The Business of Stories: a Bologna Book Fair report from Charles Nettleton
If there is an occasion that demonstrates that publishing is a business then you need look no further than one of the big international Book Fairs. Row after row of stands, populated by publishers from all over the world, showing off their latest and forthcoming publications; ranks of tables with literary agents seated at them selling their wares to a steady stream of acquiring editors; forums and talks exploring the issues of the day, especially, at present, all things digital. For the rights being traded there is discussion of advances, royalty rates, territory schedules, licence term, reversion clauses, etc. There is talk of how well books are selling – or why they are not selling – of printing costs, of exchange rates, shipping times and safety regulations. All grist to the mill of the industry that is publishing.
You can see all of the above at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair that took place last week. Working Partners and Rights People (our colleagues who sell translation rights in all of WP’s books) have an impressive presence and we were flat out with appointments –over 300 between us across the four days of the Fair.
With our books selling in over 40 languages we have many well established partners. The breadth of our projects means that we now have something for everyone and our company thrives on its international dimension, with over 80% of our business done outside of the UK.
But it’s not just because we all want to do good business that these deals are done. Or even because we have provided our publishing friends with exquisite dishes of home-made pasta in the beautiful surroundings of Bologna’s famously good restaurants.
For if you listen to the conversations a little longer you start to catch another language all together – the language of stories. You’ll hear about the young girl who is shocked to find herself at a school for monsters; about the boy who realises that he is only person who can fly the most sophisticated spacecraft ever made; about the friends who, as witch and witch-hunter, should be mortal enemies but who decide that friendship is more important; about the warrior cats, the journeying bears ….. We amaze each other with these tales and we imagine the rapt attention of the child or adolescent hearing the story or reading the book for the first time.
So rest assured. Behind the corporate signage and the spotlights there are stories galore being told. Without them there is no business to be done.