books aren’t just what we do, they’re who we are

A Day at the Agents Center

So, yesterday, I talked a little bit about my preparations for the Bologna Book Fair. Today, because I’m so sure you’re wondering, I thought I’d go over just exactly what a typical day in the Agents Center at a big international book fair like Bologna is like.

First of all, let’s toss out the notion that it’s at all glamorous. The Agents Center is a room filled with rows of tables, each surrounded by four chairs. So when you’re taking a meeting, chances are you’re next to another agent also taking a meeting, each trying to pitch the most appropriate titles for the editor they’re meeting with. As for those meetings, well, there’s a lot of them. Every half an hour, from about 9 to 6pm, depending on when you want to start, and how late you’re willing to go. It’d be nice to imagine those meetings on a plaza in the sun somewhere, but it’s a pretty anonymous room that looks the same whether you’re in New York, Bologna, Frankfurt, London, or Sheboygan.

Of course, you don’t want to go too late, since that cuts into cocktail hour. Which is still work, and still meetings, but now involves alcohol — in this case, lovely prosecco, or so I hope. Sometimes you’ll have cocktails with one person, some days it’ll be at a party, where you’ll mix and mingle with colleagues from around the world, and in most cases, with your competitors as well. Finally, though, you’ll get to be out and about enjoying the city’s culture — or at least as much of it as can be picked up in a bar. After cocktails comes dinner, usually with yet another person or group of people. Dinner is usually more casual, more colleagues catching up. More wine, certainly.

And then, back to the hotel. I can’t speak for Bologna, but in Frankfurt, there was often more mingling in the hotel lobby bar after dinner, and yet another chance to catch up with colleagues. Eventually, you head to bed, to catch a few hours sleep to wake up and do it all again the next day.

In one day, you can have as many as 16 meetings, maybe more. And there’s four days of that. I do also get to spend some time by myself — mostly at breakfast, and the weekend before the fair, when I’ll get to catch up with an old friend from high school. But let’s just say this isn’t a relaxing European vacation, ok?

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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