Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Top tips for Bologna Book Fair

Bologna Survival Guide.
This guide was put together for the MA Children's Book Illustration students visiting the fair in March 2014. This post is written from my experience at Bologna Book Fair. This is a guide for anyone going for the first time/wanting to know more about the fair. All thoughts are my own.

(Outside Bologna Book Fair 2013)

Hurrah! You’re going to Bologna Book Fair, the world’s biggest trade fair for picture books. This fair is HUGE, with all the biggest and smallest publishers for children’s books under one roof. Remember that most publisher are at Bologna to trade and to sell rights of picture books.

Note – I’ve written this for people who are ready to see publishers, if you don’t feel ready to meet publishers just yet then go and have a look round, see the illustrator’s exhibitions and see what talks are on. Make note of publishers you think you could approach next year and enjoy the experience.

Things to take with you
o   Business cards. (I took 100 last year)
o   Postcards, optional but a nice leave behind for meetings/sticking on the illustrators wall. (Again I had 100 printed but I still have half of them in a draw somewhere.) 
o   A small copy of your portfolio – A4 size is fine, tablet (iPad etc) is ok but most publishers want to see it in print. I made an A4 softbound book for mine last year that was light weight and did the job.
o   A professional looking copy of your dummy book/s. - I printed mine at home last year and then soft bound them, this was fine. Other options include online book printers such as Blurb. (note - I have a Epson R3000 A3 printer. DON'T print out a dummy book on your small A4 rubbish printer on 80gsm printer paper... )
o   A sketchbook with new ideas in – small, A5 size. (optional)
o   A small notebook, A6 size works well, if it has a little pocket in the back even better! You can store publisher’s business cards in there.
o   A pen – TAKE NOTES!
o   A watch – keep track of time.
o   10 (ish) x A3 posters to stick on the illustrator’s wall. (optional) These should include a striking colour image and your contact details.  Last year I took 4 posters and a roll of masking tape to stick up on the illustrator’s wall, they were all either swamped by other illustrators work or taken down by the end of the fair and I wished I’d had more.
o   OR make posters with tear-off strips with contact details. Make sure it has an eye-catching image on it though!
o   Comfortable shoes – A MUST – trust me!
o   Bottle of water (optional but it’s expensive in the fair)
o   Lunch – if you don’t like ham or spending 5 Euros on a sandwich.

(Things I had in my bag - not including my A4 portfolio)

Whilst being at the fair
o   Pick up a map when you go in, it’s a huge fair, you might/will get lost!
o   Try and make appointments to see publishers that you like.
o   Sometimes it’s easier to get a slot if you’re on your own, not in a group, try going solo and arranging to meet up with friends later.
o   Talk to other illustrators. Ask them if they’ve seen any publishers, tell them who you’ve seen, it’s A LOT easier to ask approach a publisher for a meeting when you know the answer is going to be yes.
o   Turn the back of your notebook into a planner for the 4 days, I did this into hour slots so you can have time to get from meeting to meeting. It means that you wont double book yourself and know where you need to be on what day at each time. It was my savior last year.
o   Visit the illustrator’s wall and pin up your work! I was contacted last year from agents and publishers after they saw my work on the wall. Check this daily to make sure nobody has put his or her work over yours/taken yours down.
o   CHECK YOUR EMAILS – publishers may be trying to contact you!
o   DON’T SIGN A CONTRACT WHEN YOU’RE AT THE FAIR. If a publisher likes you they will wait. Get back home, weigh up your options and make a sensible decision.
o   Some stands will sell books on the last day of the fair so they don’t have to take them home, yes they are lovely, yes they can be a bargain, but remember – do you have room to take them home in your Ryan Air hand luggage?
o   Go and see the Cambridge School of Art stand! Showcasing 80 unpublished students from the MA in Children's Book Illustration course, Cambridge. (Publishers can make meetings through our website)

(Ailsa Burrows and myself outside the Cambridge School of Art stand - 2013)

When asking to see a publisher
o   Scout out what publishers you like the look of Monday morning – where does your work fit? Who could you see publishing your book?
o   Make meetings – most places have a receptionist, make sure you’re talking to the right person!
o   After scouting out who you’d like to approach don’t leave it too late. Monday morning/afternoon and Tuesday morning are a good time to approach publishers. The bigger publishers have either already been booked up for months or will be booked up by Tuesday afternoon. Get in quick!
o   Ask if anyone is seeing illustrators/ask if you can book a meeting with the art director/editor.
o   If a publisher is fully booked or not seeing illustrators try asking for a business card to send PDFs to.
o   ALWAYS be polite and professional.

So you’re meeting a publisher! –
o   Three P’s – Polite, Professional and Punctual.
o   Your meeting will be anything from 5 to 15 minuets,
o   Give the publisher the option of seeing portfolio or dummies first. Some publishers don’t have time to see portfolios.
o   Have your work ready to go, you will only have a small amount of time, every minuet counts.
o   Try and listen to what publishers are saying about your work. Make notes that will make sense a week/a month later. (These notes will be extremely useful when planning your next book/making edits to your story.)
o   Your dummy book should speak for itself; you don’t need to explain every page.
o   They will usually flick through dummies and portfolio very quickly, they know what they’re looking for, don’t be disheartened by this.
o   You can ask them questions
o   Always leave behind business cards/ postcards and where possible get one from them back, store this away in your note book for use when you get back home.

(me talking at Bologna Book Fair 2013)

When you get back home -
          o   If a publisher has asked to see a PDF make sure it’s low res and locked.
          o   Follow up any interest that you’ve had in meetings – using your note book filled with            publishers details send a quick email saying it was nice to meet them at the fair. (Remember that some publishers have had a week away from there desks and there inboxes will be very full with similar emails to yours. Don't pester, keep to the professional manner that you had at Bologna) 
          o   Make meetings to see publishers in the UK.
          o   Relax and sleep

But don't just listen to me! Here are some top tips from other illustrators -  

Enjoy it and have fun! 
Have any comments/tips/experiences? Leave a note in the comments!


  1. I was looking for an alternative online book fair company in Virginia and was told during one of our library meetings Bookworm Central is the best when it comes to their services offered. When I called to inquire, I was greeted warmly and had all of my questions answered by a well informed staff member. Setting up the online fair was easy and we had great success. I can’t wait to do my first onsite book fair with them in the fall

  2. Hello, Emma. I'm going to Bologna next week for the first time and I found your article very helpful. So thank you!
    One question: To put your postcards/business cards on the wall, do you need to bring own push pins or blutack?

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