Bologna Book Fair recap



  • I went to the Bologna Book Fair for one day last week and I thought I´d share my experience with the folks that are most into children´s books. Even though most of you are probably too far to plan to visit Bologna, I think what I experienced would apply to many other book fairs.

    The Bologna Children´s Book Fair is not the biggest book fair but is the biggest fair dedicated exclusively to Children´s Books. There are about 1200 publishers and, I read, over 10´000 visitors per day. The publishers are there mainly to discuss the sales of foreign rights - and I was told not to expect to make any meaningful connection, as most of the people there are sales people.

    Well, it turns out that a few thousand of the visitors are illustrators, though, so the publishers have made accommodations to interact with the illustrators too. There are several occasions during the week where one art director or editor from each publisher makes time to view illustrator´s portfolios. On the one day I was there, I managed to show it to four art directors.

    Now, these are not the classical “portfolio reviews” (though there are those too - but it´s very difficult to get a slot) - you don´t get feedback on how to improve your work, you get feedback whether the publisher in question is interested in your work or not, and if so you get to exchange cards (which allows you to follow up later on). For me, this was exhilarating. It was the first time ever I got to interact in person with art directors at publishers and see their reactions.

    You need a tough skin, I reckon. For one, you get a visual and sensory experience of how tough the competition is. The walls of the hall were literally covered from floor to ceiling with illustrator´s tear sheets - there must have been several thousands of them. The queues to the art director´s review slots were sometimes 50 people deep already half an hour before the appointed time.
    Second, you need to be prepared for rejection. One of the ADs literally opened my book, said “Do you work digitally?” , and when I confirmed, closed it and bid me goodbye. That was a 10 second interaction after I stood in line for over one hour....Luckily it was not the norm - the other three were overall very positive interactions - the last one, with Bonnier UK, was exceptionally good.
    Third, you need to have the courage to walk up and talk with the receptionists at the stands, which can be very intimidating for me. Some of the stands were gigantic, with dozens of busy people inside (the big 5 American publishers and some of the big European ones typically), but almost all accepted at least a card in the end.

    The other benefit of something like this is that you get to see the sheer volume and diversity of the international children´s book business and you get to see the current catalog of each publisher physically on display. If I had had more time, it would have been a dream place to do market research and identify which publishers are a good fit for me. One day was a bit hit-and-miss. I´d definitely attend again and go for the whole week, with a much more strategic game-plan. After this experience, I´m considering going to Frankfurt as well, which is the other large European book fair, in October.

    And I got to meet another SVS-per! @LauraA , it was great meeting you in person - thank you for the nice chat and making me feel part of a community!



  • Sounds like an interesting experience. I'm surprised someone wasn't interested in your work when they found out it was digital though. I guess some companies have a traditional policy or something... I'm going to try and go to one near me.



  • Thanks for this recap! I have been seeing a lot about the Bologna fair on Twitter, etc and it is nice to have a longer reflection to read.



  • Simona, you expressed my sentiments pretty much exactly, though from a more experienced POV. You are especially right that the fair takes a thick skin and a bit of assertiveness, and there are too many publishers to do all your research on the spot so you'd need a game plan. And I didn't realize that there were actually 10,000 attendees daily, but that makes sense in terms of the sheer numbers of people I saw.

    I'm glad you had some success with showing your portfolio. It looks great! And I enjoyed meeting you as well. I knew a few other people there, but not many.

    And finally, here is my recap from my blog: The Bologna Book Fair--an illustrator's glimpse I post this link with some hesitation, because my blog is going through a bit of a personality crisis right now, from American-expat-in-Italy blog to illustrator's blog, and back and forth with other stuff thrown in. So just don't expect to find a neat and typical artist's website. That's still to come!



  • @lauraa That's a great recap! Thanks for giving an overview of the talks - I skirted them completely and spent all the time in the exhibition halls. On Friday morning I went to two talks but they were very disappointing. I think SCBWI is a better bet in terms of seminars and workshops.
    It's true that getting portfolio reviews can require some level of aggression - or at least assertiveness. I gave up on the race for the slots with famous names...sorry, I'm too old for that 😉 On the other hand, I got a spontaneous, 1 on 1 appointment all by myself by just walking up to the Bonnier booth and introducing myself. That was quite cool...
    I read that it's possible to book appointments in advance in Frankfurt...that's why I'm thinking of going there, it's only a short flight.

    Most booths were already dismantling by Friday noon, and the cool thing is that almost all sell their samples at a fraction of the market price - so I ended up with a huge load of books by Friday midday, which I had to cart back to the hotel. I think that is fairly typical for book fairs (people don't want to ship the stuff back) and it's alone a reason enough to attend.



  • @smceccarelli @LauraA thank you for recounting your stories of your time at the book fair. I have never been to one before, but you provided some great advice and I really enjoyed Laura's blog (I think the rushing through the doors or queue jumping would be too stressful for
    me though...)



  • @lauraa Thanks for that fascinating blog post about the Bologna Book Fair. I have become increasingly convinced by this forum that 1) I am really glad I am not trying to make a living at illustrating because it takes so much work, mental stamina, and self-confidence to succeed at it and 2) I'm really glad all of you are pursuing it because it is fascinating to be a fly on the wall to your experiences. Thanks!



  • @smceccarelli Wow thank you so much! I've been thinking about visiting Bologna book fair next year, and this recap just made me feel so excited! Can't wait! Thanks!



  • @lauraa Thanks so much for sharing your impressions in your blog. It's really helpful to know that I'd have to really psyche myself up for such an intense event. I'm already strategizing how I might don a survival suit of armor loaded with a battery charger for my phone, a thermos of hot coffee, a boxed lunch, snacks to maintain blood sugar levels, headphones to take a music break, and a translator.



  • @smceccarelli Thanks so much for this detailed and enlightening recap of your experience. You've confirmed what I imagined it might be like and a tough skin is something I definitely need to work on. Just sharing on this forum has helped but everyone has been so nice:)

    When you mention getting to exchange cards, do you mean just business cards or would a publisher accept a small postcard?



  • @johanna-kim I mean postcards. The ADs give you their business cards, of course, but I only distributed postcards.



  • @smceccarelli Great, thanks for the clarification. That makes much more sense.



  • Thank you for sharing!



  • Thank you! I LOVE your work, as you know. I hope you get some results from your encounters 🙂 I have a question: What's a tear sheet? Thanks.



  • @marsha-kay-ottum-owen Thank you Marsha! A tear sheet is a A4 or letter-sized sheet with samples of your art (one to eight, I´ve seen all) and your contact info. It´s like a mini-portfolio that you can give away. If you google “Illustrator tear sheet” you can see several examples.



  • I`ve just discovered another little nudget. On my way out of the fair I picked up a complimentary copy of the fair catalogue from last year that they were giving away at the illustrator´s corner. I opened it today for the first time and it contains names and e-mail addresses of all publisher representatives who were in attendance!!! Some only had sales people, but the majority had at least one editor or art director. So, if you are interested in a particular publisher, let me know and I may be able to share the name and e-mail address of one of their editors or art buyers as of March 2017.



  • @smceccarelli Oh, okay! Thanks Simona. I'll go look at some.