If you’ve been keeping an eye on our blog recently, you might have seen Naomi talking about her preparations for the Bologna Book Fair on her ‘Day in the Life’ vlog. Well, Bologna is upon us, and today Naomi will walk you through her not-so-mixed emotions about saying farewell to all that preparation…
Last night, for the first time in about five weeks, I left the office at a normal time (6pm) LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. I didn’t arrive home with my mind still whirring about emails I had/hadn’t sent, invites I had/hadn’t RSVP’d to, hotel rooms I knew were definitely booked because I had checked them three billion times but was still convinced something would go wrong about. No, I arrived home at midnight, slightly wobbly on rose wine, because BOLOGNA PREP IS DONE. IT IS DONE.
Well, it is done for this year. And London is just around the corner. And then it will be Frankfurt before you know it. BUT FOR NOW – no more book fair schedules!
This year was a bumper edition – we had a record number of people going, so this meant organising from scratch three people’s schedules, plus coordinating and remotely organising two other people’s. On top of that, things were complicated further this year as the Bonnier International Sales Conference is this week, meaning I had to get everything ready two days earlier than normal. But whatever.
Flights and hotels were sorted in October, but not everyone is arriving at the same time, so this meant making sure the various different dates were booked for the right people, and me and the travel agent getting ourselves thoroughly muddled on more than one occasion. FYI people – it doesn’t help when your professional name differs from the one on your passport…
Then came the appointments. A few very organised people were emailing in December with requests, but January is when it kicks off in earnest. Over the past two and a half months I have sent emails to hundreds of people requesting appointments, almost none of which were met with ‘Sure! Sounds good.’ responses – so then you enter the negotiation phase, where you try to find something that will work. I find you quickly get to know and empathise with a person when there is a mutual burden of organising book fair schedules connecting you – I had to ring someone else’s assistant this year to try to rearrange something and she greeted me (somewhat wearily) like an old friend.
If you’ve started emailing people, this means (hopefully) that you’ve got your blank template ready. For those that don’t know, book fairs are intense – REALLY intense – so although it is tough for me to organise them, I get that it will be horrendous for someone going if their schedule isn’t 100% correct – hence why I put the kind of effort into organising them that I do. Everyone’s days are divided into half an hour slots (starting at 9, finishing at 6) and then that day will be filled to the brim with these half hour appointments. They don’t get a break for lunch, and although the appointments stop at 6, they will then usually be attending at least one drinks reception (usually two) before heading off to a dinner somewhere. SO, if something is wrong (time/location of the appointment usually) it throws a massive spanner in the works.
This means you need a very, VERY organised system of keeping track of what times you’ve offered to what people, where you’ve said the meeting will take place, and then whether the person has confirmed that meeting (ALWAYS repeat back what you’ve arranged in your final email – then if something goes wrong you know you were right!). I personally like to use Excel, as it means I can colour-code the hell out of it. Italics means appointment has been suggested but not confirmed, red means it is confirmed, orange means the person whose schedule you are organising has requested you keep the time free for something, yellow means ‘extra-curricular’ (drinks, dinners, etc.) and green means ‘travel/free time’. Everyone I do the schedules for knows my system now, and although they find the Excel spread sheet useful to look at as an overview, they also prefer to have a more traditional day-by-day breakdown on a Word document. This means re-typing out everything, but actually this is a good time to double-check all the appointments against your original emails – meaning really nothing should be getting through the net.
However, for all my complaining about them, there is a kind of manic pleasure to be taken in watching a book fair schedule grow from an empty Excel spread sheet into the packs I was distributing yesterday: brightly coloured manila folders with taxi details, flight details, hotel details, further taxi details, book fair passes (x2; one for the weekend and one for the week) the full Word breakdown of the schedule plus the overview and day-by-day Excel one, THEN maps for each of their personal evening schedules, with invitations attached. Plus these things organised into daily mini-folders, with copies of everything too, natch. Let’s just say this kind of thing really brings out the Monica in me.
So, it is with not much regret that I say – God’s speed, mighty Bologna schedules. Have a great fair and see lots of interesting books.
Please don’t be wrong.