Bologna Book Fair for Beginners

When I first started in publishing, I heard about “rights fairs” in Bologna, Frankfurt and London and they sounded like wonderful, magical things. You flew to Europe to attend parties, eat good food, and to talk about the books you love. What could be better?

Well, now that I’ve actually attended a conference like this, I have to answer that question: not much could be better.

I will admit that the schedule is rather grueling, but we’re in Europe for cripes sake! I can deal with 7 or 8 grueling days for some delicious gelato. And to talk about books of course.

So what is it we do at these rights fairs?

We pitch your books. Again. And again and again and again and again….

Prior to the trip, Kathleen Ortiz (our amazing subrights director) set up our Nancy Coffey Literary Table in the Agents Center of the fair, and then she scheduled meetings with foreign publishers and agents. 76 final, confirmed meetings to be exact (plus 2 spontaneous ones while at the fair!). We sat a lot of the meetings together, but split up when we had to. There is a small food bar in the Agents Center that comes in handy for just this.

While she was busy scheduling and confirming meetings, she was also creating our beautiful rights catalog, which was a whopping 42 pages. She also created the second catalog for Red Tree Literary, another agency we represent foreign rights for (The Selection, anyone? *drools*).

And while she was doing all of THAT, she was also subbing work to our foreign Co-Agents up until two weeks before the fair.

Note: a Co-Agent is another agency that we partner with in order to sell rights in another format or territory. We have 19 Co-Agents to assist us in selling foreign rights, and we got to meet with half of them at the fair, which was lovely! These are our colleagues and our first champions overseas.

And while Kathleen was doing all of that, I felt like a lazy schlub. So I knew I had to pick up the slack once we hit the fair.

At the fair, it looks a lot like Book Expo America with publishers and licensors set up in stands everywhere. Except only…it’s bigger. Much, much BIGGER. It takes place in 4 or 5 gigantic halls (by the end, I still don’t think I walked through all of them), and each country is represented. I wish I took more pictures! But of course the only ones I have are of the American stands. #TouristFail

They still look lovely though! (Does anyone spy Lynne Kelly’s Chained???)

There are also walls for artists to pin up their work for the publishing world to see, like this.

This was from the first day, so everything was still neat and tidy. By the end, the walls were filled and illustrations were overlapping one another like crazy. But it was beautiful.

Back to where I actually did, ya know…work.

The first thing we did when we sat down with a foreign editor, publisher or agent was ask them a few questions (in no particular order):

  • What are you looking for?
  • What are you NOT looking for?
  • What has worked for you in the past really well?

Each meeting is only 30 minutes long, so we don’t want to waste our time or theirs.  Some still wanted to see our entire catalog, and in those cases we would browse with them, and when they stopped on a particular title we would elaborate enthusiastically on the title, the author, and why it’s so awesome.

In other cases, they would answer the above questions and we would tailor our pitches accordingly.

And in a few cases, they would sit down and it would be very specific.  Something like:

“We are only looking for contemporary romance for teens, both literary and commercial, but nothing too sexy.”

So we would flip to the titles that fit the bill and start going.

When appropriate, we would also point out a title that they might not realize they’re looking for, but we know they’ll like it. More often than not, we were right in these cases (woo!).

Either way, we always had something to talk about since our list is so diverse, and after we were done pitching, we would ask a few questions about them, how the fair is going, and whatnot. And then it would be on to the next.

But now that we’re back from Bologna, the job isn’t done. The next step is to follow up on all of the requests made during the pitches. At the end of each one, we had a short list (and sometimes a long one) of manuscripts the editor wanted to see, so we are currently submitting those and crossing our fingers very tightly that this leads to more exposure for our clients, and a new audience to read their wonderful stories.

Other Bologna highlights?

Running into PubCrawl’s very own Marie Lu, who was there to promote Legend. She has that picture, so maybe if you ask nicely she’ll post it?

Also, reading about Sarah in the Bologna Bookseller Daily!

And! And! Free cappuccino for Agents at the food bar. Yum.

I’m headed to London in the fall for meetings, so more international travel stories to come!


26 Responses to Bologna Book Fair for Beginners

  1. Erin Bowman Mar 28 2012 at 8:20 am #

    So much fun to get this peek at the fair! Thank you for sharing, Jo! While jetlag is no fun, I’m sure the gelato helped make up for it, right? 😉

    And Marie — YES! Share the pics, please!

