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Bologna Book Fair notes from 2004

I really wish I was going to Bologna this year, I missed it last year through other commitments and fully intended to make up for it in 2007, but as the SCBWI Conference has been postponed until next year I’ve decided to wait too.

Nevertheless if anyone reading this is planning to attend the Fair, I thought I’d post a selection of some of my diary notes from the 2004 Show. Never before seen online! Please excuse the scribbled quality of the sketches, they were all made at the time every evening, when I was either exhausted, or drunk, or both…. Bologna Book Fair 2004

The Preparation

I spent the whole day preparing for Bologna, going through my portfolio to get everything in the right order, compiling all the cards to give away to clients, and other such mundane but essential stuff….

Day 1. Arrival.

The Bologna Book Fair, the annual get-together of children’s publishers from all over the globe, the biggest trade fair for children’s books in the world.

And I’m here to grab a piece of that pie.

Fifteen appointments all told, not bad it seems. Go get ’em John!

Flying in to Bologna I was delayed getting to the Fair location and turned up just in time to catch the 6.00 SCBWI conference cocktail party. Loads of people met there, editors from the US, Australia, Korea … Ended up having dinner with a bunch of SCBWI members, Americans based in European countries, plus British, Turkish and Israeli members. A great welcome to the city, I gave away too many of my precious postcards.

Day 2. First Day of the Fair

The first proper day of the Book Fair, and thankfully the weather has turned sunny at last!

I met up with Linda Gerber (former Regional Advisor of SCBWI Tokyo) and the two of us did the rounds of Japanese publishers to spread the word about SCBWI in Japan. The response was encouraging, if bemused …

I also met June Goulding, a fine children’s illustrator from the UK who I’d known online through mail groups for a time, and who’d bravely taken out a booth with four other West Country artists at Bologna.

After lunch I had three scheduled meetings which all went down well, and a whole bunch of other unscheduled stops – Frances Lincoln (good response to my dummies), Barefoot Books, Charlesbridge, Chronicle etc etc. By late afternoon I was burned out…

At the end of the day I caught a bus with Bridget Strevens-Marzo (Paris-based Anglo-Spanish illustrator) into the city centre to get to the Andersen Press 25th anniversary party.

We abandoned the bus after a guy had his wallet snatched. Fortunately he grabbed the thief by the scruff of the neck as he tried to make a getaway, and thus recovered his money. We all felt rather nervous after that.

The Andersen Press party was a grand affair… I had long talks with Tony Ross (my old tutor from college days), David McKee, and my editor Janice Thomson, as well as renewing acquaintances with Max Veldtuijs.

Klaus Flugge (Andersen boss) was in fine form and gave an exuberant speech.

Tony Ross jokingly miffed that Max had beaten him to the Andersen Award.

Max (who sadly died later that year) had his arm in a sling because he’d tripped over at Schipol Airport.

Tony Ross quotes: When I bemoaned being side-tracked by commercial illustration away from children’s illustration “John you’ve just go to go with the flow. Don’t force it. I think advertising is an incredibly creative area, I just wasn’t very good at it. If that’s where you get the work, go for it.”

(on UK Versus US picturebooks) “In the US they make books that say it’s okey, mummy and daddy will look after you whatever happens, while in the UK we make books that say watch out!”

Day 3. Frustrations During the Second Day of the Fair

Today I was determined to keep the ball rolling with appointments etc, so I was all braced up and full of expectation. In retrospect I expected too much perhaps. The actual appointments I had went through smoothly enough, it’s just that I barely saw anyone else as they were all too busy. (This seems to be the general pattern every year I’m told – the best time to catch editors is at the beginning, and at the end of the Fair)

The morning I spent a lot of time just looking at books, especially the wonderful tomes on display in the European Halls, which seemed to have so much more craft to them than the heavily-commercial British and American booths. Lunch was with Stephen Roxburgh and his colleagues from Front Street Inc. Having just completed a book together (MVP) it was a great thing to meet face to face with Stephen at last, there was much to talk about.

