Perhaps the most commonly asked question in our profession: how do we pick our new clients? On what grounds do we choose the projects we represent?

Well, as with any complex question there are several answers, but some overarching traits can be found in most of our projects and authorships. In this case I am talking about fiction and narrative nonfiction, as the process looks a little different for our children’s and illustrated non-fiction teams.

 

International appeal

Since the bulk of what we do is represent our authors in the arena of translation rights, at least one aspect of the manuscript must appeal to the foreign editors. It can be the topic or issue, the genre—be it crime, literary fiction with a certain Swedish angle, non-fiction with a cutting-edge international topic—or the execution or writing style. A book can be as likely to work abroad because it is ‘super Swedish’ (the exotism of Scandinavian titles is an evergreen!) as if it is written in a more broadly universal manner. What is a given is that it needs something that makes it stand out, and that something is whatever we think foreign editors will be looking to add to their lists. Remember, the editors we pitch to have their pick of manuscripts and projects from every corner of the world, so the projects we submit to them must stand out in the crowd.

Quality

There’s a publisher for every genre and editors in other countries tend to know exactly what they are looking for, be it commercial women’s fiction (often called feelgood in Sweden), crime, suspense, upmarket fiction, narrative non-fiction or a gripping memoir. A book doesn’t have to be considered of ”high quality” (whatever that is!) to make it internationally, it just has to be great within its genre. And believe us when we say that there are a multitude of genres out there in other countries that we don’t even have in Scandinavia! The difference between a crime novel, suspense, domestic thriller or procedural for example is vast. Who even knew, right?

 

Passion and personal taste

Never underestimate a passionate ambassador! Sometimes our agents fall in love with a project that on the surface doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for representation, but personal tastes should be taken into account too. When we read something we just love, even if the rest of the team doesn’t share that feeling, we often take it on to at least give it a try abroad or for film and TV. The sheer passion of a highly enthusiastic agent talking about a project can sometimes get editors to pick it up because they too feel the project has something a little extra. In the fiction team we say we are allowed one pure passion project a year, it’s good for everybody to work on something we love for the sake of it sometimes and where the result of the submission matters less. Otherwise we are very good at reading with our ‘work glasses’ on, so that a book that isn’t to our own personal taste might still be our biggest title of the year, as we know exactly how to pitch it and get the best deals.

 

The dark horse or Thinking ahead

One of our most important tasks as agents is to know our international markets. We need to know what the individual editors at the different publishers in any given country will be looking to add to their lists in the coming seasons, so that we can be on the lookout for that kind of book when we read Swedish manuscripts. This sometimes means that we need to foresee what editors are likely to be interested in in more than a year’s time or even a couple of years, to look into the crystal ball of publishing and pick a book that will be right at the right time. It can sometimes seem odd to our colleagues in editorial or marketing in Sweden when we decide to put all our efforts into one particular book or author when that book is not necessarily a lead title in the home market. That happens when we have a feeling that that particular manuscript picks up on something (a theme, style, genre or issue) that might be bigger or more popular in other countries that in Sweden, or will be by the time we get to presenting the book. A few years ago that was true of the psychological suspense genre (huge in the US and the UK especially) and lately it’s been often true of certain types of narrative non-fiction where other countries have a longer tradition of that genre than Sweden. Patrik Svensson’s The Gospel of Eels is the perfect example of that, a book I just knew would be huge abroad way before it was even fully written. When we decided to pull out all the stops for that projects and commission a full translation into English to help us sell the book, we were still almost a year away from our international submission and even months away from the author actually having finished writing the book. That’s a perfect example of when we needed to use all our skills in foreseeing that the editors would respond well to our submission a year in advance. I love when our predictions turn out to be true!

 

Experience and skill

I’ve been an agent for almost 15 years and worked in publishing for even longer. Me and the rest of the team have decades of combined experience. What I’ve noticed is that as we continue to work in this industry, our intuition for what will work and not, for when and how something should be pitched, or what project to highlight over another, just increases. All that experience, all those manuscripts, the hundreds, perhaps thousands of deals and negotiations, they all add up to a pretty reliable gut feeling. Sometimes we can’t even quite put words on why we believe in a certain project, or perhaps believe in something a little less—that’s when I think our intuition is at work, the sum of all that experience. So yeah, trusting our gut feeling is something we do almost daily!

