As children's publishers from the world over convene in Italy later this month (March 23—26), a number of issues hang in the balance. How will the economy shape this year's fair? Is the age of the big YA fantasy trilogy finally over? Will picture books make a resurgence? What of the co-edition market? The digital revolution? We asked a sampling of Bologna veterans for their take on what to expect at this year's fair, and what they're looking for.
Laura Godwin, v-p and publisher, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Bologna is just around the corner and it's time to start contemplating what lies ahead. On the picture book end, we have fewer slots on our list than ever before so we have to be especially discerning. Even so, we remain optimistic that we'll find just the right book for us. As for fiction, we're open to anything for middle-grade readers and teens, although we're always more interested in voice than trends. Oh, and did I mention face to face time with old friends and colleagues? Looking forward to it all!
Natasha Ferrant, literary scout
Last year's fair was a solid, focused affair. The people who needed to be there were there, but with everybody cutting the number of delegates attending there was little chance for the random encounters which are often the most productive part of a book fair. What will be different this year? More people seem to be going than last year, for a start, so it should be a better party! I'm expecting to hear a lot more questions and deliberations about electronic publishing (but no actual answers). There's a real buzz about YA literature, which is tremendously exciting. I'm hoping to see less of the paranormal stuff and more good, original writing. Much as I love them—I do, I do—I don't want to read any more vampire books, probably EVER AGAIN. What I really want to find is simple and oh so elusive: a strong middle-grade series with great writing and an even better story. I want Tom's Midnight Garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Penderwicks. Harry Potter. Lemony Snicket. I want stories I can give a 10-year-old child and not worry about there being too much sex. Or evisceration. Or fangs.
Rob McMenemy, senior v-p, Egmont English Language and Central Europe
Bologna this year will be bright, robust, and tinged with a sense of realism. There's no question that the fair is smaller now as cost pressure in publishers has restricted numbers, but this is probably no bad thing. The digital agenda will loom even larger this year, taking more airtime and even more space, but we are fast approaching the point where it won't be a separate agenda at all nor just an interesting sideshow, but rather an integral part of the business of publishing and rights.
In addition to seeing more digital content this year, I'm expecting still more YA, although I sense the pendulum is just about to swing back to middle-grade and picture books. Indeed, there are signs of improvement for picture books, in so far as the quality is as high as it has ever been, and more and more publishers are investing again—consumers are, of course, a different matter. Big names and brand-based picture book sales have seen a boost in recent months so there's a sense of optimism.
Josalyn Moran, children's publishing director, Chronicle Books
My trips to the fair when I was at Barnes & Noble were more narrowly focused; my team and I were on the lookout for broadly appealing, sharply priced projects to serve our sweet spot of the eight and under crowd. Now that I am attending for Chronicle Books, I have the opportunity to scout more broadly; our list serves the entire marketplace: independents, gift and specialty accounts, the educational market as well as the chains. I'll have the luxury of looking at novels and of hopefully finding some engaging titles that will satisfy my inner fifth-grader.
One thing that hasn't changed is that I'm still looking forward to making a pilgrimage to Majani for their scrumptious Fiat chocolates.
Lisa Holton, CEO, Fourth Story Media
I haven't been to Bologna in a few years, so I'm very excited to be going back and to see what's changed (I'm hoping the Piazza Maggiore hasn't). In some ways, my approach to Bologna has changed a lot—for years, I went representing a large corporation, trying to balance many agendas. Now I come as a small creative studio, to support our existing foreign partners as well as to discuss new multimedia projects we have in the works. But what hasn't changed is that I am going mainly to hear what my international colleagues are thinking about their business—how they publish, who they are publishing, and how they think the landscape—digital and print—is changing. That has always been my favorite part of the fair, and I am looking forward to being inspired, yet again, by the conversations to be had over a small plastic cup of cappuccino.
Stephen Roxburgh, president and publisher, namelos
This will be my 30th trip to the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and I am as excited about it as my first trip. Bologna is, first and foremost, about people and in that respect, it is always the same. The last few years I have been forcefully struck by the retirement of a number of editors and publishers I've known for my entire career. But many others remain as vigorous as ever, albeit somewhat grayer, and, of course, there are flocks of new editors and publishers on the scene.
Secondarily, the business conducted at Bologna is about picture books and novelties. And that is changing. Was the time when arranging co-productions was the heart of the fair, and it still is a critically important part of what goes on. But for U.S. publishers, market forces have reduced acquisitions from abroad and publishers have achieved economies that reduce the need for combined print runs. Now technology is enabling a new age of publishing that, I believe, will have a profound effect on business at the fair.
Last year was the first time I went to Bologna specifically looking for evidence of new technologies. I looked closely and found very little. The fair struck me as a monumental exhibition of ink-on-paper. It runs the risk of becoming a museum, or even a mausoleum, if publishers don't actively engage the digital revolution. Previous generations of e-ink readers had no impact on picture books, but the advent of color readers marks a new platform for content that was restricted to and constrained by print formats. I believe this will initiate an evolutionary leap in the picture book form and dramatically impact children's book publishing worldwide. In Bologna I'll be looking for people who are embracing this opportunity.
Paula K. Allen, senior v-p, Nickelodeon Global Publishing
We're excited about the fair this year and have actually expanded our exhibit space within the new Kids Licensing Forum area at the show. We'll be meeting with current and new potential publishing partners from all over the world. Bologna is still a significant sales event for us because it gives us an opportunity to bring my global team together, reconnect and refocus on our business at hand, while meeting with our publishing partners and doing what we love most—talking about kids' books!
Sarah Odedina, publishing director, Bloomsbury Children's Books U.K.
Bologna is constantly changing. 15 years ago it was all about co-editions. 10 years ago it was all about fiction. Five years ago it was all about series teen fiction. Maybe this year it will be color and one-off fiction titles? We have seen a slow but fairly persistent upturn in the co-edition market over the last year or two. We are very much hoping that this year will see even stronger sales after the terribly quiet past few years. I hope that people will be feeling more positive. T I do believe that being positive allows us to be more creative about our business and both create and find new opportunities.
How will business be, given the economy? It depends who you believe. Is the economy in slow recovery or stalled decline? I am plumping for recovery and hope that the business done at the fair will reflect that.
Klaus Humann, publisher, Carlsen Verlag, Germany
Children's publishing has been dominating the publishing world for quite some years. We as publishers have to be careful not to forget why we are in the business. Taking risks is our first aim. Three years ago everyone was talking about a new writer from Arizona and her first book, surprisingly enough a love story about a girl and a vampire. Now we know she set a trend; at that time it was just a promising book. The same thing happened 13 years ago, when the story of a boarding school in England and a bunch of young wizards was told for the first time.
Both books had been supported by publishers who believed in their authors and their first books. Our job as publishers had always been and will always be to take risks, invest into new authors, encourage them to write their first books and get them published. We are not paid to follow trends. We are paid to create them. Recent successes in children's publishing show us that good books always have a chance, on the fiction side as well as on the picture book side. So Bologna, once again, is a testing field: are we still hungry for the unexpected? Then we proudly can call ourselves publishers.