Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I got back from Italy Monday night. It was an overall fantastic trip in almost every way.

I was there mainly for the Bologna Book Fair. For those of you not familiar with it, here is a description from the website:

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry. In its 45th edition, the Fair offers more than 20,000 square meters of exhibition space with a simple, easy-to-understand layout.

In Bologna, authors, illustrators, literary agents, TV & film producers, licensors and licensees, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers, and librarians meet to:
• sell & buy copyright
• find the very best of children’s publishing and multimedia production
• generate and gather new contacts while strengthening professional relationships
• discover new business opportunities
• discuss and debate the latest sector trends

As a publisher, we go to sell foreign and film (etc.) rights for our books, and also go to possibly buy book rights from foreign publishers, agents, etc. My company generally sends four people every year--two people to sell, and two people to buy. Going to Bologna was always a kind of pipe dream for me, as generally only the publisher and editorial directors get to go. I hoped it would be a possibility some day--I certainly didn't expect to be able to go so soon, but I was fortunate enough to be tapped to go for the first time this year and help buy.

I arrived with two of three coworkers on Saturday afternoon. We rented a car and drove to our hotel. The first thing we noticed about Bologna was that it was sunny and nice. The second thing I noticed was that there were a lot of colorful, little cars. The third thing I noticed was that there was a lot of graffiti.

We checked into the hotel, and then a colleague and I (it was also his first trip to Bologna) decided to get something to eat and explore the city a bit. We found a little outdoor place on via dell' Independenza. Here I am with my first pasta meal, appropriately tagliatelle alla bolognese. So good.
Later that night, we scouted out a bookstore, and of course made a beeline to the children's section. I found an Italian edition of Jerry Spinelli's Love, Stargirl, and found it amusing to see my name surrounded by all the Italian (you may recall that he thanked me in the acknowledgements for letting him use my name for one of the characters):
The next day we set up the booth. Here are a few walls:

I was excited to see a whole wall devoted to my beloved Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez:
And, of course, another devoted to the Stephenie Meyer books:
After setup we strolled over to the Piazzi Maggiore to sit in the sun and have lunch. I had been told that mortadella was one of the specialties in Bologna, so I ordered a mortadella sandwich and was delighted to discover that it was basically bologna. I had wanted to eat bologna in Bologna!

After that, my time in Bologna was a blur of meetings and dinners. We were basically all scheduled for 30 minute back-to-back-to-back meetings from 9 am till 6 pm every day. The first two days I went to most meetings with our Publisher, with a few separate ones here and there, and then Wednesday and Thursday I had my meetings solo. It was exhausting, overwhelming, but awesome.

The exhibits were divided into halls, which were for the most part sorted by country. I think there were around 6-8 halls, but I spent most of my time in just 4 different halls--the US, UK, French, and Asian halls (with other countries mixed in). Our appointments had for the most part been planned with location in mind, but of course there were those few times where we found ourselves going to a meeting in Hall 25, then having to jump to Hall 30, and then back again. But despite all the rushing around, I think the people buying (like me) had the better deal--all I had to do was listen and say what I was interested in. The people selling have to sit in the booth all day and give the same sales pitch meeting after meeting.

I've met with many a foreign rights agent before, so that part was nothing new, but it was great to put some faces to names, and to see publishers from countries we don't normally meet with, like France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and more. I was really drawn to the art styles of a lot of the European publishers, but oftentimes found the content a bit too obscure, sophisticated, or inappropriate for the U.S. audience. For example, my publisher joked that many of the French picture books feature death, nudity, and smoking. I saw plenty of the former two, but unfortunately (fortunately?) none featuring the latter.

All of the agents were regulated to the agent center, which apparently was in a new location this year. Many of the agents expressed dissatisfaction with the new digs, one reason being that they were up in the mezzanine, with no bathroom! I thought the windows were quite nice, though. But the crowded tables gave one the impression of a coral.
I didn't see anything that I absolutely loved right away, but I requested many picture books that I wanted to spend more time with, and of course when it comes to fiction, you just have to read it. It seems that in the past, people more often actually bought things while at the fair (I remember as an assistant running P&Ls and faxing them to my boss in Bologna). We did get a few offers on one of our big upcoming fiction titles, and heard of a few other books getting offers or a lot of interest, but nothing really jumped out as being the "book of the fair." I think the exchange rate played a role in this, too. But there were some promising-sounding things, so we'll see. The emails following up from after the fair are starting to trickle in.