 

Timing

Though it’s last, it is definitely not least. Timing can be everything: never mind how amazing a book is, if it’s submitted internationally at the wrong time or in the wrong season it might not at all catch the eye of the editors. This is also true for certain genres: they might be doing really well in the Swedish market, but the interest abroad might not be there at all, or not at that particular time at least. Fashions and interests change, in publishing as in everything, and it is our job to know what will or won’t work in other countries. All we can do is plan meticulously ahead as much as we can and hope our plans all fall into place. This is why we always need our authors to deliver their manuscripts on time and be sure to write the other material we need by the deadline we’ve agreed. But we wouldn’t expect anything less than timely delivery from our stellar authors, of course! 😊

After having said all this, what kind of manuscripts are we looking for then? For the fiction and narrative non-fiction part of our list we are looking for exciting, opinionated and interesting manuscripts in most genres (especially crime, suspense, literary or upmarket fiction and for me personally, genre-bending fiction) written in any of the Nordic languages.

If you have a manuscript you may already have signed with a publisher in your home market, or where you are just considering your options, drop us a line with a short presentation and the manuscript attached, and we will get back to you. It may take a few months, but we do read and respond to all submissions that come to us fitting that criteria. Our authors do not have to be affiliated with Bonnier in any way.

Our colleagues in children’s and illustrated non-fiction currently do not consider authors outside of the Swedish Bonnier Publishing Group.

 

Thank you for reading this far, and happy writing!

Elisabet

Literary agent, fiction and non-fiction

The August Prize, Sweden’s most prestigious literary award, goes to Lydia Sandgren for her novel COLLECTED WORKS in the category best fiction 2020! We are absolutely thrilled and send our warmest congratulations to Lydia.

Read more about the prize and the jury’s motivation here: https://www.augustpriset.se/bidrag/samlade-verk

’Sweden’s King of Crime’ Håkan Nesser wins the Honorary Award at Crimetime, Gothenburg Book Fair 2020.

Håkan Nesser is awarded the Crimetime Award in the category Honorary Award of the Year 2020. The award will be presented during Crimetime Gothenburg at the Book Fair Play on 26 September. The honorary prize is awarded to an author who has been a pioneer in Swedish crime literature and put Sweden on the map for crime storytelling.

Part of the jury’s motivation reads: ⁣⁣
Multi-award-winning, over 20 million books sold worldwide, and an impressive collection of high-quality literary crime novels, where several have been made into film or tv-series. He’s mesmerised critics as well as readers for over 30 years with his absolutely unique tone and inventive style… This year the annual Honorary Award goes to Sweden’s King of Crime: Håkan Nesser.
Read the book fair’s press release here: https://bokmassan.se/…/hakan-nesser-tilldelas…/

So, it’s September and we have a very special autumn ahead of us. My colleagues and I are now all back from our holidays and though we still only work occasionally from our regular Stockholm office, we’re up to speed!

Day by day, we are getting more excited about the books that Bonnierförlagen are publishing this year and that we have the pleasure to present to publishers from all around the world. We are thrilled that so many of our friends and clients have accepted our invitation to have virtual meetings as a substitute for the bookfairs in Göteborg and Frankfurt. It is going to be a challenge to do business this new way but we’ll manage and I’m sure that we will learn a lot along the way.

In a couple of weeks we will say goodbye to our valued colleague Cecilia, who is leaving the team to pursue new opportunities. One of the last projects Cecilia is involved in is managing the production and printing of our autumn catalogues for children’s and illustrated non-fiction books, and I can promise you that they will look as smashing as all our catalogues have ever since Cecilia started to be involved in the design and production process two years ago. Print catalogues might seem out of date, and we regularly evaluate the need for them, but I believe they will be more important this autumn than in a long time, at least when it comes to presenting illustrated books. So, if you, dear reader, are scheduled for a virtual meeting with my colleague Mathilde or me during September or October, look out for an old-fashioned and very real piece of printed matter in the mail. It is going to complement our virtual interaction in the most wonderful way.

Wishing you a fruitful month ahead!

