pre, amid and post pandemic. Chaired by Laura Waddell, UK Publishing Director at Tramp Press, we were joined by Nathan James Thomas, Vice President of Marketing and Publicity at Exisle Publishing; Madelene Andersson, Literary Agent for Fiction and Narrative Non-Fiction at Bonnier Rights; and Tina Narang, Children’s Publisher at HarperCollins India.
The panel began with a comparison of their work in an international context and how they’ve had to adapt over the past year. Madelene took us through the Swedish publishing market and its Eurocentric focus. Unlike other places, Sweden has remained open all year. Nathan talked us through the international business of the New Zealand-based Exisle Publishing. Until five years ago, Exisle had sold rights into the UK/US, but now Nathan works to distribute and publicise books directly into those markets. For Nathan, the important messaging behind Exisle’s books, along with time, has helped to right the ship since the start of Covid. At HarperCollins India, although things were on pause for a couple of months, business is now booming. With the help of the internet, more parents and children are aware of the value and importance of reading – this is what we like to hear!
This took us into conversation about trends and brand identity. Tina’s children's imprint started in 2017. Since then, they’ve had to work hard to carve out their own narrative from the already established characters of HarperCollins: ‘It is quite a challenge to fit yourself into a bookshelf next to these long-standing brands. But we managed to find our spot as educators.’ The growing acceptance of home-grown stories has helped massively with this, Tina explained. Topics such as mental health have become increasingly popular, and Laura highlighted how this was a trend growing globally. For Madelene, Scandi crime-fiction continues to be overrepresented globally – ‘a couple of years ago in France the market became so overexposed that they started putting stickers on their Italian crime that said "Not Nordic Noir!"’ It’s fascinating as Swedish is not spoken by a huge chunk of the global population, but the popularity of these books has opened the world up to other areas of Scandi fiction.
Laura wanted to know how difficult it is to be based in one hemisphere but sell into another. Nathan explained the importance of his sales and distribution teams in the UK and US. Historically, Exisle seems to have done better in the US. One reason for this is: ‘Quarto USA has an established distribution business, which is accustomed to working with publishers from all over the world and introducing them to the US market.’ What Nathan has missed over this past year are the unexpected encounters you have with people – it has resulted in missed opportunities. Our panel echoed this problem with the lack of travel.
Madelene explained how there are naturally stronger ties with UK than US editors. They have read more Scandi fiction so they know what they want. They aren’t as interested in the broad European Novel – ‘New trends mean we need to look for new voices and stories even within Scandinavian publishing.’ Although it can be harder to sell, this drive for new voices globally can only be a good thing for the book trade.
A great audience question asked how difficult it was for our panellists to promote stories from their countries internationally when it feels like books from the US and UK seem to be taking up most of the market space globally. Tina explained that while she primarily publishes in English, they also publish some books in Hindi. This helps books to travel even within the Asian continent. She hopes that people will read them for their content, not because of where they are set or who they are written by. She also highlighted Harper360 within HarperCollins, which assesses books across the company globally to see what may be relevant to distribute across the business.
Nathan too hopes that content will prevail and explained how there is sometimes push back against Australian authors in other English-speaking territories. You must therefore work harder with non-local authors and think of creative ways to move forward. Laura highlighted the same issue with Scottish writers and how she sometimes has to fight against London-based reviewers to convince them why the book is relevant.
The answer to coping with time differences? Lots of alarm clocks and coffee according to Nathan.