Bologna Children’s Book Fair is a fantastic event for anybody interested in the publishing industry, and particularly for us, illustrators.
This year Bologna Fair hosted over 1,390 exhibitors from the international children’s publishing world, including publishers, agents, and artists, giving attendees over a thousand potential opportunities in children’s publishing.
If you are still considering whether the fair is the right event for you, here are my top reasons for attending:
1. Opportunity to get commissioned by publishers
2. Learn more about the industry trends in children’s publishing
3. Great place to meet other illustrators and make friends
And if these reasons are not enough to tempt you, there is also the constant flow of excellent coffee, pecorino cheese, and Tuscan wine, not to mention the beautiful weather!
So, now that you have already decided to attend next year’s fair, I want to share my top 5 tips to help you hit the ground running so that you get the most out of your days in Bologna.
1. Prepare for success.
Preparing for the fair involves getting your portfolio ready, making dummy books (if you have any), printing postcards and business cards to give away, and contacting publishers (if you know any) to request meetings.
A portfolio is essential. Your portfolio can be printed out or presented on an iPad (big iPads are better). Only bring work that is relevant to children’s publishing. Include colour and black and white illustrations. Make sure there are some examples that show your narrative and character skills – the publishers want to see that you can create a well-developed character. Include handwritten typography samples if it’s your thing.
Dummy books are desirable. I believe that dummy books can be executed in any way, shape, or form. They can even be unfinished as long as the main idea is clear and there is a short summary, I recommend that you write the text out on a separate sheet. Any extra sketches and character development is a bonus. If you don’t have any dummy books, a portfolio will be sufficient. You will still get valuable feedback and make personal contacts.
Business cards and postcards. These are great to leave behind following meetings and give away to the publishers and agents. Print as many as you like, roughly 100 should be enough. If you use services like Moo, you can print different designs in one order. Vistaprint is another popular choice. Make sure you include your name, website, email, and all your social media handles.
Appointments with publishers. These may be possible to obtain if you already have a working relationship with the publishers. Alternatively, you can ask your agent to set up appointments for you. If you don’t have any contacts in the industry, read on, as many publishers do portfolio reviews on a first come first served basis.
2. Attend as many portfolio reviews as you can.
Walking through the fair, you will see long queues of illustrators with portfolios. That is a telltale sign of a portfolio review with the publisher. These sessions are super useful, particularly for new illustrators. You will get some honest feedback and it might even land you a commission or a book deal!
To find out about the times of portfolio reviews, make sure that you follow publishers on twitter. They publicize times up to a month in advance. Also, provided you get to the fair early, you can have a quick walk around to see if there are signs on the actual publishers’ stands with review times.
If you don’t feel that your work is ready, but you have a portfolio to show, it might be worth attending anyway as you will get pointers on how to improve. Please don’t worry about leaving a bad impression on the publisher with your half-baked portfolio, chances are they won’t remember, and you will be able to see them again next year to make a better impression once you have made improvements.
3. Advertise your services on “The Wall”.
“The Wall” literally refers to a big wall (or a few walls to be precise), where illustrators leave their posters, cards, and flyers. There you will be able to post any promotional material you have for everyone to see (note – bring something sticky to attach your work with). From my experience, having A3 or A4 sized posters with a strong image that looks like a book cover works best. I personally know a few people who got commissioned and even published from publishers noticing their work on “The Wall”.
P.S., Don’t get upset if another illustrator covers up your work with theirs, commend them for their determination instead. Treat the wall as a living, breathing thing and check on your flyers from time to time and add more copies if necessary.
4. Take part in the illustrators’ competition (and win).
The illustration competition is organised by The Bologna Fair and is open to every illustrator: published and unpublished. The deadline for submitting your work is usually in October, so make sure to put it on your calendar. Submitting your work to the competition also gives you a free entry ticket to the fair, cha-ching! If you are shortlisted, your work will be exhibited in a beautifully presented illustration gallery right at the entrance of the fair. And if you win, then you will participate in the award ceremony, adding to your professional credo. Did I see William Grill there, in this year’s winners?
5. Make new illustrator friends.
We illustrators have a peculiar job, which involves a lot of time spent in solitude in the comfort of our cozy living rooms. However, Bologna Children’s Book Fair is truly an occasion when an illustrator can use their social skills. Of course, you may look at your illustrator peers as ruthless competitors, but the truth of the matter is, fellow illustrators understand the daily struggles and perks of the job better than your partners or ‘normal’ friends. So, it is a great opportunity to meet new friends and share tips and experiences. Bologna Book Fair is as much a professional event as a social one and there are many opportunities to connect with people. Talk to people while standing in the queue, attending drinking events at certain stands (Cambridge School of Art is a great one), and tag along to a well-known bar in Bologna city centre for a night of drinking and socialising.
Give Bologna Children’s Book Fair a chance and you will come back inspired, motivated, and with a renewed sense of belonging to the illustration community.
PS: Please write about your own experiences at Bologna Children’s Book Fair in the comments section, I would love to hear your views and I will answer your questions.
Check out my article about illustrating my first children’s picture book here.