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Monday, July 1, 2013

A look at the Bologna Children's Book Fair

by Hazel Mitchell

This year I visited the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy and I wanted to share my experience and the benefits of visiting this prestigious event.

The Fair was celebrating it's 50th year. It was my first visit to Bologna and I combined my visit with a trip home to England (where I was born) and also the Paris Europolitan SCBWI conference.

I was lucky enough to hook up with the SCBWI Illustration Co-ordinator for Europe (Kirsten Carlson who is a wonderful artist! and we shared a cute little apartment that was VERY reasonable compared with hotel rooms, right in the heart of the old city. We could walk everywhere or easily get the bus/taxi. Restaurants were on every corner and it was easy to buy groceries etc.

Bologna is the most fabulous city. The architecture is beautiful, the food amazing and the people so friendly and accommodating. This was my first trip to Italy and I am longing to go back!

I felt very safe there walking around on my own, even at night. There are so many museums, shops, art galleries, so if you go, try and give yourself a little time to get around the city as well as the fair.

Every 2nd year the SCBWI have a booth at the fair and it's a good idea to go in that year, (if you're an SCBWI member), because there will be lots of people to connect with, hangout with and go to dinner with! Find out more at http://www.scbwibologna.org/ - they will have a booth there in 2014 and lots of SCBWI happenings.

The fair is HUGE. In reality it is very much about selling rights and watching the business happening on the floor is fascinating. The halls are many and filled from wall to wall with publishers from every region of the world. It's an education to look at books from other cultures, too. You'd do well to study the guide before you get there and find out where the publishers are that you'd like to visit.

Make sure you have comfortable SHOES, stay HYDRATED and take RESTS. It's fun just to stop, find a resting place and watch the book world go by.

 Be sure to have coffee and arrive before the crowds.

So why go? For me, I was curious to visit this legendary book fair and to network with publisher's from around the world. There is also a very big contingency of illustrators attending and events for illustrators. So if you are an illustrator it makes complete sense to go.

I have to say if you're a writer, it's a big investment for what will be a great experience, but much harder to network. Having said that I know plenty of writers who've been and there are many, many editors and agents around to chat with if you network hard.

In this pic you can see the famous 'illustrator's wall' behind me where everyone leaves their postcards.

Each year there is an exhibition of illustrators which you can enter via the Bologna Fair website. It's very interesting and usually includes many avant garde illustrations from across the globe. This year there was also an exhibition of Peter Sis' work and Peter gave many talks throughout the Fair.

Peter Sis talking about his life and career in the Illustrator's Cafe. You do have to listen to the Italian translation though, which can make the sessions a wee bit ... long. Take a sketch pad!

There's lots of other great things going on, like the digital cafe which ran great panels and discussions. You will find a plethora of panels and talks to attend.

The fair runs for 4 days. It's not terribly expensive and illustrators can apply for a discount voucher to reduce the price.

Nearly all day the big publishers are in meetings and it's hard to get on their stands unless you have an appointment ...

Some of the publishers will see portfolios and they announce this on their stands for particular times during the day. I do have to say, though, standing in line with a bunch of what mostly seemed to be art students for hours didn't seem to me to be a good use of my time, but I'm sure some people are discovered that way! For me, I was happier browsing the stands and chatting to marketing/editors/art directors if available and giving them a card and taking one to follow up later.

There is a LOT to see and much of it is great fun and a visual feast. I did two days at the fair and didn't see all of it!   Here's a tip .. after the exhibition officially closes, many of the booths have drinks parties (and food!) so seek these out,  
eat cheap and meet contacts and new friends! But for goodness sake, remember those comfortable shoes!

Here are some MAD MEN ....

While you are walking around, look above when you're standing in the Illustrator's Cafe and you will see a big glass room. Go up the escalator and gaze at the rows and rows of tables and chairs, (like something from 1984), seating agents talking to buyers and look in wonder. THIS is where the real business happens!

If your publisher is there, maybe you'll find your book on display too! There are very few signings at Bologna, it's not that kind of fair. It is all about the selling.

One thing there is a lot of at Bologna is wonderful food, even in the cafes at the convention centre. This was a lovely light lunch I had on one of the days.

 And, of course, after all the walking and talking was done, there was dinner and wine and FRIENDS!

 I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Bologna, even if it is only once in a lifetime. Plan carefully, and have a great time!


"One Word Pearl" coming Fall 2013
Click here for my events diary


  1. What an amazing trip! Thanks so much, Hazel, for sharing your experiences and all those fab photos!

  2. Ah, to live through you is lovely! :) I love getting your insights into the event--will put it on my bucket list pronto! Now if we can just get you out west again...

  3. I loved this look at the fair! Thanks for sharing, Hazel!

  4. Thank you for the amazing tour, Hazel! And I'm so glad you had a good time :)

  5. Thanks for posting - hope to make it someday too!

  6. I went in 2000 (a SCBWI year) and I'd love to return. I made the trip (from Australia) longer by attending the London Book Fair as well, which is about 3 weeks later. Some people manage to get a grant to cover costs (I didn't), but visiting is tax deductible.

    It would be hard to promote a text for a picture book (I never say impossible) but I did find it relatively easy at both fairs to pitch non-fiction. As Hazel has written, most 'important people' on stands have a continuous stream of pre-made appointments. I'd arrive just as a appointee was about to leave and look at the display. Not knowing if was the next contact, I'd be asked what I was looking at and interest was shown (dress professionally). My winning line was: "I have a new book just about to be released and I'm looking to see if you have any titles likely to compete, and as an author and occasional illustrator, I'm also looking to see if you have any gaps in your list that I may be able to fill."

    They all wanted to know what was going to compete with their books and were keen to chat. I discussed possibilities for which I could send proposals. I came away with about 8 solid leads from Bologna and about the same from London. A discussion at the London Book Fair resulted in a contract from a UK publisher for my latest book, 'Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking'. It took 18 months to write and illustrate, and I've not followed up any of the other leads.

    I did make lots of new publisher contacts from my own country and also overseas, some at parties.

    SCBWI has a one day symposium the day before the Bologna Fair opens. Resulting from early registration, I had the first page of a picture book text read in front of the audience to a panel of 6 editors and agents from across the globe. The editors all said 'It's a no for me' - the agent from New Zealand liked it. 3 years later and it is now about to be traditionally published with an accompanying CD. We'll see how global it ends up, but always remember that opinions are only personal expressions. It uses Australian animals as characters, which will obviously be illustrated, but the US editors said things like 'What's a brolga? And what's a dingo? I don't think our children would be interested in those.'

    1. Thanks for all the great information ... that's a good 'in' line. I often ask what's getting them excited on their stand this year, but yours is better! Thanks for commenting Peter :-)