Monday, April 17, 2017

Long-time literary agent and a brand-new publisher return triumphant from Bologna Children's Book Fair

A regular at Bologna Children's Book Fair, long-time literary agent Frances Plumpton, worked with brand-new award-winning publisher and author Sophie Siers of Millwood Press to promote the rights sales of over 100 New Zealand children’s and young adult titles at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this month.

‘Bologna is the major international children’s book fair,’ says Frances, who has just returned home. ‘Thirteen-hundred exhibitors from 75 countries were there to sell the rights to their books, seeking publication in new territories and different languages.’ 

The New Zealand titles Frances was representing this year were from publishers that included Sophie Siers' Millwood Press, Mākaro Press, Upstart Press and David Bateman. On top of that Frances was invited to manage the Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature stand – a base for local writers and illustrators at the fair, which the City of Literature competed for and won. Luckily Sophie put her hand up too.  

 ‘This was a unique collaboration for me,’ says Frances. ‘It's challenging for small publishers to get established at Bologna. Working with Dunedin means Sophie and I had a well-designed  base to work from while promoting books – one that gave an excellent snapshot of the length and breadth of Kiwi children’s literature. As well as that, Sophie could support my work and I could mentor her.’

Frances says business was brisk with a number of New Zealand titles attracting interest from publishers around the world including countries as diverse as Sweden and Turkey. ‘Once they’ve returned home and read the PDFs provided,’ she says, ‘they decide if they want to buy the rights and make an offer.’ 

And Frances and Sophie weren't the only ones working to sell NZ rights. Larger publishers were from this country were represented on international corporate stands, and Wellington’s Gecko Press – back at Bologna for its 14th year – was based with other small independent publishers at the fair.

Sophie is excited by the interest she perceived in the titles she and Frances were promoting, and says there were other reasons to be there too. ‘I think it’s critical publishers get along to international fairs like Bologna,’ she says, ‘so they get to see the current look and feel of children’s books around the world and stay current and relevant. And selling overseas rights to our titles makes publishing more profitable. I would love to see New Zealand attendance at Bologna supported the way attendance at other book fairs is supported.’ 
‘The book fair has been an amazing opportunity for me. I was also pleased to be able to support Dunedin.'

Frances has been attending the Bologna book fair for the past ten years selling rights for a selection of NZ children’s books, and sometimes representing New Zealand with IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People)  and the Australian East/NZ chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).  Sophie has only attended one other international book fair – Taipei, in February, a book fair for both adult and children's books – but she says it’s in her blood. 
Her mother is Judy Siers, the founder of Millwood Press. 

‘Over thirty years ago my mother went to the Bologna Book Fair for three years to co-ordinate the stand for the Publishers Assocation of New Zealand,’ says Sophie. ‘She went with top-selling international children's writers Wendy Pye and Beverley Randell-Price. Beverley was looking for international rights deals on the Milburn Price ‘Instant Readers’ and was also trying to find a buyer for Lynley Dodds’ The Smallest Turtle for Mallinson Rendel – and she succeeded!’ 

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