Creating a new book fair: BolognaBookPlus – trading for general trade publishers in springtime Bologna

Blog Posts 2022

What is BolognaBookPlus, I hear you ask… and it’s a simple one to answer… BolognaBookPlus is the brand extension for general publishing to the acclaimed BCBF (that celebrates its 60th birthday in 2023).

BBPlus was born during the pandemic, in 2020, is the vision of Elena Pasoli of BCBF, and is designed to complement the ‘mothership’ that has so successfully served the children’s publishing world for six decades. As I discussed with Elena the shape of BolognaBookPlus, in addition to the rights trading for general publishing, the networking, the matchmaking, the content programme, the training events, the Market of Honour programme, we agreed that there was also a fabulous opportunity to build on the undeniable strengths Bologna boasts in the worlds of illustration and design, as well as its reach across the globe. It is great to work with true experts in the design curation field and to showcase the fabulous style that publishers consistently demonstrate through their books across the globe, and is something that I am enjoying immensely.

The first in-person event took place March 2022 in Bologna, alongside the children’s fair. It was a very successful first iteration, comprising training events, exhibitors, design and illustration showcases, a hosted bookseller programme, seminars, networking and a hosted publisher programme.

Launching a new brand during a global pandemic brings its challenges and opportunities! The UK team – myself and three colleagues – supported by the wonderful Italian team, ran the very first iteration online in 2021, launching the now firmly established training events, in particular the How to Sell Rights and Understand Licensing in Children’s Books . It may cause confusion, given that BBPlus’s remit is general adult trade publishing, to have training focused on children’s books. However, as rights are the undisputed beating heart of an international bookfair, and there was no training event in existence on selling children’ s rights, we jumped in and created an insightful and practical event that takes place on the eve of the fair.

Having set up some of the infrastructure and planning with the first online event, we were raring to go to create the first in-person event. As all the blogs and news articles reiterated during the various lockdowns and cancelled book fairs, the publishing industry thrives in the face-to-face environment. Yes, Zoom was a fantastic tool to do business with existing customers, or to speak to known contacts, but all were agreed that the magic of the chance meeting and all the happenstance at an in-person international book fair could not be replicated online.

Our first thoughts of course were to the needs of potential exhibitors and visitors. What could BBPLus offer that didn’t exist already? A lot of research and thought went into this first tranche of planning and strategy. Given that BCBF, the mothership as we affectionately call it, has a raft of established customers, events, initiatives and a huge global reach, we deliberated carefully what our objectives and plan would be in the first three to five years of BBPlus. An obvious route to exhibitors was those large companies with children’s divisions, who attend BCBF, but who also have general trade arms. BBPlus would offer a one-stop shop to trade rights for general as well as children’s, early in the publishing book fair calendar, in continental Europe. Bologna as a book fair destination, needed no enticement: this we knew from our days working here in London, where comparisons with Bologna were made, often focussing on the wonderful Italian food and weather!

We built on the success of the early online training events, adding Call Your Agent: How to Become a Successful Literary Agent – a first in an event of its kind at a book fair. We refined the How to Self-Publish in Italy offering for those wanting to pursue this avenue to publish their titles, and also added two illustration and design exhibitions, having learnt early on that these areas are central to the Bologna experience.

The first was Jackets Off! Aiming to put design in general trade publishing at the heart of the business of books, the showcase centres around one title published across many international editions. The first title, March 2022, was The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. The second, entitled Book Jackets: The Best of the Best, showcased three top book jackets from six selected countries. In 2022 these were Italy, UAE, Ireland, Poland, Canada and China. The overall winner was Poland.

The first BBPlus Author Ambassador was Victoria Hislop, followed by Michele Roberts last March. We are poised to announce the third holder of this title very soon! Watch this space, or more usefully, sign up to our newsletter!

2023 brings an important new initiative to BBPLus, the Market of Honour programme. We are thrilled to have revealed recently that the inaugural country to wear this honour is none other than Greece: exciting news! I am writing this blog from Athens where I am visiting Greek publishers, ministers and bookshops in anticipation of their presence in Bologna next year. It is a fascinating market and more than demonstrates the style, flair and passion I mentioned earlier.

The Market of Honour programme celebrates a chosen market that showcases their country’s industry, culture, output and talent on a global stage. The contemporary cultural and literary scene in Greece is vibrant and enticing; there will be a range of special events relating to the Greek publishing industry at the fair next March, and also some consumer-facing events in the city.

BBPlus may still be the new kid on the block, but she punches well above her weight and is confident in her ever-developing attractiveness to the world of general trade publishing.

We welcome comments and thoughts on book fairs and rights trading, please leave yours below.

Final BBPlus 2023 logo