As I type, hundreds of book publishers, agents, literary scouts and rights people are doing their laundry and checking their capsule wardrobes. At the weekend they’ll be flying or driving to Bologna, Italy for the most important annual event in the children’s publishing cycle – Bologna Book Fair.
Me? I’ve never been. I’ve heard loads about it and yearned to eat a gelato, to laugh over a late dinner of incredible food, to buy a handbag of butter soft Italian leather. Yeah, I believe some work gets done, too. That’s what they tell me.
It’s a sales event. Sometimes authors are taken to Bologna Book Fair if publishers want to impress a) the author and b) their co-publishers. But this is not a common event – don’t hold your breath waiting to be invited onto the springtime streets of a beautiful European city. There’s a big party going on and we’re not invited.
Why not? Well, it’s not about us. It’s about the publishing director of company A meeting the rights person of company B and talking. Publishing is, if nothing else, a deeply human business. In theory, all of the deals could be done via email and phone, but for some reason publishers still insist on meeting up in Italy once a year, because they want to shake hands and smile at each other. I love that this still happens. I like to think of it as their version of the Charney writing retreat, except not as good (obviously).
But my joking aside, Bologna’s not all food and fun – people do work really hard. Most people have back-to-back meetings in approximately 30 minute slots. That’s a lot of meetings squeezed into a few days and not much time to eat or pop to the loo. Some of these professionals will have been attending fairs for ten, twenty years or even longer, which means they’ve made a lot of friends in the industry. I suspect that the minutes snatched between meetings are often what seal a deal. A shared joke, colleague in common, baby photographs... If that’s what gets your stand alone YA novel a German deal, I say stay at home. Let others talk about how old their children are and, oh, does that include translation rights?
Some authors visit the fair under their own expense and I’d be interested to hear about these experiences. Some editors visit the fair under their own expense and I’d be interested to hear about those experiences, too. I know for certain that when everyone comes back we’ll be waiting to hear what the word on the fair aisle is, what the ‘next big thing’ might be. Deals are rarely done at the fair itself these days, but rights people often come back to their offices with a sense of publishing mood, what people are looking to buy and where fashions are on the wane or rise.
I just wish I could have some of that ice-cream one day.
What does Bologna Book Fair mean to you?
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