So anyways, I went to the Bologna Children's Book Fair last month. It was my first time—I don't know what took me so long! I came away goggle-eyed, my head bulging with new information, images and encounters (... and my valise bulging with books, catalogues, cards, all to be perused in leisure). Here is a little impression of my time there.
First, an overview of the fair itself: established in 1963, the Bologna Book Fair is the largest and longest-running event of its kind. The Salon du Livre at Montreuil was started 20 years later, and is focussed on only French language children's publications; as a result, it is much smaller. Bologna, on the other hand, is international in scope: 1300 exhibitors (compared to Montreuil's 350)—publishers, literary and illustration organizations, agents and others—come from 67 countries, and display their wares in 20,000 square metres of space. Unlike Montreuil, it is not open to the public but only to professionals. That means: no roaring kids on school trips, no books for sale, no story-telling workshops, no autographs. None. Of. That.
But what does that even mean— "1300 exhibitors in 20,000 square metres"?
Each of those green rectangles is like an airplane hangar — an airplane hangar containing a football field! You spend the entire day galloping from one end of the fair to the other (note to self: flat shoes!)—late to appointments, or lost, or trying to take in as much as you can in four short days. This brief video (by author Bart Moeyaert, via the Astrid Lindgren blog) gives an idea of the breathless pace of the fair:
Is Bologna a good place to do business, for an illustrator? Opinion is divided on this question. On the one hand, it is true that the main activity is between publishers, who are there to buy and sell rights to previously published books. They are focussed on trading, not necessarily there for creative people; at times the art directors are not even present. Or are too overwhelmed and inattentive to be any good to you.
On the other hand, appointments can always be made --best if arranged in advance, but last-minute rendez-vous are also possible. And certain publishers (especially the well-organized Germans!) set aside a few hours each day to look at portfolios, and a long queue of hopeful illustrators forms immediately! And lastly, two of my friends actually got book projects while at Bologna (félicitations, les filles!) So there!!
Then there's always the Illustrator's Wall:
Here you can put up your postcard, business card, poster or other illustration promo pieces. (Note to self: a stapler or double-sided tape would have been good...). Does it help? Does tossing a coin in the Trevi fountain help? In any event it's fun to look at everyone else's imagery...
Of course, the main thing that will catch your eye is books—
(Here are some from the wonderful Spanish publisher, Zorro Rojo—I found wonderful books at their stand including these by Javier Zabala and Antonio Santos.)
—there are so many of them, you will be the proverbial kid in the proverbial candy shop! The anticipation and excitement will soon be superseded by a sense of adventure as you start to make discoveries. It's overwhelming at first—it takes a little time to be able to focus on one book at a time, in the beginning you just want to get the lay of the land and your attention span is greatly reduced. But you'll get the hang of it!
It can all be a bit tiring, of course. Luckily, there's the Illustrator's Café where you can sit and rest your barking dogs. It is a lounge of sorts, a meeting place — and also the venue for the many events (talks by illustrators/authors, panel discussions, live interviews, and especially awards ceremonies) that take place at the book fair. And of course it is adjacent to the various exhibition spaces: the solo shows, the Guest of Honour country's display, and the (main) Illustrator's Exhibition.
But more on all of that in another post. Suffice it to say that I have come back with a lot of inspiration and new insights and energy. I'll be back, Bologna!