There then followed more frustrating trudging around with only one person agreeing to see my work (Nord Sud Verlag) and they disliked my faces. The rest of the time I wondered aimlessly from one Hall to another, though it was good to meet a familiar face from Tokyo, illustrator Koji Ishikawa. I was also introduced to Iku Dekune, Japanese illustrator based in Prague.

The most disappointment came from a scheduled meeting with an editor at Random House UK, who claimed I was late (I wasn’t), kept me waiting for 15 minutes, then said although he knew and loved the Bobby Bell series (Secret in the Matchbox etc) no-one made those kind of books anymore! Final meeting was with Japanese publisher Kodansha who asked to see my dummies.

Stephen Roxburgh quotes:

“You have to think that making a picture book costs a publisher $15,000. You have to ask yourself ‘does this idea warrant spending that kind of money in order to make a book'”

“You really must write your own stories John, it’s essential. It’s just not good enough to share your royalties with someone else”.

Day 4 Back on Track

In contrast to the previous day, I was welcomed at publisher’s desks with no messing. Four or five sample drop-offs, then two excellent scheduled meetings with Kingfisher and Dutton.

Third meeting at Random House however was completely blown out – I had an appointment, but the editor had already left and gone back to the UK!

But was I down about this? Not a bit, today was my “make up for yesterday” day, and nothing could stop me. Except my feet, or rather my SHOES.

Idiot here had decided to “knock ’em dead” by wearing Prada boots, and now I was stuck with agonizing toes all day. So, I may have looked cool, but was walking around feeling like christ carrying the cross.

Despite all these setbacks however, nothing could stop me. I blagged my way into meeting after meeting, sample after sample was delivered, I had no appointments at all in the afternoon, but I still managed to see lots of people. And when it just got too much I crashed into a chair at the Front Street or the Andersen Press booths to rest my weary legs.

Memorable things – I dropped in to chat to a UK artists rep stand, and discovered the boss went to the same school as me at almost the same time. We chatted about the Art teachers, all the old names came out. Very weird.

Second memorable thing – I was in the Andersen Press stand when a Norwegian publisher turned up for a meeting, cornered me and put in a potential trade order for my book “King Smelly Feet”. Now that put me in a really good mood, although it meant I missed the presentation in the Illustrator’s Cafe given by my friend Anders Suneson from Sweden.

In the evening was the Dutch Publishers Association party, which was crowded but fun, then dinner with wonderful friends from SCBWI where the (excellent) wine flowed freely.

More quotes:

Tony Ross (quoting David McKee) “Never use a £50 tool to to do a £10 job”

Stephen Roxburgh “If you really want to make a lasting impression you’ve got to come every year. If I missed a year at Bologna people would say “where’s Stephen this year?” But you miss two years, and people stop wondering”.

Day 5 The Last Day

As I had to leave at midday I didn’t expect much to occur, but I was to be surprised. After dropping off samples and saying goodbye to everyone, I ended up once more in Hall 27, largely full of British companies. As everyone was packing up it was much easier to talk to people.

I found two editors who were really enthusiastic about my art, packagers Brushfire (who offered me a book there and then) and Templar. Also a great response from Barefoot Books.

I left the Fair with a big smile on my face, and zipped off to the airport, tired, wrecked, but with lots of fine memories, and every reason to feel happy.

As books are not on sale during the Fair my only souvenir were sugar mice given to me by June Goulding, a charming and very fitting reminder of the trip, which were polished off by my nieces in the UK instantly.

And so it was over, and all I wanted for the 2 days left in England before flying back to Japan was to shut off and take it easy….

Follow-up: I was subsequently commissioned for an uncomfortably rushed pop-up book from a UK packager (not Brushfire I should clarify) some time after the Fair, a company which then sank before the book could be released. Although that was the only direct job to come from my visit, nevertheless the lessons I learned about markets, the contacts I made, and the general experience were absolutely invaluable.

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