Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018 – The Final Prep!


Welcome back BCBF beginners to PART THREE – the last of our suggested preparation guidelines!
Jean Mackey Lebleu, Illustrator and AOI Member, gives her final recommendations for attending the Fair.

First, let’s review some of the essentials discussed previously in Parts One and Two. Hopefully you were able to submit your work for the Illustrators Exhibition (deadline was Oct. 4th 2017), and that by now, you have completed the following:

  • Checked that your passport and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) are ready and not about to expire
  • Booked your accommodation (!)
  • Purchased your plane tickets (remember to check-in online both leaving and returning if possible so that you don’t get bumped from a busy flight)
  • Converted some Pounds Sterling into Euros (it can be helpful to have cash on arrival)
  • Purchased your early-bird entry tickets to the Fair. The offer ends on March 2nd; click here to take a look at the offer on their website.
  • Or, alternatively, you have written to [email protected] to request your Illustrator’s Discount. You must submit your request to this email address by March 2nd. The discounted price is €20 for a daily ticket.
  • Produced a dummy book (if applicable) or are at least nearly finished, and have updated your portfolio, printed business cards and created some information about yourself and your work to give to publishers/agents after your meetings. For more information on this you can refer back to Part Two. Remember that your portfolio doesn’t need to be larger than A4; using a large iPad to show your work is also an option, but a phone isn’t large enough to do justice to your work.
  • Bought an electricity adaptor for Italy

If you haven’t done these yet, drop everything and do it right now! As we mentioned in Part One, when planning your stay, bear in mind that although the fair is four days, the first three days may be the most helpful for you. In 2017 on the fourth day, many exhibitors had left, there were no more portfolio reviews, the last talk ended near noon and the fair ended at 3pm. When you purchase your tickets, keep that in mind.


  • Review the Bologna Welcome website for tourist maps and other information.
  • Make a list of the publishers you want to prioritise meeting at the fair. If you need ideas for publishers, click here and select the Directory menu to look at the list of BCBF exhibitors. (Please refer to Part Two of this series for ideas regarding pre-booking appointments). Check social media of your priority publishers in case they post info about meeting at BCBF.
  • Review the BCBF Illustrators’ Survival Corner website page for their list of free portfolio review sessions and other events – places are limited and you must reserve. In 2017 you had to queue first thing each morning at the Survival Corner to reserve your place, you couldn’t do it online. Illustrators were running down the corridor to get on the queue. Perhaps that will change this year, but look at the list in advance and know what you want so that you get there in time and don’t miss out.
  • Check the AOI for news about special events; in 2017 about a month before the fair opened, AOI members were invited to reserve a space at an Illustrators’ dinner in Bologna city centre, organised by Associazione Autori di Immagini. Nearly 100 people attended. Also, Derek Brazell, AOI Projects Manager, gave several very helpful talks on important subjects like pricing, and he will be at Bologna again this year (so be sure to say hello!).

Our man in Bologna: Derek Brazell will be at BCBF this year – say hello!


You’ve just arrived at Guglielmo Marconi International Airport – Benvenuto! If you will be required to take a bus from your hotel to the fair every day, then look for shops in the airport with this sign:

Tper logo is the property of Trasporto Passeggeri Emilia-Romagna

This is where you can buy a 10 bus-ride ticket called CITY PASS (12€ in 2017) valid for bus journeys in the urban area of a maximum of 75 minutes. You can also buy a daily ticket if you want (valid 24 hours from validation) and travel for the whole day (5€ in 2017). You need to validate the ticket once you board the bus by punching it through a machine on the bus. At the time that I went, you could NOT buy tickets online; I believe you could pay cash on the bus but I don’t know if they gave change.

There is an Airport shuttle bus that makes a few stops in the city centre. The bus company sells tickets on this website or at airport kiosks near the arrivals area; in 2017 it cost 6€.

Once you get to the fair, there is a Visitor’s Centre inside where you can get a free city map, buy bus tickets, get advice on buses and taxis and buy some nice souvenirs.

When on public transportation, be sure you know where you are going; if you’re not sure, ask. Many bus drivers speak some English. Once you book your hotel, use Google Satellite and image searches to get as many specific visuals as possible of all the bus stops you will need to get to the fair, and pay attention to your route during the day so you can remember how to get back in the evening. Many bus stops are not signed and many buses do not announce which stop you are at, or the announcements can be inaudible.

