Why Go to the Bologna Book Fair?

photo: SCBWI Executive Director Sarah Baker speaking on the PublisHer panel, about women innovating in the publishing industry, Bologna Book Fair 2024

Sarah Panel.jpg

by Sarah Baker

Many children’s book creators have heard of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and if you read publications like Publisher’s Weekly, you’ll see articles about market trends, rights deals, and attendance rates at the fair. But for individual children’s book illustrators, writers and translators, what is so important about this event? I’m both executive director of SCBWI and a children’s book illustrator myself, so in this Insight issue, I’m going to put on my illustrator hat to talk about the fair.

While agents, publishers, editorial directors, and subrights specialists have meetings buying and selling rights and solidifying corporate relationships, there are plenty of solo book creators roaming the halls of the fair. And depending on where your interests lie, there are almost endless opportunities to learn, network, and get inspired. 

There are multiple stages where you can sit and hear speeches, panels, and watch awards being presented. In some areas of the fair, like the Illustrators Survival Corner, there are spaces for hands-on workshops and portfolio reviews. And all around the fair, rows and rows of publishers from most countries around the world have booths and display their books creatively.

There are many areas of the fair dedicated to various exhibits, featuring wordless books, the Original Art Show from Society of Illustrators, art addressing Ukraine and Palestine, and award winning art from specific countries.

As you walk through the fair and see all the beautiful and intriguing books, many of which you’d never see in your home country, you may wish you could buy some of them! But the books and art in the booths are not for sale. Luckily, there is an international bookstore at the fair where you can scratch that itch and bring some books home for inspiration. 

Artists and writers can be introverted, but the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is definitely a place to let your guard down and meet new people–most book creators walk around with postcards, business cards, stickers, pins and other swag, so bringing some with you is always a good idea. The scale of the fair can be overwhelming, but if you’re open to it, you can meet people from all over the world. 

And speaking of postcards and promo pieces, it’s easy to spend endless amounts of time just walking around the Illustrators Walls, where artists tape and pin up their promo pieces–some in very creative ways. 

I want to acknowledge that traveling to Bologna, Italy can be costly and time consuming, depending on where you live. And over time SCBWI hopes to build up our scholarship program to help more of our members get there affordably. 

In advance of next year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair, when SCBWI will once again have a booth, we’ll be providing our members an in-depth guide to the fair, full of helpful tips and information about getting to the fair, staying in Bologna, and how to make the most of your time there. If you are a member who has attended the fair, and you would like to submit a tip or quote to the guide, please send them to info@scbwi.org, with Bologna Fair Tips in the subject line.