Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Contract Winning Line for the Bologna and London Book Fairs, and possibly others

The purpose and focus of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and London Book Fair, and probably other big ones, too, is the negotiation of the sale of 'rights' of books already published or about to be released, and other deals. Hundreds of publishers from around the world display the latest additions to their ranges, and members of their teams sit at tables at each stand and negotiate with other publishers' and industry representitives.

Our Australian Publishers Association also has spaces for Australian publishing professionals to do business, but in 2010, when I visited, at Bologna it also hosted an exhibition of the work of Australian illustrators, curated by Ann James and Ann Haddon. Individual illustrator attendees were allocated time on this stand, too, to show off their skills. This is me:

The evening APA dinner allows creators and publishing people to interact and get to know each other better. Check to see how your country’s stand representatives can help you.

Many countries’ stands host a ‘party’ at the end of one day. These parties are found by passers-by as well as invitees. Whereas many folk arrive only for the free food and alcohol, it is also possible to make useful contacts at them and get to know publishing professionals better. Special thanks to the APA and Amanda Vanstone for the wonderful spread put on by Australia, and also to those involved with the Italian party and...

It was wonderful for me to be absorbed into the world of international children’s books and their creators. One of my aims was to survey and gain an appreciation of the books currently being released by a large number of international publishers, especially those with which I was unfamiliar. Although this can be done through online catalogues, at a Fair you can easily see the house style of layout and content, and there were books displayed that will never get to the shelves of Australian stores. I was fascinated by the distinctive regional illustration and design styles used by publishers in some countries. The printed catalogues I collected had to be sorted and culled when it was time to weigh the suitcase.

Before arriving at the Fair, most publishing people will already have booked a full week of half-hour appointments. ‘Gate-keepers’ on some stands only allow entry to those with appointments. This stand belongs to the always wonderful Walker Books:

It may just be possible that an appointment can be made by your agent or publisher for you to promote your already published book to an individual (if you’re lucky), but this is really their job.

A large number of stands have open access and no gate-keepers. With those, I actually found it quite easy to meet and talk to publishers - particularly those producing non-fiction. After initially spying from afar, as soon as an appointment finished and the next person had not yet arrived, I casually walked up to the shelves to look at the books on display. Not knowing if I was a publisher or agent, I was often asked what I was looking at, and why.

Proudly wearing my SCBWI name badge from the Bologna Symposium, my line was, “I’m an Australian author and occasional illustrator, and I’m looking to see if you have any titles that are likely to compete with my new book about to be released - and also to see if there are any gaps in your list that I might be able to fill.”

That was always a good starting point for a conversation and I’d usually be asked what I write. They all wanted to know what was going to compete with their books! I think that coming from a distance is an advantage – it’s a bit different for them to meet someone from Down-Under. As well as fiction, I write about paper crafts, science and natural history, so I came away with names of people who will be delighted to receive proposals from me for books on lettering, decorative borders, the sea shore, fungi, cute furry animals and more. While some stands are manned by sales force members, many have powerful people present, such as the Associate Publisher and Managing Director – or even the company founder.

A similar line could be used by those who are unpublished: “I’m just completing a proposal for a book and I’m looking to see if you have any new titles that would be likely to compete with the contents I have in mind - and also to see if there are any gaps in your list that I might be able to fill.”

It’s easy to leave a business card or flier at every stand - the gate-keepers being happy to discuss the most appropriate person they should pass things to. I didn’t try pitching fiction, but in retrospect, I could have asked at each stand to find out if the publisher was open to submissions and who would be the most appropriate person to send work to. They may even have chatted and I could have tempted interest with a good ‘hook’ line or 'sound bite'.

Advice from the website suggests that illustrators contact specific publishers prior to the Bologna Fair and ask if it is possible to make an appointment with an editor or art director. Bring labelled samples to give them. Large sized portfolios are discouraged.

Some publishers (particularly Italian and French ones) advertise a time when illustrators without appointments can briefly show an art director their portfolio and hand over a print. On each occasion, the queue is long. I carried my A3 portfolio in a bag, and having introduced myself and gathered interest in the subject of my then forthcoming new book, I showed artwork used for images that appear in it (...and they readily looked at more), and I left them with a flier.

Going to the Symposium and Fairs was claimable for me as a tax deduction as professional development and research. It is also possible that you may be able to get a grant, perhaps from your regional Arts body, to cover at least some of your expenses.

From Bologna, I travelled to the UK to do research for my YA in progress and also to attend the London Book Fair in Earls Court, and the London Digital Conference. The London Book Fair is similar to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in many ways, mainly being geared to publishers selling rights. A large corner is devoted to over 100 children’s book publishers. Some had not exhibited at Bologna. As well as the myriad of publishers of books for adults and technical works, the LBF also has stands taken by distributors, printers, illustrator agencies, digital converters, print on demand book services, apps sellers, digital rights negotiators, digital reading devices, remainder vendors and others – along with more parties and a free massage service.

At both Bologna and the London Book Fair, there is a continuous program of talks, seminars and interviews with authors, illustrators and publishing professionals - with translators.

I continued to try the same spiel at the London Book Fair as the one I used in Bologna and found swag of other publishers keen to receive proposals on non-fiction topics we discussed. The first proposal sent out resulted in a contract for the book that I’ve just completed for a UK publisher, ready to be released worldwide in June 2012 – ‘Calligraphy for Greetings Cards and Scrapbooking’ for GMC publications.

Deals are not guaranteed, but I’ve proven that they are possible.

Through I even found cheap London accommodation in York House, a converted elegant old terrace house backing on to Earls Court – nothing like The Ritz inside, but clean and all that was needed: 7 nights for 405GBP, with microwave and hotplate cooking facilities.

I believe you will thoroughly enjoy the experience of attending the SCBWI Symposium, Bologna Fiere, the London Book Fair or any of the other big book Fairs if you have the opportunity, and you find them useful. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. I have to admit, however, that I did spend a significant amount on freighting home the catalogues, books and other things I just had to buy while on my trip.

Peter Taylor

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