Foreword Reviews

2022 Bologna Children's Book Fair Post Show Report

Post Show Report

Following, please find a general overview of the 2022 Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF), in addition to comments from the show floor and Foreword’s Indie Press Collective. Many titles on display in our stand received attention from foreign publishers and agents. We will email you personally if more information about any of your titles was requested. We will also include a few tips on how you should respond if you are contacted by a rights agent.

Part I: The Fair

The Children’s Book Fair is an annual event at the Bologna Fiere Exhibition Center located just outside the city center. Nearby are some of the buildings of the University of Bologna, considered to be the oldest university in the Western world (founded in 1088). This year’s fair was its 59th, taking place from the 21st to the 24th of March (Monday through Thursday).

Sharjah, the third largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates, served as the fair’s Guest of Honor. With a delegation exceeding more than two hundred people, their majestic stand featured all manner of exhibits, workshops, and presentations from a few dozen authors and illustrators from the region. The 2019-2020 UNESCO Book Capital of the World, Sharjah has long maintained a prominent presence at international book events, seeking to showcase Arab children’s literature to the international book trade. A few of the workshops covered topics like Emirati identity, the impact of folktales, trailblazing women publishers, young adult sci-fi, and freehand instruction for illustrators.

Held in conjunction with the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids and a new Italian Publishers Association event called BolognaBookPlus which reaches into general trade publishing, BCBF is far and away the most important international event for children’s publishing, attracting a variety of industry professionals including publishers, authors, illustrators, graphic designers, translators, literary agents, TV/film producers, licensees/licensors, printers, packagers, distributors, teachers, and librarians. After a three- year COVID hiatus, this year’s BCBF drew an impressive 21,000-plus trade professionals (down from 29,000 in 2019), of which more than 8,000 arrived from countries other than Italy. The exhibitor contingent exceeded 1,040 publishing-related companies from 90 countries, another strong statement showing pent-up demand for in-person gatherings. The 2022 fair encompassed three large halls at Bologna’s heavily glassed exhibit complex, including the new Hall 30, which was beginning construction during the 2019 event.

While children’s book publishing is the main event during BCBF, don’t overlook the significant trade in brands and licensing taking place at 2022 edition of the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair. More than 600 brands—Hasbro Italy, Paramount, NBC Universal, Mondo TV, Mediatoon Licensing, to name a few—made their way to Bologna to wheel and deal intellectual property in the areas of entertainment, sports, and fashion. Think of everything from bedding and pajamas to party favors and broadcasting. In Italy alone, we’re talking 500 million-plus euros a year.

BCBF is responsible for scores of events, exhibits, parties, and outings around the city of Bologna during the fair. On the show grounds over the course of this year’s fair, many dozens of educational seminars and workshops cover themes including self publishing, incorporating new technology, jacket design, becoming a literary agent, translation rights, supply chain realities, European licensing trends, anime, translating comics and graphic novels, and so much more. In addition, BCBF partnered with the Italian Trade Commission and Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to create a Spotlight on Africa program which sponsored 43 professionals from 22 African countries to attend the fair.

Foreword’s Indie Press Collective

Foreword’s Indie Press Collective was part of Children’s Books USA, located in Hall 26, the international hall where most English-speaking publishers are located. The setup routine of hanging signs and shelving books took us parts of two not-so-hectic days prior to the fair’s opening on Monday, March 21st. Truth be told, our first visit to the fairgrounds each year—but especially in 2022 after a three year break—features a healthy level of anxiety as we unload pallets and count boxes to assure everything has arrived. Next, we take stock of the wall panels, tables, chairs, shelves, carpeting, fridge, and lights we pre-ordered. Things are never in perfect order when we make landfall at BCBF but we’re always able to deal with the obstacles. This year’s set-up excitement included a forklift mishap that very nearly collapsed our entire stand and required the work of four Romanian men to shore it up.

But when the show halls opened and the crowds filed in at 9:00 AM on Monday, the 2022 BCBF proceeded beyond anyone’s expectations.

It may come as no surprise to hear that most non-Italian visitors to the fair speak of Bologna as their favorite of all book shows. Foremost, credit the hundreds of high quality ristorantes, trattorias, osterias, drogherias, and pizzerias sprinkled around the city. Remember that Bologna is the capital of the agriculturally-blessed Emilia Romagna region of north-central Italy—think Parmigiana Reggiano, Parma prosciutto, Barilla pasta, Modena balsamic vinegars, Lambrusco, Sangiovese, and other top wine varieties—so its food scene is world renowned. In addition, Bologna is the home of Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati, Ferrari (Modena), and other legendary automotive/motorcycle brands. Its rich agricultural and industrial history accounts for the city’s prosperity. Indeed, to walk the porticoed streets is to see some of Europe’s most beautiful buildings and architecture, much of it dating from medieval and Renaissance times. With so much to experience in the city, much of the business of book rights and licensing gets done after hours over Prosecco, spaghetti Bolognese, gelato, and nightcaps of grappa.

