Bologna Book Fair

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.


  1. Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson on #

    Justine, hi.

    I’m a lurker (most of the time) on the yanovel listserv. I read your blog, as I find it informative and entertaining, and also because I’m nuts about all things Australian–I’ve never been there, though I do have a writer email friend who lives on a sheep farm somewhere in the wooly wilds of your country. She affectionally refers to her town as Yakbutt.

    Thank you for your Bologna report. I know my agent was there. I admire how you travel all over the place, as I am a scaredy-cat and never go anywhere.

    I really, really enjoyed your first book, Magic or Madness (Madness or Magic? Ack. Please forgive.) And am looking forward to the new one.

    Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

  2. Justine on #

    Kathleen: Thanks! So pleased you liked Magic or Madness.

    Whereabouts is your friend? Is she American? I just ask cause I’d’ve said yakkbum rather than butt . . . Either way that’s pretty funny.

    I’m not wild about the travelling part—if only transmat beams were real—but I just love being in other places, discovering new cities, food, wine, people. Fabulous. I’m dead pleased to be home, but. Yay, Sydney.

  3. Little Willow on #

    Welcome back! Sounds like you had a great time.

  4. dylan on #

    Wicked! Glad you and Scott had a great time! Just brought Pretties. Uglies was damn good-finished it in two hours and your book, Magic or madness rocked- finished it in like a few days. can’t wait til the next one. Rock one! dylan NJ, America.

  5. Brent Hartinger on #

    Thanks for the report. Very interesting. I get overwhelmed by US publishing–I can’t imagine having to figure out the whole world!

  6. Justine on #

    Little Willow: Indeed we did!

    Dylan: Thanks! You know the next one, Magic Lessons is out now, right? If you can’t afford hardcover you can get it from your library. So pleased you like our books!

    Brent: You know going to the Fair had the opposite effect. I now feel less overwhelmed by US publishing. It all makes a lot more sense now. But I’m still jetlagged. I’ll see if I still feel that way in a week.

  7. Alma Fullerton on #

    Hi, Justine, great report, thanks. I hope someday to get there even if just for the food 🙂

  8. Lisa Yee on #

    Interesting, thank you Justine! I didn’t realize it was so business-oriented.

  9. Justine on #

    Alma: Mmmm, the food. I miss blood orange juice like you wouldn’t believe. But thanks to my lovely mother I came home to a fridge full of fruit. Including mangosteens! I have the world’s best mother.

    Lisa: Definitely the most businessy fair I’ve seen. I imagine Frankfurt is the same only without good food.

  10. Brent Hartinger on #

    Oh, that actually makes sense! 😉

  11. Jo Whittemore on #

    Excellent report. I picture each little booth looking like the stock trading floor in NY. Very good advice for authors who were thinking of saving up their money to go. Now they know their money would be better spent on local endeavors.

    And thank you for the food report. 🙂 I like blood oranges if I don’t have to look at them when I eat them. Something about the name and the color combined…

  12. Justine on #

    Jo: Pretty much, except that they’re sitting down and aren’t wearing those weird coats. I definitely thing it’s worth going for the more established writers (ie it was prolly a bit premature for me). More foreign sales seem to flow for quite a few authors who’ve been in past years. And it’s great to get to know all your publishers.

    It’s also a fab experience for publishing geeks (which I confess I am rapidly becoming). I really do feel like I have a better handle on how the whole publishing thing works now, which, of course, leaves me bursting to know more. How did these fairs get started in the first place? How long has the concept of foreign rights existed? Etc. etc.

  13. danny bloom on #

    That was one of the best reports, from a writer’s point of view, of the Bologna Fair I have ever seen in print. Thanks for that.

    Read about you via today, and Corey Doctorow’s post about your books.

    Have you sold foreign rights to Taiwan or Japan yet? There’s a nice little (big) Taipei International book fair each February, might be a good place to visit someday for you and your husband. Taiwan publishers are wonderful to work with. Bradley Trevor Grieve was here a few years ago, big media splash when he flew in.

    Anyway, thanks for your Bologna blog. I want to go there someday myself. One of my friends who works at Abrams in NYC went this year, and said, yes, it was a very very busy fair.

  14. danny bloom on #

    re my above post, I see that yes, you hvae sold rights to Taiwan. GREAT! THen come on over next year for the book fair hair. great people to work with in Taiwan, for media promotion. They will love you here.

    Magic or Madness …rights have been also to *Taiwan*, France, Thailand and Germany.

  15. Justine on #

    Thanks, Danny, you know if we gets an invite we’re so there. Taipei is only, what?, seven or eight hours away from Sydney?

    We were only able to go to Bologna because The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators invited us to give a workshop and keynote addresses at their conference before the fair.

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

  16. danny on #

    Am working on the invite right now. Who is your publisher in Taiwan? China Times or Locus or who? We can set something up for next book fair here….

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