Scandi crime cracking as Sweden gets quirky

Dragon's flame flickering: boom in Scandi crime could be over.
Dragon’s flame is flickering: the boom in Scandi crime could be over.

The worldwide boom in Scandinavian crime fiction could be coming to an end as Sweden turns towards more quirky books.

Global rights platform IPR License has been looking at two contrasting publishing markets, focusing on Sweden, which is seeing a continued boom in foreign sales for fiction, and the UK, where publishers are gripped by fear of failure.

Scandinavia in general dominates the international rights scene, especially for crime-based fiction, and ironically one of the most receptive markets for Scandi crime is the UK.

IPR says while UK publishers aren’t performing badly internationally, its research points to the need for UK publishers to maximise international rights which are an important revenue stream.

Here are more some of the findings from the research.

Elisabet Brännström, Director at Storytellers’ Agency, says the Swedish fiction export can no longer be considered hype or a bubble but a genre that will be around for a long time.

But she adds there is a shift away from the domination of thrillers and crime. Top-selling titles in Sweden over the last four months have included wry humour (Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Sent Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and Jonas Jonasson’s The Analphabet Who Knew How To Count), erotica (E L James) and upmarket women’s fiction.

Crime titles made up fewer than half of the books on the Swedish bestseller lists in the last four months, a big change on previous years, with the move towards quirkier and more literary titles.

Brännström thinks there will be a broader range of Swedish titles in translation. She points to feelgood women’s fiction such as Katarina Bivald’s recent foreign rights success, The Readers in Broken Wheel Recommend, and off-beat tear-jerkers like A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman, that break the mould and rewrite the rules.

Her personal hot tip is to look out for the next Swedish literary, subversive, sci-fi blockbuster.

Lauren Parsons, Commissioning Editor at Legend Press and Paperbooks, looks at the UK market and sees unease among British publishers, reflected in stagnating book sales, higher discounts becoming compulsory and the number of outlets diminishing by the week.

She points to the overwhelming amount of celebrity autobiographies or cookbooks on bestseller lists and says homegrown debuts are down significantly.

Parsons considers UK publishers are gripped by fear of risk and could miss out on the next big thing because it doesn’t fit into a niche.

One very interesting observation is that she believes the short story is starting to re-emerge. She gives examples of shorter works such as Victoria Hislop’s The Story and Cassandra Parkin’s debut novel The Summer We All Ran Away.

Parsons advocates going against the grain to provide readers with what they crave rather than a generic rework of something they have already read.

IPR License is a platform that helps publishers, agents and authors to get international exposure for their books. It was set up in early 2012 to specialise in licensing rights.

Self-published authors are welcome to sign up with the site. The service costs £99 for the first year, covering upload and registration of up to five full-length works, while annual renewal costs £60.

Membership of the site offers a third-party independent copyright record and makes your work available to be viewed by publishing professionals around the world. You will be eligible for IPR’s agent recommendation scheme and inclusion on the global rights bulletin to publishers.

Some of the IPR License research findings are published at Publishing Perspectives.