"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!