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Bologna still focused on fiction

3 April 2006

This year's Bologna Children's Book FairThe Bologna Children's Book Fair or La fiera del libro per ragazzi is the leading professional fair for children's books in the world. came uncomfortably soon after the London Book Fair for the publishers who attended both. Bologna was hot but mercifully uncrowded and a very much more pleasant destination for hard-pressed international publishers than London's ExCel.

The focus at the world's biggest children's book fair has shifted from co-editions to fiction and film deals, with film scouts much in evidence. Barry Cunningham of Chicken House said: 'The market is still very good for fiction and still extremely sticky for picture books. Although the right picture book still does OK in the US and Australia, it's curtains on the co-edition front.' Perhaps this is because of international publishers focusing more on home-grown material which they hope to sell to the co-edition market, rather than buying in as they have done in the past.

Bologna now has very much more of a focus on fiction than it used to have. Alex Maramenides of Simon & Schuster UK said: 'As elsewhere, fiction is doing very well, especially fantasy, literary and historical fiction, and series.' There was even a feeling in some quarters that there was too much young adult fiction and a shortage of good material for the younger age groups. Some publishers felt that picture books were beginning to make a bit of a comeback.

Publishing News' Graham Marks concluded: 'As patchy, not to say weak, as the market appears to remain in the previously dominant areas of non-fiction and picture books, fiction seems to be holding onto its crown in the international rights arena'.

So the children's market remains strong and potentially very much more lucrative for writers than it used to be. It's still a puzzle why there is still so comparatively little focus on material for the younger age groups, as there are still plenty of children out there and parents to buy books for them. Perhaps these books are simply attracting less attention.

Older fiction, which has benefited from the Harry Potter effect and from being marketed in a way which is more like the marketing for adult bestsellers, is stealing the limelight. Picture books are expensive to originate and, unless the publisher can find international co-edition partners, impossible to publish successfully. The market is easily satisfied with the range of wonderful books already available, whereas older children and teenagers are much more likely to want to read the books which are the latest craze. Harry Potter, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson and the Lemony Snicket books may have nothing else in common but they have all contributed to this trend.