Show Floor Buzz

While the war in Ukraine was on everyone’s mind (The Ukraine Book Institute booked a stand that they left empty, albeit filled with pamphlets seeking support for the conflict), similar to Frankfurt and other international book fairs, Bologna provides a much valued opportunity for old colleagues in the publishing industry to get together for intense thirty minute meetings and the pandemic break only made those initial meetups that much more joyful. This year, it was common to see professionally dressed agents and publishers jogging down the aisles, hoping to make up a minute or two after having previous meetings run late. But the foreign rights negotiations proceeded as usual—serious conversations about make-believe characters and talking animals adding a comic edge to the high-dollar business they’re conducting.

Inside the eighty square meter (approximately) Children’s Books USA stand, the Foreword Indie Press Collective held a prominent, highly visible position. Based on queries and conversations with minglers and appointment holders alike, the topics of interest centered around fun stories to read aloud to kids (that adults enjoy, too), the importance of very high quality illustrations, nature and the environment, animals, early learning, science and how-to, female protagonists, diversity, community building, immigration, travel, and wordless books.

As always, books with foil seals on the cover (reflecting awards) were a draw, as well as books in a series.

Children’s Books USA

Located at booth number B105, in Hall 26, Children’s Books USA is a thirty three-year-old Bologna Book Fair concierge and exhibit service for US publishers including Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Charlesbridge, Peachtree, Holiday House, Pixel+Ink, APA/Magination Press, the Collective Book Studio, and Sounds True. The presence of these established houses, along with a couple rights agents working through a long list of half-hour appointments, drove a significant amount of traffic into the Indie Collective’s vicinity. Holiday House’s Mariam Miller met with more than forty different clients over the four days.

As with any international book show, printers from China, Korea, India, and Turkey frequently stop by to chat about their companies and leave literature. But the Bologna difference maker is the number of young illustrators from around the world walking the show floor with portfolios and backpacks filled with samples of their work. Earnest as can be, these artists get quite used to rejection because so few publishers have time to sit and look at their work, much of it stunning in quality.

The 2022 Foreword Indie Press Collective was hosted by Victoria Sutherland (publisher of Foreword Reviews) and me, her husband, the executive editor of Foreword Reviews. Longtime agent Sylvia Hayse maintained a steady presence at a small table in front of the Foreword Collective, and over the course of the fair fielded dozens of inquiries related to books in the Collective. In addition, she hosted a couple dozen scheduled appointments with publishing professionals from, Korea, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, India, France, the UK, and Spain.

In the coming weeks, you may receive email notification about review copy requests from foreign publishers interested in exploring the first steps of publishing your titles in their respective countries. Please be prompt and only provide the materials that are requested. Most publishers and agents only want to see digital materials or a sales sheet/tip sheet at this point, so stay alert and refrain from automatically shipping them a book (save yourself the expense!) until they ask. Feel free to contact us with follow-up questions or details about the lead.

Much of our business at the fair is in the form of walk-bys. To attract attention and traffic, we also gave away a couple hundred of the January/February and March/April 2022 issues of Foreword Reviews. Historically, many publishers are contacted directly after the fair through magazine leads or Foreword’s Online Rights Catalog. Be sure you have updated your book’s information.

If your titles do not receive an initial request, please be patient. After twenty five years of attending publishing trade fairs, we recognize that the international publishing community isn’t as keen on rushed timelines as publishers here in the States. Things that should take days often take weeks or months.

Part IV: What’s Next

As a courtesy, please let agents know if you are NOT interested or cannot pursue a contract due to prior obligations in that territory. If you don’t at least acknowledge the contact, it reflects negatively on all the publishers participating with Foreword’s collective stands. In your cover letter enclosed with whatever material was requested, explain that your book was shown to them by Sylvia Hayse or Victoria Sutherland at the Bologna Book Fair 2022, Stand B105 in Hall 26, in order to help refresh memories.

At the end of the fair, your books (if they weren’t passed along to interested agents on the last day) were donated to schools in Europe. The gift of quality children’s books is greatly appreciated each year. In addition, during the final hours of the show, representatives from the Vienna-based International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) scoured the CBUSA stand for unique books to add to their extraordinary collection.

For children’s book publishers of a certain size, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is a must-do event. Smaller independent presses, in particular, have found the BCBF an excellent venue to begin a rights program. Compared to Frankfurt, the Bologna Fair is modestly sized and manageable. If you are only able to attend one international show overseas, Bologna may be a perfect fit. Please let us know if you have additional questions about participating.

Matt Sutherland
Foreword Indie Press Collective

Matt Sutherland

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