Friday, 25 March 2011

Not All Gelato and Prosecco - Karen Ball

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?

Visit my website at


Sue Purkiss said...

It doesn't mean very much to me, but oh, that ice cream looks delicious!

Linda Strachan said...

I too have never been and am contemplating it for next year so perhaps our very experienced 'Bologna-ista' fellow writer Mary Hoffman would like to do a guest blog about it here - when she gets back?

Book Maven said...

Ooh, does ABBA have guest blogs? I am off to Bologna on Sunday for my 11th Fair. I started going every other year in 1993 but recently decided to go every year.

It's because it now seems familiar and I know how to do it but that took a while. I have paid for myself every year except one when I got my plane fare and 1 night at the hotel subsidised by a publisher. I don't ever bank on it.

And Karen's right - a deal might be clinched in the (long) queue for the Ladies or over moaning about the dreadful dry sandwiches in the little snack bars.

I absolutely love it but usually try to tack on a little trip to Florence afterwards, as this year, because there is more time then for art and ice-cream and prosecco. You don't see much of Bologna while at the Fair.

And just to make you feel better, rain is forecast Sunday to Tuesday! (I will do what I did last time and take photos of friends' books.)

Sue Purkiss said...

A guest blog would be great. Sundays are always free, so that would be a possibility...?

karen ball said...

Oh, we have to have a post-Bologna guest blog from Mary! I'd be happy to give over one of my dates.

Emma Barnes said...

That ice-cream...out of this world. It makes me think ice-cream is a sadly neglected topic in children's books. Where is the book all about ice-cream?

Sue Purkiss said...

Have just been on an errand down to Cheddar Gorge, where I bought a blackcurrant and cream ice cream in a chocolate cone. I literally cannot remember the last time I bought an ice cream. It was yum, and it was all thanks to you, Karen. Felt you should know.

karen ball said...

Brilliant! Glad to be of service! Now, I want an ice-cream, too.

Andrew Strong said...

Bologna suggests sauce, although not one I would want on ice-cream. Therefore the Bologna book fair suggests saucy books. And other types of sauce. I love the word sauce.

Leslie Wilson said...

Make mine a frutti di bosco with pistachio and nocciola, or maybe lampone instead of frutti di bosco, or apricot, the Italian for which I have forgotten. Mmm! I want to go to Italy.
Just as well not, actually, supposed to be losing weight for daughter's wedding in May!!

Celia Rees said...

I have been to Bologna, as a joint guest of the Book Fair and my publisher. I drank prosecco, ate ice cream, drank expresso, went to the parties and dinners and had a generally wonderful time - until someone stole my handbag. Still, it was worth it. The most valuable thing for me was to meet my foreign publishers, for them to put a face to the name on the book. Book Fairs can be daunting for authors, we don't belong there, that is the accepted truth, but of course authors have a place there, its our books they are buying and selling - just keep tight hold of your belongings!

Katherine Roberts said...

I wasn't there, honest! But I think my unicorn might have been.