On the selling side, I was of course curious to hear about the books I'd edited and the interest they were generating. I think the three main books that were getting a lot of requests were Sergio (out next month), The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Spring 2009), and Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Fall 2008). It was interesting to hear the Japanese publishers' take on Wabi Sabi. Apparently, only one requested to see it, which I suppose is not surprising--it would be like us buying in a picture book about baseball or Thanksgiving from the Japanese. Not impossible, but probably not likely. And one Japanese publisher greeted the concept with skepticism. "How can a picture book explain wabi sabi? It is too complicated. Impossible." I think we were successful, but I'll be curious how this one is received when it comes out.

We dined with various packagers and foreign publishers on Monday night, with our French subagent on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night, the children's agents from McIntosh & Otis arranged a get-together--various agents, editors, subagents, packagers, etc. gathered together in a little outdoor area to drink wine and compare conference notes.

I met up with a friend and went off to Florence for two nights on vacation after the fair, which I hope to post about on my personal blog at some point (I LOVED Florence. Gorgeous city), but that just about sums up the Bologna Book Fair for me. I hope to be invited back some day! And just for fun, I'll leave you with a few food pictures. Oh, the food.



Lisa Yee said...

Wow, thank you for the wonderful blog! It sounds like an exciting time, and the food . . . ah, the food . . .

Susan Sandmore said...

Thanks for sharing. The fair looks crowded--and the food looks yummy. And if you're going to have graffiti, it might as well be cute graffiti, eh?

MotherReader said...

Great post. I feel like I was there. Based on all the food pictures, I probably gained ten pounds.

Libby Koponen said...

That does sound fun in every way -- would you add labels to the food pictures? Or a comment telling us what the dishes are from top to bottom? Even the gelato: what kind is in the pictures? Did they have kinds there that we don't have here?

Brian Floca said...

I'm having Italy envy, Alvina. And looking at those pasta pictures right before lunch is turning out to be a very bad idea; my ham on whole wheat sandwich just lost a lot of its appeal.

Natalie said...

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the gelato on the right is stracciatella (chocolate chip). Whatever the flavors were, it all looks delicious!

I was also in a bookstore Saturday evening with my husband and 3 kids--we spent most of our time in the children's section in the back, where I saw STARGIRL on a table right in the center of the kids' section. I wonder if I just missed you--it was the Libreria Trame where the SCBWI cocktail party was held on Sunday.

Glad you enjoyed Bologna!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Libby on wanting more detail about the food photos..
even the graffiti looked good!!!
Great to read about (all) your


Kimbra Kasch said...

My bologna has a first name, it's... oh, sorry you probably don't remember that one. Nostalgia hit in - and I was thinking of the meat we used to eat when I was a kid.

My husband is from Denmark so I know all about the nudity and smoking. When we took our kids to visit his family in Copenhagen, we were eating dinner, the t.v. was playing in the background, when a hard core porn show came on. I said, "Um...could we turn the channel?" 'Cause I just couldn't watch that - with my kids sitting at the table. They still think I'm a prude.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wrap-up! I was really wondering what this whole "Bologna thing" was all about. I had no idea it would make me so hungry, though! My mid-morning granola bar has never looked so piddling.

saramoohead said...

I can do the bottom two. (I am "the friend".)

The dessert is Sformata (sp?) which was basically heavenly chocolate mousse.

The gelato flavors from left to right are:
forest berry and "Twix" gelato which had bits of Twix-like biscuit mixed into vanilla and chocolate gelato.
The second one is straciatella (well done Natalie) and "Kinder Surprise" gelato, which is a kind of chocolate in Europe. It didn't have any Kinder chocolate bits in it though, so I think it was a little false-advertising.

Mmmm... take me back!

alvinaling said...

My bologna has a first name, it's O S C A R... of course I know that one! It was in my head for a lot of the trip.

As for the, let me try.

The first one is fetuccine with pesto from a little cafeteria place on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (this was actually Sara's dish).

The second one is a cheese plate at a wine bar across from the Pitti Palace in Florence.

The third is lamb and potatoes at Il Cantinone, also in Florence.

The fourth is lamb at Trattoria Battibecco in Bologna.

The fifth some kind of pappardelle in Bologna, I forget where.

The sixth is cod encrused in potatoes at Teresina in Bologna.

And Sara got the last two! (I'm glad she remembered the gelato flavors, I had forgotten!)

Angela said...

So much wonderful food. Our first few dinners were too many courses - the 'between course' dishes were plates of cheese!

One night we shopped at the local market, cooked Bologna style at the apartment.

The fair
The food
The books
The food
The fair
The gelato
The food

it's impossible to say what is the best part of Bologna!

Linda S. Wingerter said...

Gelato!!! That's no fair!!!