Claire Culliford was interested in going to China, but as an author, it didn’t make sense for her to exhibit. She contacted our international book fairs manager Gloria Bailey and, with Gloria’s help, was able to travel to Shanghai Children’s Book Fair. Gloria helped her secure funding for travel from the Department of International Trade’s Export for Growth scheme as well as a free visa letter and accommodation through the Fair’s International Visitors’ Programme.

Through a chance meeting in 2017 at Frankfurt Book Fair whilst exhibiting my international environmental children’s book series, I met Gloria Bailey of the UK Publishers’ Association. After being re-introduced in 2019, Gloria and the PA have provided me with the most incredible support this year to enable me to visit Shanghai Children’s Book Fair as part of the International Visitors’ Programme. My children’s book series had already been translated into Chinese and the Fair gave me the perfect opportunity to meet and present it to Chinese publishers and distributors.

I found my visit to Shanghai to be so beneficial that I wanted to report back on the experience. I hope that this might encourage other new children’s book publishers, authors and illustrators to consider attending the Fair in years to come. It really was an incredible experience.

Funding

Having been invited to participate in the International Visitors’ Programme, two nights’ accommodation was provided for me, during the 3-day Fair. I opted to arrive the day before the Fair, and I left on the evening of the final day, so I only had to purchase one extra night’s stay myself. This was obviously a significant financial saving. I was also invited to apply for some funding from the Department of International Trade, as my books are already sold elsewhere in the world, and China is an ideal new export market. The rise of the Chinese middle class has seen a huge increase in desire for children’s educational fiction books. DIT funding is something that many small businesses and creatives in the UK may be unaware of and is most definitely worth looking into.

Support in Shanghai during the Fair

Prior to the Fair, the DIT had put me in contact with the Early Years and Education representative in Beijing, who was flying down to Shanghai to attend the Fair. I had already contacted a number of companies, but owing to the very busy nature of the Fair and most Chinese children’s book companies being there to sell, rather than buy, rights, I only received one or two responses. Consequently, on the first day, I met up with the DIT representative, and we were able to plan a strategy for my approaching and appropriate publishers and distributors on the second day of the Fair. As is the usual protocol when doing business in China, and indeed elsewhere, we spent time finding out how the companies operated and that they were looking for first. Did they generally produce their own content in English/Chinese or bilingual versions? Did they buy rights to children’s books written by foreign authors? Did they buy IP and create their own children’s books? And were they focused on children’s picture books, educational/language-learning, or a combination of both? By asking these questions, we were able to determine the best fit between the companies I concerned and the work I do – the key to any fruitful long-term business relationship.

Seminars

Alongside meetings with Fair exhibitors, there was a comprehensive Seminar programme, with presentations given by leading lights of the international children’s publishing industry. I gathered an immense amount of knowledge from attending these, which I will be able to use to feed in to the development of my books going forward.

Networking

Prior to the Fair, I was invited to two networking events:

I was invited to the CCBF VIP ‘Book Pitch Party’ at Xinhua bookstore. This was an event which enabled a number of international publishers to pitch a book of their choice in 3 minutes. It was a novel, but highly informative, format. The short pitches allowed me, as an author, to see what story traits attract publishers in the international children’s book industry, and the kind of themes that are popular and on trend.

I was also invited to the DIT/PA Creative Industries networking reception, which enabled me to meet 16 UK children’s publishers as well as employees in the Creative Industries from the British Consulate General in Shanghai. Everyone was extremely supportive and many new opportunities were identified. Following the Fair, I am now pursuing these, focusing specifically on Chinese/English cultural relations and the role that I as a British author with books translated into Chinese can play in developing these for the next generation.

I found these networking opportunities to be extremely beneficial, with ideas and suggestions for future projects arising from both of them.

Results

Having returned home from the Fair, I have spent the first couple of days following up on the many conversations that were begun and have already heard back from some of the new contacts I made to discuss business opportunities. This has made me feel that my visit to the Fair was unquestionable success beneficial as I am already experiencing tangible benefits.

More information on book fairs and Book Fair Services that the Publishers Association provides can be found here.

Photography by David Lowe