“The ice-cream is great”, “I don’t think it’s going to be as warm as it was a few years ago”, and “Where are you going for dinner?” were what most people said to me when they found out that I was going to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for the first time.
However, lest anyone think that the publishing industry only cares about food and the weather, there’s a real buzz on the ground at this year’s show, with big and small companies alike reporting a steady flow of business.
So far in the fair (day two), no-one has struck a deal to match last year’s record-breaking Half Bad from Penguin, but most people have pointed out that the fair is as busy, if not busier, than last year. As one rights manager said to me, 'Just look at the queues for the ladies loo.'
Many publishers have stressed the international reach of the fair, doing business with companies from Asia, America and South America. France, Germany and Brazil are still big buyers but some publishers said that countries which suffered a downturn in their publishing businesses, such as Italy and Greece, are now back making deals.
A hot middle-grade title is still the dream acquisition for many and Puffin is selling rights for its humorous middle-grade debut, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, about a girl who finds herself on a pirate ship, all over the place. And Bloomsbury is really excited by Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp, which it had sold rights for in 10 languages before the show even began.
A lot of people are not quite so excited by YA, hinting that the market is quite saturated with teen books, but some YA deals are big enough to get excited about, such as Macmillan’s six-figure E K Johnston acquisition.
The buzz around single books would suggest that the trend for series fiction is declining and as a Random House US publisher has said, even if books nowadays are part of a series, they have to still read as standalone books.
There is little talk of digital from mainstream publishers – it’s not that digital isn’t important, but Bologna doesn’t seem to be the place where they want to explore it – but the presence of app developers and software creators, and the Digital Café, shows that innovation is still happening.
And incidentally, it is a little bit cold here this year, but the ice-cream and the restaurants really are fantastic.
Charlotte Eyre is children's editor at The Bookseller