[Note that there is no April Foolery here. If you want that, go to Greenwillow. I couldn’t top it so I won’t try.]
The Bologna Book Fair is a hopeful, optimistic fair, and I’ll tell you why. First off, a rather shocking number of young illustrators roam the halls, eager to show anybody their portfolios. There’s even a wall near the entrance where artists pin samples. It is always crowded, but as near as I can tell it’s crowded with people adding stuff, not with people browsing. I’ve never quite understood this part of the fair (and maybe an older Bologna hand can enlighten me). Do illustrators get discovered this way at the fair? It seems like the longest of long shots.
It’s not just the illustrators who are incurable optimists, though. It’s the publishers and agencies, and especially their rights salespeople. If you spend any time in Bologna, you’re going to spend time with people who sell subsidiary rights—for books, movies, toys, you name it. This is a fair for rights people, and they are the ones logging the long hours at the publishers’ stands, navigating language barriers and avalanches of “no thank yous” from foreign editors. And in my experience, rights people are some of the most optimistic people in publishing. They have to be able to believe that a multilingual game of telephone between subagents, scouts, readers, and foreign editors can result in a book coming out two years later in Moldova or Myanmar. To me, that seems like believing in magic. I have heard rights people say stuff like “I could see this one in film—maybe not Spielberg, but definitely Sam Raimi” and “This would make a great movie—not blockbuster multiplex, but something for Sundance.” They are not being flippant and I would never mock their sincerity. On the contrary, being around rights people makes me excited about books again, because they can’t help but see possibilities normal people choose not to.
This is certainly true of Maria Kjoller, our rights director. She was kind enough to take some time out of the post fair madness to sum up her experience:
Well, I’ve just returned from what I believe is my 18th trip to the Bologna Book Fair (yes, I feel old).
I’ve noticed an ebb and flow with YA fiction over the years; sometimes it was the genre everyone was looking for, other times this genre was too gritty and publishers were looking for happy middle grade fiction and fantasy. One year everyone was asking for “pink books” (i.e. girly romantic comedies); another year it was all about the “misery memoir “ (abuse, drugs, alcohol, death…).
A couple of Book Fair memories that really stand out for me are my very first Fair. I was trying to sell Francesca Lia Block’s WEETZIE BAT; I talked her up at every single meeting I had and I could not garner any foreign interest. It was frustrating for me to know that Harper was publishing this beautifully-written and unique book and I couldn’t sell it (I guess we were just ahead of our time). Then, a completely opposite experience for me when I was working for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I was selling David Klass’ YOU DON’T KNOW ME, which some people compared to CATCHER IN THE RYE . It was so exciting to have a title that foreign publishers were buzzing about; we had some terrific rights deals as a result.
And maybe it’s because rights people are so hopeful that they’re also a ton of fun to hang out with. I’m forever in Maria’s debt for introducing me to all her colleagues. I knew no one at my first Bologna (before I worked here) and it was a rather dreary experience. Once you know the right rights people, though, Bologna is bellissimo.