Per, Agent for Illustrated Non-Fiction

Summer is here, the sun is mostly shining and the holidays are around the corner. We are leaving behind a hectic period which has seen us setting up our homes offices and finding new routines in our communications with colleagues and with our foreign partners. The turmoil has encouraged us to think about our job in new ways. A real crash course in digital meetings with a little extra technical challenge for us selling rights to illustrated books!

The cancellation of the Bologna Book Fair has really been the catalyst that has led us to think in a different way. Our overall feeling is that nothing can replace the face-to-face meetings and the joys of being able to present a printed copy of a brilliant new picture book or novel to our colleagues from all around the world. At fairs, we have the pleasure of welcoming several dozen foreign publishers at our stand to introduce them to our new list of titles, chat about the book industry, the trends, the markets… So much invaluable information, that allows us to be even more effective when we come back to our desks in Sweden. But the fair and the fun are not over when we leave our stands at the end of the day. No book fair in Bologna would be complete without the lively strolls in the town in the evening, the long italian pasta dinners, the exciting conversations with editors and colleagues… The magic can definitely happen in these informal settings, around a glass of chilled prosecco. A pitch, a story can strike a chord there and then and this will result in a sale. Happy moments that make all our efforts worth it!

I recently read an article on the Economist which stated “One of the great thrills of reading is encountering a situation that is familiar in feeling yet alien in context.” I could really relate to this statement, it rang true and for us selling foreign rights, it is very relevant. The emotions are universal, we as readers vibrate with characters whose emotions and internal struggles we recognize and can identify with, but each story is unique in its cultural setting, dramaturgy, set of characters… It feels like for younger readers, the exposure to other cultures is more important than ever in these unstable times. Reading can bring an understanding of what makes us so unique, but also, and that really is the power of literature, of what brings us all together. The pleasure of placing a good book abroad, finding a good publisher that will champion it is real and can be a little step towards a more inclusive society.

Let’s take this with us this summer as we enjoy our mostly Swedish holidays and can dive into the stories of our favourite authors, foreign or local, or else find the time to enjoy enchanting new voices.

Bel été à tous !

Mathilde, agent for children’s books

Four months after the dreaded c-word unfolded and we are now looking forward to enjoying a long summer break, albeit with continued social distancing. In Sweden we count ourselves very lucky to be able to take several weeks off to read for pleasure, indulge in our hobbies (mine will be learning to sail and renovating a sailboat) and gather our energies for what will be a bustling autumn, in whatever shape it will take.

My home office has come into its own with the warm weather as I’m fortunate enough to be able to inhale the fresh country air outside on the deck with my laptop, and trusty cat Pebbles reminding me when it’s time for a snack or to lay down tools for the day.

Besides working with a host of wonderful Swedish writers, another part of my role entails selling rights to our Finnish authors’ books, working with colleagues in Helsinki. This spring we’ve had fantastic success with crime writer Arttu Tuominen’s crime series; an uplifting, prize-winning debut women’s fiction by Marja Kangas; and Tiina Laitila Kälvemark’s fascinating novel about a woman with active side personalities and a penchant for free diving. On the non-fiction side, we’ve been finding solace in psychotherapist Maaret Kallio’s latest book on the power of hope.

Another professional hat of mine is selling film and tv rights for our authors. The pandemic has had a stark impact on cinemas as well as production due to travel restrictions and social distancing, but I’m happy to say that our ongoing projects haven’t been overly impacted and so we look forward to being able to share some more exciting updates on specific projects soon.

In a couple of weeks it will be time to turn my focus away from the laptop and take a break from social media to focus on my summer reading, including more essential reading on becoming a stronger ally to ending racism, and some quality time at the beach to recharge the batteries for what will be an exciting but full autumn ahead.

Thank you to all the authors, publishers, editors, translators, scouts, readers and other champions of literature who make what we do so enjoyable. Have a healthy and fun summer, and see you again in August!

Hello from our home offices!

