Just back from Bologna (now that was a long journey home via Frankfurt & Singapore—so long our luggage decided to stay iin Frankfurt. Sigh.) Had a wonderful time. Bologna is gorgeous and the food is extraordinary. Truffles! Fresh blood orange juice every morning! I now understand the appeal of fresh mozarella di Bufala . . .
But you all want to know about the book fair, right? It’s totally geared to business. Unlike Book Expo America where you’re overwhelmed by how many books there are—and more particularly how many free books there are—at Bologna I was overwhelmed by how many meetings were going on. Every single stall, no matter how small, was set up with lots of desks, at every single one two people sat across from each other earnestly waving books around, consulting their notes, doing everything they could to sell and/or buy rights to books.
It’s very very intense. I now feel like I know more about the business than ever before. I finally understand what it is that scouts do and how they’re paid! It’s amazing how many middle men there are out there. I also learned all about how they make pop-up books—it takes a whole village in China. I learned that the publishing wisdom that short story collections don’t sell holds everywhere, that everyone—even the French—reckon that French YA books are too preachy and boring, that hardbacks are big in Sweden and non-existent in Brazil. I am dizzy with everything I have learnt!
There were hardly any other authors. I met one the whole time I was there. (Hello, Isobel!) There’s not a lot for us to do at the Fair except be taken out by our publishers and agents. I was entertained by Penguin (who are my US and Oz publishers), and by my Brazilian and French ones. I also went along to dinner/lunch/drinks with some of Scott‘s publishers and thus got to hear about the UK, Finnish, Swedish, Italian, Thai, and German versions of the business. Fascinating.
As authors we weren’t invited to any of the parties and had to crash by trailing along on our publishers’ coat tails. I started to feel weirdly like authors aren’t that important in the publishing scheme things, which is crazy because aren’t we what they’re buying and selling?
On the other hand, there are lots of illustrators who run around with their portfolios ready to wow publishers from all over the world. The illustrator exhibition was breathtakingly good (though sadly there were no exhibitors from the US or Australia) as was the one focussed on Hungarian art. Oh my! Stunning. I’m now desperate—desperate, I tell you—to do an illustrated book.
So if you’re a published author is it worth going?
I think so, but I think it’s most valuable if you’ve had at least a couple of foreign sales so you have publishers to meet with. It also helps if your home publisher is there. I met one author whose publisher wasn’t at the fair and who’d had no foreign sales and they seemed kind of lost and overwlemed. It must be even more overwhelming if you’re not yet published.
As a result of going to Bologna I have a much clearer idea of how my publishers work and who to go to with questions. I now know some of the key people at my Brazilian and French publishers which makes the whole being published in other languages seem less remote and even more fun. I wish I’d been able to meet all my publishers!
I definitely plan to return.