Thursday, 29 March 2012

Why Go To Bologna? - Lucy Coats

"Why on earth would an author go to Bologna?"
"What's the point?"
"YOU'RE PAYING FOR YOURSELF?" (in horrified tones)
Those were just some of the comments about my trip to the Bologna Children's Book Fair last week.

So why DID I go?

The short answer is that I've been wanting to go for nearly thirty years, ever since I was a lowly junior editor at Heineman, watching all the bosses swan off there, leaving me behind with a casual "one day". So when the opportunity arose to go with Fair expert Mary Hoffman, I jumped at it. I've never been good at unsatisfied curiosity. It was a perfect year for me to go too, since my agent had a novel and a new series to sell, and two new books were going to be on publishers' stands.

Was it worth it?

That's the million dollar question everyone wants the answer to. For me, the answer is a huge yes. But I learned that the fair might not be the right place for every author to visit. You have to know how to work it, and you can't be the shy and retiring type.

First of all, you have to be prepared to get organised early. Flights and the cheaper hotels sell out quickly. It's good if you can make a few appointments too. That means telling your publisher you are going. They'll be happy to see you if they know before the last minute! Your agent will need to know as well - mine was brilliant at getting me in to all the nice parties that go on every night (Bologna is nothing if not social) - and we went to see the publishers together too, which gave me a buzz when I was told some hot-off-the-press rights news! Who do you know on the social networks who's going? I met up with children's booksellers, an Irish kid lit journalist, a film scout and many more who I knew via Twitter and Facebook. SCBWI have a huge presence - a stand with many events (where I met and chatted to the US publisher of Harry Potter and the lovely Babette Cole) and they also throw a massive bookshop party with wild dancing. Do you have foreign publishers? Why not set up meetings with them too? It'll probably be your only chance to do that. Do your homework, be prepared, and carpe diem.

The thing which struck me as most useful when actually there, though, was the serendipitous encounters. Where else are you going to be together with thousands of people who are all interested in just one thing - children's books? I had a real 'this is my tribe' moment. The value of the conversations you have with chance met people is unquantifiable in terms of hard cash spent on the trip, so to speak. However, I can say that I'm currently discussing at least three very interesting new opportunities as a result of some of those encounters. I wouldn't have had any of them if I'd stayed at home.

If you'd like a little flavour of the fair as I saw it, then here's a short film for you to enjoy. All I can tell you is that I'll definitely be going again next year. Viva Bologna!

13 comments:

Anne Cassidy said...

I don't think we need to justify the things we do as writers by some 'business' criteria. Sometimes the buzz of doing something that makes you feel good, part of a community, gives you a sense of your own worth is enough. A writer's well being is made up of many things but a major thing is self esteem. No writer can write a brilliant book if they're not feeling good about what they do and who they are. FRom that point of view a trip to Bologna is completely understandable. You're worth it!

Kit Berry said...

What a great film - but you missed out the wild partying! I was hoping to see some dancing on tables at least!

Thanks for this fascinating insight. I once read somewhere that authors shouldn't go to trade book fairs, which struck me as completely daft as without authors, there'd be no books for anyone to sell! Glad you had such a splendid time.

catdownunder said...

I think I would be overwhelmed - I am not a partying sort of cat at all. It might be more interesting if one could just purrowl around and exchange the occasional eloquent word with interesting looking people about even more interesting looking books but would I be brave enough? Sadly I suspect the answer is no. You are brave!

Savita Kalhan said...

It sounds like you had a great time, Lucy, and as Anne says - You're definitely worth it! Thanks so much for the film. For someone who's never been to a book fair, it's very interesting to see the set-up. Maybe I'll make it there next year...

Book Maven said...

There is very impressive video footage of Lucy dancing, Kit, but she reused to include it! Great movie, Lucy.

Isabel Ashdown said...

What a fascinating post Lucy, and a great film too - really gives a good flavour of the fair. Sounds like a wonderful, worthwhile trip; I love to hear stories of serendipity at work! Thanks for posting.

Nicky Schmidt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicky Schmidt said...

Great post, Lucy, and so glad to hear about the serendipity! Love the movie too, but where're you doing the wild fandango?!

Lucy Coats said...

I knew I'd get stick for not including the footage of me dancing! But truly, it's not a sight anyone should see.... Thanks for all the nice comments, everyone.

Candy Gourlay said...

I want to see a picture of the wild dancing.

Sue Purkiss said...

Really enjoyed the film, Lucy - thanks for giving us a flavour of what it's like!

Stroppy Author said...

Ah, envy! Haven't been for years. But next year...

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Sounds like great fun Lucy! Thanks for the video. I'm planning to go next year so was good to read your tips.