As the global appetite for books and their screen adaptations explodes in the era of COVID, WME Books is strengthening its unity of international rights.
The agency’s books department has named New York-based Laura Bonner (pictured, left) and Matilda Forbes Watson (right) as partners, the latter also being appointed as head of the UK book bureau in London. With longtime New York-based executive Tracy Fisher (center), the trio includes the International Rights Unit of the Books Division, which works closely with a separate literary packaging arm that adapts the books. for television and cinema.
Concluding more than 1,000 international publishing contracts in 2021 in New York and London alone, the division represents titles such as Quentin Tarantino’s debut book “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, a 2021 novelization of his titular film which sold in 32 territories. , and “The Last Thing He Told Me” from Laura Dave, who won 33 publishing deals and a TV adaptation for Apple.
Other clients include authors Jhumpa Lahiri, whose book “The Namesake” was adapted into a feature film, as well as Meg Wolitzer, Mohsin Hamid, Curtis Sittenfeld, Glennon Doyle, Emma Straub, Dave Grohl, Ellie Goulding and Brené Brown.
Going forward, the International Rights Unit – which to date has largely focused on sending works by English-language authors abroad – aspires to become more global in its perspectives by expanding its list of writers around the world.
“We want to hear from all parts of the world,” Bonner said Variety. “We passionately believe that English-speaking writers aren’t the only ones telling big stories or having big ideas, so we’re extremely interested in identifying things and taking them in other directions.”
There’s already a track record in place, with Fisher highlighting the success of Dutch writer Roxane van Iperen’s 2018 non-fiction title “‘t Hooge Nest” (“The High Nest”), which has been translated into English by “The Sisters of Auschwitz” and became an international bestseller.
“It was a great example of the resources we can invest in authors that we identify as coming out of their local markets,” says Fisher.
“There can be these projects that work incredibly well, whether it’s in Germany, the Netherlands, or Japan, and what we’re interested in is giving them a global platform in the same way we do. ‘ve done with our English language writers, and to break beyond the English language.
Unsurprisingly, given the strong demand for literary intellectual property, agents say “conversations have intensified” in recent years between the books department and the literary packaging arm, which oversees the adaptation agreements.
“We are still in communication with them,” says Bonner. “Good news for us can be good news for them, and vice versa, especially as streamers go global. When there is a huge bestseller in a market, it’s important that they know that and that can really support efforts to make that TV show or movie very global, and the book maybe has been. the entry point to this market. “
It doesn’t always have to be the latest bestseller, either. Such is the demand for quality intellectual property that agents say many older titles are now experiencing a renaissance.
“There were a variety of rhythms for a project,” Bonner explains. “Sometimes, yes, a lot of negotiations are done early on, just as the US deal is done and literary packaging is everywhere, generating tremendous heat in all areas. But sometimes it takes until publication, and a long time after publication. Sometimes books published years ago experience a whole new life. There is more variety of trajectories than before.
Forbes Watson, who is based in the UK, says the trend also reflects the way literary agents work in separate territories on behalf of their authors.
“You are not always ready to immediately start looking for a UK market for an American author, for example. You might just establish them and over time take a long-term view and build, ”says Forbes Watson. “This is something for which we are particularly well placed. Long-term career building is not only about the national territory: it is about finding the readership in a personalized way in each individual market.
When it comes to finding talent and integrating new writers, following the success of Western European writers such as Van Iperen, the team is now looking to explore Asia for both fiction and non-fiction.
“We can learn a lot from their storytelling traditions,” Bonner says. “It’s ripe for more exploration. “
Meanwhile, Forbes Watson also plans to develop the UK squad and recruit new talent. She cites rising voices like British Jamaican polymath Akala, who started his career in music but has also published books, including the 2018 critically acclaimed non-fiction title “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire ”.
“We’re always looking to see if a client has potential outside of the book space. [Akala] has a very strong book business but touches so many different areas of the agency, whether it’s speech, podcast or film and television. It will be a high priority for us [in the U.K.]. “
(Pictured: Laura Bonner, Tracy Fisher, Matilda Forbes Watson)