On my first night, I missed my bus stop without knowing it, and ended up on the motorway to the suburbs; what should have been a 30-minute trip took two hours in the dark. Even if you think you are on the right bus, confirm with the driver he is going to your stop; show the driver a map and point to where you need to go or write the name of your stop on paper to show him/her and ask. Sometimes the bus is diverted and doesn’t go where it was meant to go, but you wouldn’t know that if the announcement is not in your language! Click here for a few maps that may be helpful for your transport planning.

If you want a taxi there are plenty at the airport, and usually plenty at Bologna Central (train) Station in city centre, but the taxi stand at the fair didn’t often have enough to meet demand, so there was always an enormous crowd waiting. Reserving a taxi on the phone can be tricky; it is best to ask the hotel, or restaurant, to make the call for you. If you know you will need a taxi at night, choose a time and ask your hotel to reserve it for you. More information about taxis can be found here.


(In addition to the usual stuff, like your phone)

  • Your bus tickets
  • Euros/credit card (for food, books, souvenirs and gelato)
  • Your Portfolio
  • A back-up of your portfolio in case your original gets damaged or lost
  • Business cards
  • Portfolio samples to leave behind
  • An image, business cards and double-sided tape for the Illustrators’ Wall (more info below)
  • Water bottle
  • Survival food (nuts, fruit, protein bars, etc.)
  • Paracetamol or other pain reliever
  • Any necessary medication!
  • Breath mints
  • Lip balm
  • Notebook and pens
  • Document “popper” folder to keep other people’s business cards
  • “Business Casual” clothes in layers – it could be cold, or warm, so layers is best. Dress to impress but keep your feet comfortable because you will be standing for most of the day.

For easiest access, put your portfolio, business cards and leave behinds in a shoulder bag rather than a backpack; for added publicity, consider decorating your tote bag with an iron-on transfer (or direct painting!) of one of your illustrations, characters, or book covers, or make badges with your images on them. Have some fun with it!

Photo by Derek Brazell


Non-exhibitors (you!) will only be allowed entry to the fair at 9am, but get there early because with the massive crowd it will take several minutes to get in. Grab a map and the daily free issues of The Bookseller. On the map in small print is the free Wi-Fi code; it took me a while to find it.

Be prepared to run to the Illustrators’ Survival Corner if you want to sign up for a portfolio review with a specialist that day. You can also go there later to rest and get some water from the cooler. I was given permission to charge my phone but not sure if it’s always allowed – best to ask.

You will see the legendary illustrator’s wall – by all means post something on the wall, bring your own double-sided tape, consider attaching a little box to put your business cards in, but remember that anyone can “borrow” your ideas. You also have to get to the wall first because it fills up quickly. Resist the temptation to follow those who paste their art on other parts of the building where they don’t belong; you don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons. 

Illustrators wall for self promotional items. Photo by Derek Brazell


…to tackle the Open Portfolio Reviews! Ready? This is when you can sit with a publisher or an agent in the Halls without a pre-booked appointment and show them your work. You will literally have three minutes to present your work; you must be prepared with only your best samples, a dummy book if applicable, and your self-publicity leave-behind materials. You must be prepared to summarise your area of expertise and your goals very quickly. Professional feedback is critical to your growth and success. Take it seriously but not personally. Be confident, be proud and be cheerful no matter what– you’re in Bologna!

SO: Move quickly through the exhibitors’ hall of your choice – UK, USA and Italy were in a different section from the rest of the world. Review the map to locate your priority publishers first, then go aisle by aisle. You must move quickly because some publishers will have only a few slots available for open portfolio meetings, on a first come first served basis – once they fill up then that’s it. Many others will have portfolio reviews where they tell you a day and time and you show up and wait on the queue. Only ask the people who are clearly working as receptionists, or people who are not busy with buyers. Never interrupt a sales person having a meeting with a buyer.

Photo by Derek Brazell

Work your way through the aisles quickly, your samples and business card at the ready to drop off. Look for signs that may give instructions to illustrators. If there are none, tell the publisher’s representatives you are an illustrator and ask if their company is conducting portfolio reviews. There will also be a few agencies on the ground floor halls who may look at your work. Write everything down, and write up your schedule, because there will be review times that overlap and you will have to prioritise. Some publishers will have reception desks with signs such as – “these are the days and times of reviews”, or, “we are not having reviews but here’s the web address/email address for submissions”, or, “no reviews but leave your samples in this box”, and even “we aren’t doing reviews and please don’t ask us or interrupt us!” etc. If you don’t see a sign, ask. If they don’t do reviews, ask if you can leave your business card and samples. They were always friendly and always said yes.

