Looking at my own and other tweets, you’d have thought the Bologna Children’s book fair was a massive jolly for publishers and agents every year. And yes we are jolly in the main, but waking up this morning to no meetings but the literally hundreds of emails that have arrived over the last three days, I thought I might have a quick go at trying to describe what a book fair actually is. (The sharp-eyed reader will spot the issue at the heart of the previous sentence – ok yes – I’m procrastinating)
Discussing with colleagues, admittedly over a bowl of particularly delicious pasta and on to our third glass of wine, but I’m sticking with ‘discussing with colleagues’, we started to identify the particular feeling of cheery excitement and utter dread that takes over as you approach a fair.
For a few days you will be sitting at a little table as every half hour, on the half hour, from 9 until 6, with no gaps for lunch or even a wee, publishers from all over the world come to you, hoping that you are going to make their fortune. Are you the agent that has the book that is going to make their sales soar, win them awards, help them keep their jobs? There’ll also be discussions about books that are already ‘out there’ – could they be doing better? We agents will be pushing the publishers to be sure that they are doing everything they possibly can to get the attention our beloved books deserve, and they’ll be courting us in the hopes that when we have the next big thing – they’ll be the first to hear about it. So as an agent you need to be nimbly diplomatic, and terrier-like in your determination and enthusiasm. (Note to self: well done me, have managed to include a dog) Publishers are being sent hundreds and hundreds of books at this time of year. How to be sure that yours won’t get overlooked, merely glanced at, put to one side?
This year is particularly horrendous for people who represent both children’s and adults books as I do, because we have a week off and then go straight into the London Book Fair. At this time of year editors are being sent SEVERAL BOOKS A DAY. It just isn’t humanly possible to read them all. So whilst submitting a book before a fair can result in a storm of international auctions, it can also mean that a perfectly crafted gem gets overlooked by a louder, more immediate book.
And ‘normal work’ goes on. Existing clients deliver their drafts, and anxiously await feedback. Prospective authors keep sending in the manuscripts that they’ve been working on for years. Two have popped into my inbox in the twenty minutes I’ve taken to write this.
But I’m not complaining – I’m really not. I’m staying in a lovely hotel, I’m meeting up with friends from all over the world, and I’m working with the books I love. My excitement and determination for them is utterly genuine, but there is an actual limit to how much you can fit into one day. So far, going for a morning run has curiously not featured.