    And a quick hooray for Sarah and the ToG piece. Very, very awesome!! 🙂

    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 9:04 am #

      Gelato *definitely* makes up for the jet lag. I’ll be posting about that on our agency blog soon!

  2. Julie Mar 28 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Oh wow, what a great post! This is the first time I can honestly say I really “get” what happens at Bologna. Thank you SO MUCH Jo for such a thorough insider’s look. 🙂

    And I’d like to second Erin’s “hooray” for Sarah’s piece in the Bologna Bookseller Daily. YEEEE!

    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 9:04 am #

      Sweet! Glad the post made sense 🙂

  3. Sooz Mar 28 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Wowowow, what a post. Like, I had NO idea what happens at Bologna. I had this vague idea of foreign right and pitches…but that was as far as my imagination took me. I didn’t realize about the meetings (which make so much sense!), the free cappuccinos (WIN), or the submitting after the fair is over (which also makes SENSE! They’d need to read the book, and they can’t do that at the fair!). So thanks for this really insightful post. I honestly learned a lot from it.


    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Yes, it’s a lot. I didn’t know how it worked in the industry, and even still–it’s hard to really fathom just what goes on until you’re there. Lots of fun though!

  4. Courtney Mar 28 2012 at 9:48 am #

    That sounds so incredibly AWESOME and also exhausting! Yay for rocking it ladies!!

    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Thanks, Courtney!

  5. Erica O'Rourke Mar 28 2012 at 10:30 am #

    SO excellent! I love hearing all the details of how the fair works, and now I am anxiously awaiting…THE GELATO POST. I’m pretty sure I sent you off to Italy with stern instructions to take pictures of all the gelato, didn’t I?

    Seriously, you and Kathleen are amazing! Thanks for letting us peek over your shoulders.

    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      The Gelato Post will be done, on the agency blog. Don’t you worry!

  6. Patrick Gabridge Mar 28 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Wow. 76 meetings. That’s the kind of thing that could melt your brain. Thanks for sharing this with us–I always wondered how the foreign rights fairs worked. I hope you have fun on the rest of your trip (in addition to getting work done).

    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Patrick!

  7. Kathryn Craft Mar 28 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    Yes, thanks for this, Joanna! We authors, aspiring and published, can only prosper from knowing all the lengths you go to on our behalf. Sounds like an amazing experience—and that you season as a pitcher rather quickly!

    • JoSV Mar 28 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      Thanks, Kathryn. There are so many facets to the job of agenting, and I’m happy to share!

  8. Leigh Bardugo Mar 28 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    I love that illustrators put their work up that way… there’s something kind of beautiful and old school about that. Or maybe I’m being fanciful?

    That all sounds… exhausting! (You forgot the part about fielding crazy long distance phone calls from your nutty clients. Ahem.) I hope you had a bit of a rest when you got back!

  9. Peggy Eddleman Mar 28 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    This is such a great post! My book was in one of those catalogs at the meetings– it’s great to get a peek into what those meetings are like! And holy cow. Did you all just need to come home and crash for days to recover from such a busy trip?

    • JoSV Mar 30 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      Yes! I crashed for about 2 days. It was lovely. 🙂

  10. Merrie Destefano Mar 28 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Wow. That sounds crazy and adrenaline-filled and exhausting and thrilling, all at the same time. I hope you also got to peek out the windows and walk through the streets. And how cool you ran into Marie! (She’s so sweet!)

    And, to echo Leigh’s comment, I also know, ahem, that you were busy with other client projects at the same time. Just goes to prove once again, that you truly are a superhero.

  11. April Tucholke Mar 29 2012 at 1:24 am #

    I libri sono dolci e belli.

    • JoSV Mar 30 2012 at 11:43 pm #

      Yes they are. Bellissimo!

  12. Bess Mar 29 2012 at 3:01 pm #


  13. Pat Mar 30 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    We were so excited to see the email you sent of Amber McRee Turner’s Sway poster in the Disney booth!

    • JoSV Mar 30 2012 at 11:45 pm #

      I was, too! Abby told me they were going to give it special attention at the fair, but when I went down there and saw that it was THE ONLY POSTER, my jaw dropped.

      It really is a stunning cover. And the book is even better.

      But you knew that already 🙂

  14. E. R. Stanton Mar 31 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    –So great to have a glimpse at what goes on there. You must be exhausted…but oh, it does sound like it was FUN. PS Are there picture books in those catalogs? Maybe someday there will be an armed chicken in one 😉 Glad you’re back!

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