Friday, 7 January 2011

How to speak publisher - B is for Bologna

Sorry there was such a long Christmas break. It wasn't laziness, or even shopping, it was deadline crisis. The deadline was 4 Jan, which is a really Christmas-slaying deadline, and the book included a lot of quantum mechanics, which is a pretty Christmas-slaying topic. I was still editing at 10pm on the plane back from Africa on 3 Jan. Ah yes, a little bit of skiving in Africa.... And a little bit of research, but not for the same book.

But back to work.

Bologna is a delightful old city in Italy, but as far as publishers are concerned, Bologna is an event, a state of mind and a place that contains (a) their hotel (b) the conference halls where the International Children's Book Fair takes place each spring (c) the bars on Via Independenza where large quantities of gin can be consumed at low prices and (d) restaurants that are always full.

Bologna is also a euphemism or an excuse. It can mean 'I can't be arsed to look at your book' or 'I am too busy to talk to you' or it can mean 'please go away and forget you ever sent me that book'. You will find it used in phrases such as 'In the run-up to Bologna...', and 'When I get back from Bologna...', and 'Since Bologna...' The 'run-up to Bologna' starts in mid-November, as soon as the dust from Frankfurt is off the editor's feet. 'Since Bologna' lasts until June when the run-up to Frankfurt starts. I heard 'there's no time before Bologna' at a publisher's Christmas party last December. I think that's a record. (Bologna 2011 is in late March - three and a half months after the Christmas party.)

The Bologna International Children's Book Fair brings together publishers of children's books from around the world. There are so many that they lie
'thick as leaves that strow the brooks in Valambrosa'. Oh, no - sorry - that's the demons in Hell, isn't it? There are so many that they pack several halls and it's impossible to work round them all in a day. There is an illustrator's wall, where aspirant and established illustrators showcase their work, and there are publishers' stands (organised into the different halls by country) that stretch away to infinity.

Bologna is primarily for rights selling - that is, publishers buying and selling foreign rights to books already in print or in the process of being published. Don't go there as a writer hoping to hawk your unsold books around a bunch of publishers - it's not going to happen. If you really, really want to see a publisher at Bologna (perhaps because you don't live in the same country as they do) make an appointment before you go. If you just turn up on the stand, you're likely to get short shrift. There may not even be any editorial staff there, as some publishers consider editorial staff a bit of a liability and best left behind to push commas around and strop at authors. (During Bologna, editors left behind say 'I can't do anything about that, as everyone is in Bologna.')

I used to go to Bologna every other year. Then it moved to a time I couldn't manage (in school term time) and I haven't been since. I used to go and talk to publishers I already worked with. Actually, I went to drink copious quantities of gin and prosecco with publishers I already worked with. And to walk around and around the city looking for a restaurant that was not already full of publishing types.

Bologna is very depressing, in my experience. There are two outcomes:

1. Oh God, look at all these wonderful books, why does the world need any more? I'd better think of another job.

2. Oh God, look at all these terribly boring books, they're all the same. Is no-one publishing anything interesting any more? I'd better think of another job.

Still, if you want to go, here are some tips:

  • There is no such thing as a good flight to Bologna. I used to get the train from Venice. It's a nice train ride, and you can stay in Venice for a few days before/after.
  • Book early - especially hotels. Although it's easier to find a publisher to sleep with than to publish your books, you can't guarantee you will find one the night you need him/her and you don't want to be left with nowhere at all.
  • There is usually a long queue for the loos - don't wait until you are desperate.
  • There are never enough cafes/tables; take a picnic.
  • Don't think you can claim to be Italian and stand in the Italian-only queue to get in (it's cheaper). Unless you are fluent and have no accent (ie you are actually Italian), they rumble you. You do your little bit in Italian, they look you in the eye and say 'You're not really Italian, are you?'
  • It always rains; take an umbrella.
  • The bus back to Bologna railway station at the end of the day is very busy. Leave a bit early if you don't want to queue for ages. In the rain. Without the umbrella you forgot.
  • If you intend to eat out in the evening, book a table.
  • Take a map of the city. The back streets are dark and when you are completely gin-fuddled at midnight it can be hard to find your way back to your hotel.
  • Don't forget you can claim your trip to Bologna back against tax. Keep all your receipts.

I might go to Bologna this year, if I can get my Big Bint to look after my Small Bint for a few days. So if you're going, drop me a line and we can drink prosecco or gin in a bar on Independenza.



  1. Oh do come! We're booked already. And we'll have some days in Florence afterwards.

    I like it more than you seem to and have often drunk Campari in the sunshine. Get one of your publishers to send you an entrance ticket - they always have spares.

    And the only time I've ever had trouble with a flight to Bologna was last year during the BA strike. But we went to Verona and caught the train so it was fine.

  2. I'll try, Mary - it would be lovely to go with you :-)