Adventures at the Bologna Book Fair

Adventures at the Bologna Book Fair

Contribution by Gemma Cooper, the Bent Agency

Bologna Book Fair is my favourite time of the working year. For three days and nights I get to talk books to all my favourite people: US editors, our international co-agents, foreign publishers, and UK publishers I may have only seen recently, but somehow it’s different in Bologna. That’s the magic of the fair!

This year, Bologna had a more enthusiastic feel than previous years, and a sense of excitement and genuine interest in discussing new projects. Everyone commented on this renewed optimism.

Mo O'Hara Zombie Goldfish Bologna

The agents’ centre is up the escalator above the show floor and is laid out like a big exam room – tables that seat four people lined up in massive rows with a walkway in the middle. I think it’s about 160-odd tables, which means the room is filled with chatter and buzz. You cannot leave your table without running into a least five people you know.

Meetings are every half an hour, so if you spend three days at the fair you are likely to meet a lot of people! I attended with my fabulous and talented colleagues, Molly Ker Hawn and Jenny Bent.  The benefit of this is that if one person is flagging through lack of coffee or having missed lunch, someone else can pitch in. We had about 70 scheduled meetings between us, and that’s not counting people dropping by the table or the dinners and parties in the evenings. Let’s just say that by Thursday we had no voices left!

What’s discussed at the meetings depends on who we’re meeting. If it’s an editor we have a book with, we’ll talk about how the book is doing, marketing plans, future plans for the author’s work. If it’s one of our talented co-agents (who sell our books into international markets), we will want to know what’s working in her territory and what isn’t, and this will help us decide what titles to push. If it’s a film agent, we’ll ask what they’re looking for at the moment and then tell them about any of our books that would be a good fit.

Love Lies and Lemon Pies Bologna

There wasn’t a clear trend that everyone was looking for, as there was a few years back with dystopian and sci-fi, but the one thing that everyone was excited about was middle-grade (novels for ages 9-12). Every publisher seemed to be looking for this, and not really worried about the genre – fantasy, adventure, historical, realistic, mystery, sci-fi, etc. That said, we heard a lot of requests for girl protagonists and mysteries, whether dark, realistic, historical or gothic.

In YA fiction, publishers are wary of dystopian/sci-fi, and are looking for more contemporary and realistic stories. The success of The Fault in Our Stars has definitely prompted more interest in real life stories. Psychological thrillers, suspense and mysteries are still on many wish lists. US publishers are also interested in horror, although I had an interesting conversation with an editor about whether this is just re-jacketing paranormal. However, I see a proper horror novel as being more about the scare factor and less about the romance that came along with the paranormal trend. One of my favourite UK publishers, Stripes, have just launched a horror line (Little Tiger Press – Stripes Grow Their YA List) which is definitely all about the fear factor, so we’ll see if this is a trend that sticks.

Home-grown YA authors are something lots of UK publishers want. It’s great when authors can go out and promote their books at schools and festivals. UK publishers are also looking to tap into that younger ‘clean teen’ YA market, with Geek Girl doing so incredibly well – if you haven’t read it yet, it’s a must.

Witches were mentioned as something people continue to want across all the age ranges – which is good for us as we have a 7+ series Witch Wars by Sibéal Pounder coming from Bloomsbury in February 2015.

Funny younger fiction is always requested, but it’s hard to break out a series and it needs to have such a strong voice and a big hook. For picture books, humour is key and we had a lot of requests for quirky, funny and character-led stories. Narrative non-fiction continues to be on many wish lists, and, as always for non-fiction, anything that can make science or history fun.

A few books publishers showed/talked about that I’m excited to read:

A Dragon’s Guide to The Care and Feeding of Humans – Joanne Ryder and Lawrence Yep (Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House (USA), Spring 2015)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone – Adele Griffin (Soho Teen, August 2014)

Please Mr Panda – Steve Antony (Hodder, early 2015)

How to Make a Human Out of Soup – Tracey Turner (Little, Brown UK, 2015) – this non-fiction title was my absolute favourite!

Please Mr Panda by Steve Antony

Having said all this, my advice is still not to write to trend. Write the story you want to write! Trends ebb and flow, and chasing the market is chasing madness.

Ultimately, as one editor said to me, ‘We are all looking for a fantastic, distinctive voice and a good story.’

PW did two great fair round ups which are also worth looking at:

Publishers Weekly – Bologna 2014: Realism Reigns 

Publishers Weekly – Bologna 2014: Photos from Bologna

Gemma Cooper is a literary agent with the Bent Agency (TBA), specialising in children’s fiction. She loves hearing from new authors and is open to submissions from picture books to young adult. Her submission information can be found here – The Bent Agency

She tweets @gemma_cooper

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