This year I finally got to see what all the fuss is about at the annual children’s book fair in Bologna!
I’d been wanting to take the trip for a few years and kept putting it off, telling myself I just ‘wasn’t ready’ but I am so glad I finally took the plunge and gave it a go!
The trip was exhausting and very full on, but I got so much out of it - some incredibly useful feedback, galvanising portfolio reviews and I met some wonderful illustrators from around the world.
I thought I’d pop together my top tips for any other Bologna first timers thinking of heading to the fair in 2020.
Bologna Top Tips
I booked my Air B&B in October 2018 ready for my April 2019 trip. I stayed in Bologna, near to the university, which was close to the town centre but also on a good bus route to Fiere where the Book Fair is held.
I worked on my portfolio for most of 2018, and don’t forget to plan in time for getting things printed well in advance of the fair.
I wrote ahead to publishers and agents in January asking for appointments, although I didn’t hear back from many, this helped me plan who I MOST wanted to pitch to at the fair.
It’s a good idea to buy your ticket for the fair before you go as I had to print this out and there was a much cheaper rate before March. There is a mailing list you can sign up to for updates.
What to Pack
150 business cards. This was about right - you don’t want to ration them! a small holder to keep a few them to hand is helpful too.
50 postcards - not essential but a nice extra.
My latest sketchbook (some agents like to see working drawings).
I had a portfolio printed with Blurb, I kept in 3 projects and a range of my strongest drawings - about 20 pages is plenty as you’ll have 5-6 mins to show someone. Having this A4 was ideal as there isn’t a lot of space on each stand and it was easy to carry.
3x posters for the illustrators wall with tear off strips with my details (don’t forget tape or pins)
Comfortable shoes! I had to run for early sign ups, and you are on your feet a lot - it can be a long day!
Water and snacks - the queues at lunch can be long and you can be in line for hours for portfolio reviews.
A planner - I had this in my sketchbook, each day blocked off into hour slots. Great for organising portfolio reviews and meetings as you don’t want to double book, the fair is big so allow time between each appointment. I also made a note of stand numbers here so it was easier to get around.
Use the App
I downloaded the BCBF app a few days before the fair. It was great to note the stand numbers of my favourite publishers to get organised ahead of the first day. I also checked out who was holding reviews at the Illustrators corner and the seminars that are on through the week.
Not everything on offer will be to your taste, but it’s good to get as much as you can out of each day.
Practice your Pitch
I used several people as guinea pigs for practising talking through my portfolio in the weeks before Bologna. If you get a slot with a publisher or agent you will have about 5 mins (on a timer!) so be ready to sell yourself and your work.
I heard about a lot of portfolio reviews through other illustrators I met at the fair, everyone is really nice and in the same boat so it’s good to meet other creatives - especially as lots of us lead solitary lives as freelancers!
I mentioned BCBF on Instagram in the run up as I was planning my trip, and followed #BCBF to see who else was going. The queues are long (between one and three hours for a portfolio review) and it’s much nicer if you chat to those around you.
Get ready to Hustle
Each publisher works differently, some offered reviews on a first come first served basis on day one, some told you set times in the week they’d see people and others I heard about on the grapevine that were being held on the last day. The queues are long, and even with five minutes per person there are only so many people each publisher can see.
Be ready to run, be quick and be early if you really want to see someone.
Take time to soak in any critique after a meeting. Find a quiet corner with a pen and paper to note down everything they’ve said. You may decide their advice isn’t right for you and your work, but listen respectfully and take time to ponder after the meeting.
The publishers are really there to sell the rights to their books, the illustration aspect is a nice extra so be courteous to everyone (you want to appear easy to work with after all!)
Be friendly and professional, most people will take a card even if they’re not doing reviews. You never know who you’re next to on the bus, or queuing for a coffee with so be friendly at all times.
Allow time to Explore
The fair has an annual illustration exhibition, amazing seminars and gorgeous artwork on each publishers stand - take time to drink it all in!
The fair is a great way to see illustration and publishing from all around the world, and it is easier to see from each stand the kind of books each publisher is interested in from the posters and promotional material they have displayed. I could really begin to see where my work would fit, and where it definitely wouldn’t!
I allowed a few days before the fair to explore Bologna too (you’ll be shattered after a full day at the fair so most evenings I just went back to the air B&B!) Make sure you take a sketchbook to the piazza, visit the amazing children’s bookshop in the centre of town and enjoy the INCREDIBLE food. I even learnt to make tortellini while I was in Bologna!
Enjoy the trip! I came back fired up and with loads of new ideas on how I could push my work further.
I hope this was helpful, if you have any questions please do drop me a line in the comments below.