Friday, March 16, 2012
Sarah is sitting on her suitcase bursting with ARC’s, covers and finished copies, and I am standing amidst hundreds of lists and schedules. It is Bologna! Our annual rights fair is about to kick off. What does this mean???!
It means I’m prone to excitable punctuation, and that I have a hair trigger (probably don’t jump out at me wearing a Scream mask). Everyone in children’s publishing has an elevated level of cortizol at this time of year and we will medicate with tortellini in brodo and the odd glass of prosecco.
For the past 45 years, Bologna has been the number one event in the children’s book business. The fair ground is a marketplace. We are all there to buy, sell and haggle. What’s fresh, what’s gone soft, how much???
This is our beloved industry, and it’s a changing industry. We will be meeting Amazon as publishers, we will be talking to app developers and people in the gaming industry. The world is a big place, and walking around the giant halls, we will see the book business of almost every country connecting, making money, expressing themselves.
Over these four days we will hear a hundred perspectives on the state of the market. We listen out for ‘canaries’ – every fair gives an idea of what will be hard to sell, and what might be nearing its saturation point.
Our five-strong rights team will be downstairs in the giant halls, pitching to international publishers in a four-day blitz of back-to-back half-hour appointments. We are upstairs in the agents centre selling like mad to UK and US publishers, as well as film and TV people.
I love the Agents’ Centre. It’s got the intensity of a stock exchange, except you know everyone and many of them are friends. Imagine hundreds of tables, most of the agents in the business, and all the publishers, everyone talking books and deals, setting up what the industry will look like in two or three years. Amazing, right?
Bologna starts before Christmas. At some point in December someone in the office will stick their hand up and shout ‘FIRST’. They’ve just had an email requesting a spot in the diary. Over the next few months the schedule fills up. Ours is now locked down from 9-5.30 every day, but we have given ourselves a time-out for gelato on the Wednesday.
There is a tonne of planning – flights, hotels, passes, schedules. And in the weeks before, Sarah and I start to focus on our ‘hotlist’. These are our brand new babies – debuts that we will send out in the months after Bologna. We will be pitching them to editors, gauging interest, and also checking that the pitch is on point and we’re getting a good reaction. Every book needs to sound exciting, and if we’re not getting that vibe from the face and body language of the editor, we’ll know the pitch isn’t up to scratch. A good pitch needs to give the listener something to enter into, a kind of architecture, but not bunged up with too much detail. Editors will be on the receiving end of a hundred pitches a day, so ours need to stand out. We want them to hassle us for this manuscript as soon as they get home. That gives a great book the best possible start.
So the fair is about new business. But it’s also about existing business. Sarah and I sit down with our editor partners and discuss issues around our books and authors – new deals, why a particular cover didn’t work, what the author should work on next, what disappointed us, what impressed us… Lots of topics, all essentially boiling down to the same question: What can we do to make this work?
Occasionally, an unpublished author will look to pitch their book. This is the one time of the year that we aren’t open to such an approach. Those precious hours and minutes need to be devoted to those authors we already represent – the time is guarded ferociously. So if you’re thinking of pitching your book to agents at a book fair, don’t. You will get the wrong impression of our industry, and the people in it. Bologna for us is about giving 100% commitment to our authors, not sourcing new talent. In fact I probably won’t be able to check my submissions while I’m out there. Well, maybe I’ll sneak a peek. A couple of years ago I took home the DARK INSIDE manuscript the evening before the fair, called Jeyn Roberts at 4.30 in the morning to sign her up minutes before my cab arrived, and was pitching her at Bologna five hours later. And that became our ‘book of the fair’.
After the last meeting of the day, it’s time to head out for the parties. And after the parties come the taxis to restaurants. On Tuesday night Greenhouse are hosting a dinner. A mix of publishers, scouts, journalists, film people and very good food. It’s become something of a tradition, starting out with a few well-chosen friends in 2009, and growing year on year.
Bologna is expensive. It costs a fortune to get us there, what with the costs of flights, rooms, tables and taxis.
Bologna is ‘the red one’. It’s a beautiful, ancient city that I visit every year, and that I’ve never really seen.
Bologna is the most tired I will get all year. A groundhog of pitching every half hour, drinks and parties and dinners well into the night.
Bologna is beloved. Everyone comes back cross-eyed, shattered and a bit fatter. But also invigorated, inspired and with a refreshed view of the industry landscape.
If you want to post your questions about Bologna in the comments section, we’ll answer them when we’re back. I must run. Too many things to do…