Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thoughts on Bologna

The children’s book fair that’s been held in Bologna is an interesting kind of fair. It’s been held in Bologna for more than 30 years (I can’t find the date of the first one), and, coming on the heels of the much Tweeted SXSW and TOC, it is a fair that seems positively quaint, with no web 2.0-themed panel discussions, no hash tags, and not much Internet at all. And unlike American trade shows, where librarians and booksellers are part of the picture, this show has almost no schwag (very cool tote bag from the Flemish stand excepted—gone before I could snag one). In my limited experience, Bologna is all about thirty minute pre-scheduled meetings at the fair and chance encounters at surrounding hotel bars and restaurants after the show. A day is meetings, quick lunch, meetings, drinks, loooong dinner, bed. Repeat three times and head for the airport. It turns out to be a very collegial sort of rhythm—rarely have I found myself in the company of more friendly strangers (who did not long remain strangers as a result).

Despite the sense of relative isolation from the desperate hand wringing over the state of our industry (or perhaps because of it), there is something about Bologna that feels very important—even essential—to this moment in the history of books. Being an editor in a position to buy books at Bologna does a number on one’s assumptions about bookmaking. Not only is the content diverse, but many things about the books as physical objects are unique to their countries. I think it’s important to be reminded of this heterogeneity in the face of technology, which often seems relentlessly homogenizing.

So, did you actually do any business at the fair, you might ask. Well, yes, actually. In the Happy category, I actually finished a deal for my first YA novel acquisition at Carolrhoda. It’s a debut and that makes me very happy.  This circumstance is somewhat amusing because not only is it an American book, but the author lives about a mile from me in St. Paul. That his agent and I met to finalize the deal in Bologna is just a coincidence, but I rather like the idea that a book could travel from a meeting at Minnesota SCBWI conference last fall through beers at several St. Paul bars to a legal pad in the agent’s hall at the Bologna fairgrounds. Also Happy was the chance to meet with my counterparts at Andersen Press in The UK, whose books we distribute in the States.  It’s always a pleasure to have a leisurely meeting with people you knew only on a frantic-email basis before. In the Less Happy category, the Brit novel I read giddily between meetings at the fair ended up going to a higher bidder. Better luck next time. I brought home lots of other leads, though, and I trust one of them will fall into place in the coming weeks.

One last thing: I think I am collecting moments like these. I was at a conference in San Diego two months ago when a room full of editors and agents congregating around tables of wine and cheese was suddenly plunged into darkness as the power went out. We didn’t miss a beat, and the schmoozing and boozing went on by the light of dozens of cell phones. In Bologna, I was at a big party hosted by the Dutch in a gorgeous palazzo when a room full of publishing types was silenced as an enormous table of food collapsed dramatically under its own weight. I was standing a couple feet away, and it was seriously shocking.  The silence lasted only seconds though, and waiters descended, messes disappeared, and food reappeared. We all got back to whatever we were talking about. I think these events are apt metaphors for contemporary publishing. Despite power failures and sudden collapses, we continue on all the same. Comforting.


Lisa said...

Thanks for sharing this, Andrew! The anecdote about the banquet table made me laugh. Reminds me of Miss Piggy's words of wisdom, "Never eat more than you can lift."

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

There've been such interesting insights from Bologna on various blogs. Comforting to know that publishing despite economies, power failures and food table collapsing, continues! ;-)

Emily Wing Smith said...

This was a great post, Andrew. Loved the glimpse into your new life at Carolrhoda!

Angela said...

I tried to get one of those bags too! No luck!

Congrats on the YA deal. I love how you and the book traveled to Bologna to meet!