Bonnier Rights Sweden is currently in our 11th week working from home, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be seeing our much-missed offices at Sveavägen for a while. We’re by now all old hands at the various digital meeting platforms and any inhibition we may have harboured about inviting industry professionals into our (messy) homes via Teams or Zoom has completely gone – I’ve had videoconferences interrupted by wifi-outages, barking dogs, children (sometimes clothed, sometimes not), and watched the odd cat do their mid-afternoon toilette in full view of the camera. I may have even been the cause of some of those disruptions…

The question remains: how do we best do our jobs in this time in the industry of no face-to-face meetings, and if we can’t travel? I’ve worked in the industry for nearly 15 years and it’s not a question we’ve ever considered, as so much of the selling and buying of rights has to do with us agents showing up in editors’ offices, wherever they may be. Some aspects of an agent’s job–considering new manuscripts, managing submissions or negotiating contracts– actually work better from home (see, there’s the silver lining) but the real life meetings between authors, editors and agents just can’t be replaced by a video conference. I miss my fellow book nerds, basically!

The way we sell rights has hardly changed in the last 50 years, perhaps apart from exchanging paper manuscripts for pdfs (I don’t miss the bundles of printed manuscripts we had to bring to book fairs when I started out – yes, I’m that old) and that we don’t ever get any offers by fax these days (gathering around the fax in-tray in the mornings, those were the days), but suddenly we need to reinvent the way we do business post haste. So many new business models and nifty solutions will come out of the lockdown, I’m sure – it’s all quite exciting!

So, what are we doing now? Personally, I’m planning for the worst (no work travel for a while yet) and hoping for the best (life will go back to something resembling normality post-summer), but truth be told I’m undulating between being super excited about the autumn season and our amazing list, and the next moment worrying what kind of book industry we will come back to once the lockdown is lifted. One thing is for sure, we’re using this time of slower working life to come up with brilliant ideas about how to get our exciting titles across to the right editors without going to see them, and I do think we’ll be the stronger for it once we are able to hit the road again.

While waiting to pack my passport and don my trusty travel shoes again, I’m going to enjoy my home office with its super relaxed dress code and my furry colleagues (our two Springer Spaniels are sleeping next to me as I write this). And another upside: our coffee at home is muuuch better than at work!

Hope to see you out there in the world soon, stay safe!

Elisabet

Literary agent

Some of our authors answered the question for the World Book Day 2020 and shared their most precious reading experiences with us.

 

Patrik Svensson, © Emil Malmborg

Patrik Svensson

‘As for many others, I believe, The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist was one of the first adult novels I really understood and was touched by. A book that made me realise what literature can be and do with you.’

 

 

 

 

Anders Hansen, © Stefan Tell

Anders Hansen

‘The book that has meant the most to me and to which I return every year is Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. I see it as a spot-on description of human nature, a sublime tribute to human existence that reminds us that life is not always dead serious.

Although the plot is straight forward, I discover new angles every time I read it. I plan to continue reading it regularly for the rest of my life. It has simply become like an old friend, and deep down, there’s nothing I’d rather do than to sit down at Danny’s table.’

 

 

Lina Wolff, © Gustav Bergman

Lina Wolff

‘Difficult question… Usually the books I liked the most were not the ones that changed my life the most, but others which sort of made me gain small but important insights. But for me, it was probably Patricia Highsmith’s short stories which had the most significant impact on my life, because they inspired me to try out writing for the first time. Not because I thought it was the best thing I’d ever read, but because she triggered my curiosity and pushed me to try for myself.’

 

 

 

Åsa Hellberg, © Anna-Lena Ahlström

Åsa Hellberg

‘There’s probably no book that changed my life as much as my own second book, Sonja’s Last Will. My whole life took another turn after that one.’

 

 

 

 

 

Stina Wirsén, © Maria Annas

Stina Wirsén

‘Barbro Lindgren’s books about Sparvel have left a strong impression on me, I love them as much now as I did when I was little. They are always with me and help me keep my inner child alive.’

 

 

 

 

Johan Anderblad, © Ulrica Zwenger

Johan Anderblad

‘Lars Ahlin, The Fruit of Your Life. Spending a summer with this tome in the late 1980’s – a little bit every night in a slow pace – changed my view on things and gave me multifaceted characters to mirror myself in. And a calm that I very much needed in those toddler years.’

 

 

 

 

 

Maria Frensborg, © Eva Lindblad

Maria Frensborg

‘I have to say, albeit a little reluctantly, Knausgård’s Season series, especially Spring. They gave me a new perspective after reading them, at least for a little while.’