Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bologna Book Fair 2013: The "Before" Post

Tonight I leave for the Bologna Book Fair, that magical place where, once a year, international publishing executives, editors, international rights managers and scouts gather together to buy, sell, and talk about rights to children’s books. It’s the big business event of the year for the children’s publishing community. There’s plenty of deal-closing, after-hours networking, and—oh, yes—pasta.

Before any of that can happen, though, there’s much work to be done. Every meeting in the Agents’ Centre, where each rights director gets her or his own table for the duration of the fair, requires meticulous advance preparation. We schedule appointments with editors from all over the world months ahead of time, and they come visit us in our little agent holding pen. (The Agents’ Centre can only be accessed by appointment and with a special pass purchased in advance; the public can’t come in. This keeps us from getting pitched by authors while we’re pitching to editors.)

I’ve received a few questions in the past about this, so I thought it might be helpful if I shared a page from my book fair bible: our rights list. This document showcases every title for which we have international rights. It includes covers, synopses, reviews, author bios, foreign sales, awards, and more, and not a day goes by in my job that I’m not updating it on some level. Here’s the amazing Erin Bow’s page: CLICK! You can see the well-deserved success of her gorgeous debut YA novel, PLAIN KATE, as well as some information about her next book, SORROW’S KNOT, which comes out this fall (and which I am so excited to take to the fair!).

Every agency’s rights list looks different. I’m really, really attached to ours, to the point that I texted a picture of them with the caption “Our babies!!” to my colleague when I picked them up from Kinko’s. (To her credit, she finds this totally normal. Because it is. Ahem.) To work in foreign rights, you have to be super type A. We have most of the information on our rights list memorized, but when you’re doing back-to-back meetings all day on very little sleep and suddenly you need to remember if that one book has been acquired in Brazil or Portugal or both, which production company optioned that other book, and how many starred reviews that last one got, your rights list has to be there, and it has to be 100% correct. There would be nothing more embarrassing than pitching a book to an editor from a territory where the book has already sold. Or forgetting the name of the book you were going to use as a comp. Or not remembering which US imprint is publishing a title. Or not being sure if you have UK rights or not. (I'm cringing just thinking about it.)

The other key element of Bologna prep is your schedule. Each of my international rights meetings gets its own page in a Word doc. It lists all the deals we’ve done with that particular publisher and its status (Have they paid? Has it published? Have they sent us the cover for author approval yet?), a history of all the books we’ve ever submitted to them and their statuses (Rejected? When? Have we received any news since then that might make them reevaluate? Or is it still under submission?), notes from past meetings we’ve had (sometimes including what the editor looks like so I remember!), and notes on books they’ve published or acquired recently. If I haven’t read the books, or if they haven’t yet been published in the US, I do some research to find out more about those projects. Knowing this in advance helps me decide which of our dozens of titles I want to focus on during the meeting.  You only have time to focus on a select few books, and it’s important to pick titles that are a good fit for that particular editor, house, and territory. With my rights list and schedule in hand, I feel well prepared to do that.

Lastly, I read all the books on our list and practice my pitches out loud. And that’s my Bologna prep in a nutshell! (Okay, there’s also a lot of pre-Bologna dress and shoe shopping. A lot.) For another take on fair prep from a really awesome rights director that's super helpful, check out Kathleen Ortiz's blog

I’m going to try to tweet throughout the fair, and I’ll do a wrap-up post when I return. Until then, I’m off to finish packing (the rights lists are so going in my carry-on). I can't wait to fly the Folio flag at Bologna -- I'm truly lucky to have so many great books to discuss!