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The buzz of the Frankfurt Book Fair: 2 books and an electronic device

The buzz of the Frankfurt Book Fair: 2 books and an electronic device

At a tiny round coffee table amid muted chatter, a publishing agent sells the translation and publishing rights to a novel by the late J.R.R. Tolkien being patched together from notes by his son.
"The Children of Hurin," which builds on the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, won't be out until next year. But by the end of the first day of business at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday, HarperCollins Publishers had sold the non-U.S. rights to at least nine countries.
In another cavernous room of the Frankfurt Book Fair, a London literary agent listened to bids for a 900-page French-language World War II epic that stormed up to the top of the French best-seller chart in a few weeks.
The Tolkien book and Jonathan Littell's "Les Bienveillantes," literally translated as "The Benevolent Ones," are two of the emerging hits at the 58th annual book event, a frantic five-day trader's fair likely to generate an estimated euro600 million (US$780 million) worth of business.
A third item appearing this year and creating buzz is the eBook Reader, a device introduced a few weeks ago by Sony. Smaller than a supermarket paperback, it can hold dozens of downloaded books or, for editors, replace thick manuscript folios.
Frankfurt, not far from where Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century, is the world's oldest and largest fair, with 7,272 exhibitors from 113 countries this year. It is expected to attract more than 280,000 visitors _ though there's not a book to be bought by the public until the Sunday when some publishers sell off their demonstration books.
It's all about selling rights, and traders say deals are concluded for a few hundred euros (dollars) in advances against royalties, or can amount to hundreds of thousands of euros (dollars) for a hot item.
Last year's big winner at the fair, former General Electric chairman Jack Welch's "Winning," drew more than US$1 million (euro790,000) in bids for the foreign rights, HarperCollins group president Brian Murray said.
Buyers and sellers are cagey about discussing financial terms of most deals. An agent for Andrew Nurnberg Associates said Littell's book was attracting "phenomenal" bids, but refused to confirm rumors that a publisher paid euro450,000 (US$571,000) for the German rights.
The handling of the book, a fictional memoir of an unrepentant Nazi SS officer, is part of the buzz at the fair. The rights to most French books are handled by their publishing houses, but Littell gave the job to Nurnberg's British-based literary agency.
Nurnberg is holding off on selling the British and U.S. rights until next week after the Frankfurt fair closes, hoping that anticipation will pump up the bidding in a heated auction.
Littell, a former aid worker in such places as Chechnya and the son of American author Robert Littell, has been the focus of a media frenzy in France since the book first appeared in August. He reportedly wrote the massive volume in just four months, after four years of research.
By contrast, it could be said that Tolkien's book was 90 years in the making. Over the last 30 years, Christopher Tolkien pieced together the narrative from letters, notes and partial manuscripts by his father dating back to 1918. The British author died in 1973.
The U.S. rights to the book are not up for sale. They are held by Houghton Mifflin Co., which has a longtime relationship with the Tolkien estate.


Updated : 2021-04-16 16:08 GMT+08:00