The Bookseller – Comment – Back to Bologna

At long last, it feels like book fairs are truly back. After tentative steps at last autumn’s Frankfurt, publishers and agents are returning to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF) and if they won’t be there completely en masse—as they were in the pre-pandemic years—there will be enough of a critical mass to make it feel somewhat like a Bologna of old.

Still, there is a sense that this is a crucial fair for Bologna (and, in a few weeks, the London Book Fair). Rights trading has proceeded apace over Zoom and Teams in the past two years, so much so that several big UK entities—including Scholastic and Penguin Random House Children’s—did not commit to stands at this year’s BCBF (though, of course, staffers will be going as trade visitors). Has the pandemic altered the rights trading regime so much that even when there is a fuller return in, say, 2023, publishers will take smaller stands and send fewer people?

Judging by the books that agencies are flagging up for Bologna, those emerging writers might be having a pretty good time of it this year, as around a third of the hotlists are débutants or second-title authors

It is a question that is probably weighing heavily on every international book fair director’s mind at the moment.

But Welbeck’s new children’s boss Jane Harris (see profile, pp06–07) makes some salient points about the manner of rights trading during Covid, and why getting back to “IRL” will benefit the kids’ side in particular. One, that though deal-making has held up numbers-wise, the risk-averse nature of the pandemic market has probably benefitted the bigger brands somewhat, to the detriment of emerging authors. And there is the physicality of children’s titles—the colours, the pop-ups, the gatefolds, the flow of illustrations—that probably can only fully be appreciated when the books are held in one’s hands.

Judging by the books that agencies are flagging up for Bologna, those emerging writers might be having a pretty good time of it this year, as around a third of the hotlists are débutants or second-title authors. And across the hotlists, one of the clearest trends is books that either manifestly or obliquely help kids deal with anxiety and varying levels of trauma. Harris notes that part of what drew her to move into children’s books was the genuine good you can do for kids. They have certainly needed reassurance these past couple of years, and it is nice to see that publishing has responded in kind (pun intended).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.