7 steps to become an author illustrator – Step 3: How to succeed at Bologna Children’s Book Fair

Should you go to Bologna Children’s Book Fair? 100% yes! If you’re really new though be prepared to see a lot of high quality work. Please don’t be put off by that. With a bit of training through places like SVS you’ll be surprised that you may just be able to compete the following year! And with the tips I share below and tomorrow you may even walk away with a top agent and real publishing interest in tow!

1. Pre-Fair Preparation
2. Making the Illustrators Wall really work for you
3. 20 seconds of bravery for top industry contacts

1. Pre-Fair Preparation

  • Look on their website early, there are often ticket discounts for illustrators / Early Bird
  • Planning it early also helps with cheap flights and accommodation (I managed to get a great value and absolutely lovely Air B&B room & host within walking distance to the fair)
  • Sort your portfolio and storyboards with the help of the tools I’ve shared in this post
  • If you’ve got dummy book(s), you can of course have them printed through one of the photo book websites, but publishers were more than happy to also quickly scroll through my dummy book pdfs on my ipad
  • Have professional postcards or flyers and business cards showcasing your work
  • Make sure you take something for the illustrators wall, more on that below
  • Try and pre-arrange meetings with agents (more on that tomorrow) and publishers (on the book fair websites you can browse through the exhibitor directories to see who’s attending for each publisher, often with their email addresses)
  • Many publishers also hold dedicated portfolio review sessions for which they announce the days/times on their stand reception desks but some publishers like Nosy Crow and Andersen Press have set times which they announce beforehand if you do a google search. In the case of Andersen Press, I also had to ‘book’ one of their limited slots before the fair. This actually works really well as it avoids the very long queues the other portfolio sessions receive. Which is why I have a tip below on potentially skipping those altogether and what to do instead.
Some of the promo material I took to Bologna Children's Book Fair - printed top, A4 flyers and business cards
I went to Bologna Children’s Book Fair in a custom printed top, with sturdy A4 flyers and business cards I left by the illustrators wall and with publishers. I also put three different A3 posters and prints of the first few spreads of a book on the wall. All artwork and my 10 plus picture book dummies were on my iPad Pro which publishers loved to quickly scroll through.

2. Making the Illustrators Wall really work for you

  • I saw many publishers actually looking at this so make use of it
  • Try and think of something that will help your work stand out on the very crowded wall
  • Arrive with the actual opening of the fair on day 1 as the wall will fill within the first hour or so of opening. For eye-level spots for posters you need to be at the wall within the first 15 minutes of opening or earlier
  • I could have had those spots but stupidly I thought that the wall near the entrance wasn’t the main illustrators wall and walked on looking for the ‘real wall’ which I thought was in another hall. By the time I got back the eye-level spots were gone
  • But I had brought a ball of red wool thread to connect the first few spreads of a book idea involving a cow and a red thread so I quickly decided to use this thread to connect ALL my A3 posters, A4 flyers and ‘cow spreads’ on the wall to make them all stand out more, see the video below
  • Whilst standing on a borrowed chair attaching my prints and this wool thread and sporting my custom printed top I had several major publishers approach and ask me to come and see them on their stand. I also had to give two TV interviews about what I was doing
  • So think of something that attracts attention, ideally based around your work
  • I also taped some of my business cards into some empty spots around the wall and put a long row of card stacks (alternating front/back to show off all my artwork on it) on the floor alongside the wall, and also laying down my A4 flyers every so often. I was absolutely amazed to see that most of those cards and flyers had been taken by the time I went home on day 2
  • I also had several publishers email me as a direct result of seeing my work on the wall

Filmed at the very end of day 1 which is why there are no people. Sorry it’s shaky, I couldn’t really see what I was filming with the big iPadPro in front of my face 🙂

3. 20 seconds of bravery for top industry contacts

  • This is hands down the most effective thing I’ve done, also already at Frankfurt Book Fair where I went in 2015 with a book idea I had made using 3D illustrations
  • In a nutshell, just do your best to talk your way onto publishers’ stands and let the commissioning editors see you and your work
  • Yes, often they really are away from their stand but if you are friendly with the receptionists and have a good pitch and holding a professional looking dummy or flyer or wearing a shirt or carrying a sign (or best, all of those ;-)), so that they immediately see your work – without having to open a portfolio case – this often sparks their interest and you’re “in”. It also helps if you’ve already had some interest expressed elsewhere which you mention to them in your “pitch”. At the very least, if you’ve made an impression, they’ll often pass on your giveaway promo material to the right person. If you’re lucky they contact you later or after the fair which is exactly what happened with Simon & Schuster who I now have a 3 book deal with
  • The huge walled stands of Harper Collins and Penguin Random House are very hard to get on – the receptionists will tell you more insistently than anyone else that they only deal through agents – but I even managed to get onto the PRH stand in the end despite not having an agent at the time and made unbelievable top contacts and connections as a result. Basically, it was around closing time at Frankfurt and people were starting to leave their desks on the stand as I was passing. By then I also had interest from Nickelodeon which I had got by talking to them on their stand a bit earlier. But instead of trying to convince the PRH receptionists again to let me on, I took 20 seconds of insane bravery whilst the receptionists were distracted and walked straight onto their stand and started talking to one of the people that were packing up. Within a further 20 seconds I was presenting my book to the International Rights Director who in turn asked me to email the proposal to the Head of Acquisitions & TV Development. Result. I was beaming all the way home!
  • And the same goes for Bologna, with a bit of confidence, boldness and persistence, and of course professional work and interesting ideas, you can really shoot for the stars and get talking to almost anyone you want
  • Regarding the portfolio reviews, I was so busy dashing around the halls and talking with publishers that I never actually had time to wait in one of the long queues. On one or two occasions I happened to pass one in its final stages though, so I only had to wait 10 minutes to take part. It was useful but long-term it didn’t lead to anywhere near the same results as my above approach

So overall, for me, the book fairs are most effective in getting published, the more prepared, creative, focussed and proactive you are with it.

So 100% take your work to Bologna Children’s Book Fair or even Frankfurt Book Fair and dare to be bold! After all, you’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain!

See you tomorrow when I share my top secrets on how I got my dream agent.