Bologna Children’s Book Fair – Learning from and enjoying the experience

Attending the Bologna Children's Book Fair

This post is a help to better process the information that you get at the Bologna book fair and it provides you with some hints to really enjoy your time there regardless of the responses of art directors concerning your artwork. It is not a complete list of things you have to take into account to go there (tickets, hotels, portfolio, etc.). There are already other useful pages where you can find this information (I include some links below). Nevertheless, I added here and there some small hints.

Make a list of objectives for your visit of the fair

Having clear objectives will help you stay focused and better process the feedback.

Last year, I was at the book fair for the first time and this was the list of my goals:

  • Discover the fair and how it works
  • Learn how to approach publishing houses
  • Make my artwork visible for the community
  • Meet fellow illustrators
  • Have a portfolio review
  • Receive advice to improve my artwork
  • Discover the last illustration tendencies
  • Meet one of my idols: Beatrice Alemagna

With this list of objectives, I was not disappointed about not getting a contract through my visit (I had only recently finished my studies in illustration anyway), and like this I could receive criticism from art directors in a positive way and use their advice to get better in the future.


Beatrice Alemagna

An educated eye

Art directors have a very educated eye for composition, colors, characters, settings, and illustration in general. They publish several books every year and look at many portfolios during the Bologna Book Fair and other annual fairs. They can see things that you don’t see but this is why you are there: to receive help from someone with experience in the field.

Sometimes art directors just tell you that your style does not fit in the editorial line and that is OK but you can always ask for advice to improve your portfolio. It does not mean you have to change your style to fit into the line of the publishing house but you can always listen to what they say, take notes, process the information, and think about whether their advice is valuable for you and your artistic process.

Others point of view

It is hard when you are queuing all day long and you receive the same comment again and again “ your style does not fit in…” One can lose one’s temper but remember that everyone has the right to have their own point of view and that remaining polite is more helpful in order not to close the door. We are not a finished product, we change, we continue learning, and maybe it will work next time.

At the fair a scene attracted my attention. A fellow illustrator was very disappointed because of what an art director had said, and she shouted at her: “If you know so well how to illustrate a book, why don’t you do it yourself? ” The art director was of course shocked and answered: “Because it’s not my job.” Better take a breath, say thank you in a nice way, stay motivated and keep going! Patience is a key word in our profession.

A repeated comment

Pay attention to repeated comments, it can be a good indicator to make you realize possible flaws in your technique. Some art directors told me that the heads of my characters were too big. At that moment I thought: “But I like to draw it in that way.”

After the fair, comparing to other people’s work, I found out that indeed my heads were a bit too big and reducing them made my drawings more harmonic. Ask yourself if you are drawing that way because you want it and if you want to keep doing it like this or if this is where you have to improve your drawing skills!

Respect the work of others

The Illustrators Wall is a great place to share your work, to be discovered, to get inspiration, to get to know other people, and to celebrate creativity.

Be respectful with the work of your fellow illustrators, they are also trying, like you, to show their work, and to get nice projects with the publishing houses. Try to stick your poster or your cards so as neither to cover those of anybody else nor their name. Of course it is difficult because some minutes after the doors open, the Illustrators Wall (the right one near the entrance) is already covered with posters and cards but there is always a way to behave correctly towards your fellow illustrators. Do not panic, there are (2 or 3) more walls close to the first one where you can stick your artwork!

Another little thing: Don’t forget to bring a small box to put your business cards and postcards! Unfortunately, last year at the fair some people without community values just took the boxes of other’s to put their own stuff.

Illustrators Wall

Keep your website and social media updated

After the fair I looked on social media for the illustrators whose business cards I took. Some of them even didn’t have the picture of their business card online. Don’t forget to update your website, social media, upload your latest illustrations, in particular, everything that you brought to the Book Fair to present yourself (poster, postcards, business cards,…).

Also a personal photo in Instagram or Facebook could be interesting to meet people you are following or your own followers. It can give you some sparks of joy if you meet someone you admire in the same queue at the Book Fair.

Don't betray yourself

I had the great luck to have met two very nice french art directors at the fair who gave me a precious advice:

  • The projects you accept must be coherent with your professional objectives and wishes.
  • Pay attention of what your heart and your intuition say and refuse projects that are against your values.
  • Be the captain of your boat and don’t let it drift following the last tendencies of the moment.
  • Work on your own projects, your own books, work because you want it not because what the market wants to see.

Taking notes

You receive tons of new information every day. For that reason, take notes, if it’s possible in a systematic way. Your notes will be precious afterwards.

At the beginning of every review with an art director, note the name of the publishing house. While they are speaking, write down their criticism (positive and negative) in keywords. It can also be useful to write down some particular details about the person you talk to (like “tall woman with glasses”). This may sound weird but if they give you their card you will write them afterwards, and for me personally it is better to have a face in my mind. You will maybe meet them again at some point.

Also, I was journaling while queuing, and I had the main ideas for this post.

Last words

You define what the word “success” means for you. Getting a contract can be a big success but only the fact to be there at the fair is already a big step. And what about all the small successes you have getting better at promoting your art, drawing, painting, inking, etc. ?. Celebrate your progress and be happy!