Always keep your eyes peeled for queues; there could be last-minute reviews that you didn’t know about. ARRIVE FOR OPEN PORTFOLIO REVIEW QUEUES IDEALLY 30 MINUTES IN ADVANCE OF THE START TIME BUT NO LATER THAN 15 MINUTES or else you could risk being cut off. Art directors always have the right to stop doing reviews after about one hour; some heroes did reviews for up to three hours – we all loved them!

This portfolio review queue goes all the way to the left of the photo; it took three hours.


Make sure your phone is on silent. For those who haven’t done this before, don’t be worried. You’ve got this! But if you are prone to self-doubt or are just plain nervous, please allow me to suggest the following: Once you sit down for your review, smile, keep your chin up, make a bit of eye contact, speak clearly, confidently and quickly, hand them your business card and leave-behind material and keep in mind that after you answer their questions, you may not need to speak at all. They may want to review your work quickly on their own. I opened up by giving my name, thanking them for taking the time to meet with me, presenting them with my dummy book and saying “Would you like me to walk you through the book or would you prefer to review it on your own?” Same thing with my portfolio. They really only have three minutes so best to let them drive.

NEVER say anything dismissive about your own work, like “I know this might not be what you are looking for” or “I know I’m not famous” or “I’m just a student” – none of that is necessary. Just pay attention and take thorough notes quickly on the comments they give you – the benefit of the trip to Bologna is the expert advice you will receive from so many publishers and even a few agents. You also want to keep a record of who said what about your work because it will be a talking point you can use when you FOLLOW UP.

The follow up is key. You want to send thank you cards and stay in touch so BE SURE TO ASK THEM – “What is the best way that I can stay in touch when I have new work to show?” Things will move quickly so try to remember! It’s ok if they don’t want to give out their email addresses; some wouldn’t even give me their names! You don’t have to push for it, just follow their instructions. Afterwards, input your collected business cards and email info into your phone or a notebook as a backup as soon as possible; what if you lost all the business cards? Contact details you get may not be public; this is a big part of why you came all the way to Bologna – to make those contacts. Guard that valuable information!

Photo by Derek Brazell


Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Yes it can happen that illustrators get offers for work at Bologna, but it is rare, and you wouldn’t want to sign any contract on the spot anyway without being able to examine it. I was handing out chocolate to young people who were crying when they did not get job offers or positive feedback; if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, don’t despair! Take deep breaths. Feedback is important for your growth as an artist, and the fact that you made the effort to go to Bologna shows that you are courageous enough to eventually find success. And if you do need help with anything business related, by all means seek out Derek Brazell who will be meeting illustrators at the Fair.

Also don’t be shy about saying hello to publishers you’ve worked with or met in the past; it’s important to stay in touch and your presence at Bologna shows your commitment to the cause.

Overall, enjoy the supportive environment; people are friendly on the queues and you will have fun sharing information, admiring each other’s work – and staying in touch afterwards!


There is plenty of good quality food to buy in the fair but it is mostly meat-based. Be sure to bring your own food if meat is not for you, and always bring your own full water bottle. Go to the Digital section or Licensing section of the fair for shorter cafe and bathroom queues. There is an outdoor courtyard and other places to sit; take the time to rest and eat and drink plenty of water – it’s important, otherwise you will faint. It can happen.

There are plenty of food options in Bologna!


Take time to listen to a speech, visit the bookshop, look at the Exhibition, buy a souvenir or eat ice cream! The Illustrators’ Cafe has talks in addition to the lectures/workshops held at the Survivors’ Corner. There’s so much to enjoy inside the fair – and then of course there is Bologna itself. Bologna is beautiful and inspiring in every way, with so much to see and do; enjoy your time there and make the most of every minute – you will look back on this as a magical time of great possibilities!

I trust this series has been helpful, and I wish you all the best with your great adventure at BCBF!

Text and photos (except where indicated) copyright © 2017 Jean Mackey Lebleu

16th February 2018

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