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Bologna is looking good

15 March 2010

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. runs from 23 to 26 March and provides a good opportunity to have a look at the children's publishing industry. Not everything in the garden is lovely but children's trade (general) publishing is undoubtedly doing a lot better than its adult counterpart.

Given the astounding success of Stephenie Meyer, it's no surprise that Young Adult books are expected to be strong at the Fair. Meyer's own sales may be past their best in the US and UK, but for the market as a whole YA is still very strong internationally, especially paranormal romance. Both Puffin , with its Razorbill list, and Egmont with a new YA list, will be following this trend with their launches at the Fair.

Picture books look a better prospect than they have done recently, although children's publishers are still very cautious because of the cost of development and the need for good co-edition sales if a book is to do well. There is a bit of a sense of the focus moving back to books for younger age groups at the moment, a counterbalance to the great interest there has been in books for teenagers. After all,the younger market still exists, and it's missing opportunities not to publish for it.

In the UK it may be that having children's illustrator Anthony Browne as Children's Laureate has made a difference in making people think again about illustrated children's books. In the US there's been real retrenchment in this area but picture books are expected to have a stronger appeal for American publishers than they have done recently. New markets in Eastern Europe and Brazil look promising and there's strong interest in some Scandinavian countries.

Fiction is expected to be in strong demand at Bologna. After a number of years when the only thing publishers were interested in was series, standalone titles are back in demand because the commitment is so much less. Publishers still want to know that the a book can turn into a series , but may not want to make the upfront commitment to it that they would have done a little while ago . Young fiction still seems difficult, with publishers likely to exercise great caution. With so much emphasis on literacy and on children learning to read worldwide, this is perhaps surprising, but the UK experience suggests that in the educational sector school libraries (which are not mandatory for primary schools) are not buying all that much and there is a lack of robust demand from schools. The market for books for early readers is thus quite dependant on parent purchase. Early reporting on the recession suggested that people were not economising on books for their children, but this may no longer be the case at this stage.

There are a lot of opportunities in the digital sector of children's publishing and some exciting new projects, such as Carlton's augmented reality series. Novelty publishers are still ploughing on with Random House's The Spooky, Spooky House standing out with its flaps, gatefolds and use of heat-sensitive thermochromatic ink.

Writing for children is still booming but it is important for any writer working in this field to look at the market very carefully and not just to produce what did well last year or the year before. Fashions in children's publishing change fast, so make sure your work is attuned to the market. Don't forget though that it is originality and good story-telling that everyone is looking for.