Book Expo Report: We’re Still Publishing

By Cynthia Shannon, Wiley

By now, the buzz around Book Expo America 2010 (#BEA10) has pretty much subsided. Various reports claim a successful convention, and though attendance was just a bit down compared with last year (though higher than 2008), it was also one day shorter. To the delight of those who attended, especially to those from abroad, Book Expo announced that it will return to its three day affair in 2011. More changes are sure to come, as the premiere North American publishing event is eager to reach broader audience.

I have been fortunate to have attended Book Expo three times in the four years of my career, and found this past one to have been the most pleasant. Perhaps it was because of the brevity of the affair, which forced me to realize ahead of time which events I was inevitably going to miss (it seems like all the good panels and parties are scheduled at the same by default). Or perhaps my thorough preparation and knowing exactly what to expect led me to experience the Expo for the primary function it serves: meet with colleagues, learn about new technologies, and score a galley of the most anticipated books this fall (I had written out a list, and the BEA Planner helped me figure out exactly where the booths were located).

The convention had a soft opening on Tuesday. There were panels and conversations, and plenty of people roaming the Javits Center, although the actual Exhibition Hall was closed for set up. This threw off many international publishers, as well as those who had planned meetings at their corresponding booths. However, the C-Span bus was parked, the New Title Showcase area set up, the expensive Wi-Fi running (plugged in techies, including the Twitterati, continued to complain about the lack of Internet connection and cell phone reception in the Javits Center, not knowing that this was pretty standard for the area. It made me realize how much I take San Francisco’s Internet access for granted).

The morning panel on how to “Take Your Author to the Social Media Party…and Stay There” was so packed, it was impossible to get into if you were 15 minutes late. But according to folks I spoke to, I didn’t miss much. “All they were doing was shelling for their companies,” explained one star online publicist. “Not much that I could apply easily and inexpensively.”

Instead, I attended the panel “Building Online Reader Communities with an eye on ROO” (#Readcom), which was probably the most useful panel of the entire convention. Moderated by Charlotte Abott, publishing journalist and digital strategist (@charabott), and including Kelly Leonard, Executive Director, Online Marketing, Hachette (@kellyleonard), Neil Strandber, Manager of Operations at Tattered Cover Bookstore (@tatteredcover), and Richelle Mead, author of the NYT bestselling Vampire Academy series (@richellemead), the panel was one of the few to not only introduce a unique hashtag, but to incorporate the live Twitter feed into the panel. The take away advice from the panel included things like “Authors should own their newsletter list” and “Prepare for the Facebook privacy changes.” Kelly Leonard had especially valuable information on things she pioneered at Hachette. Starting a Ning Group, for instance, provides the publisher or author with much more valuable information (read: email addresses!) than a Facebook group. I highly recommend following her and setting a Google Alert to receive regular updates.

One thing that I couldn’t help but notice was how the international publishers received a much better real estate than in previous years, when they were relegated to the far end area of the hall. For instance, Wiley’s booth was right next to that of Saudi Arabia, and I took advantage of the proximity to the fresh dates (as in, fruit, not men!). Spain also had a prime and generous floor placement, and many smaller publishers owned much larger booths than in years before. Whether this was due to special Book Expo offers, a better fiscal year, or other factors, I dare not question. Any which way, it was great to see and learn more about publishing abroad and the independents on shore.

Wednesday was the official opening day, and people waited patiently for access to the main hall. Wednesday was certainly the busiest day, as the aisles were packed, the energy level high, and the events too many to count. Panels included “Rights, Royalties, and Retailers: What Works?” in which Richard Nash, founder of Cursor, gave his STRONG opinion, “A Conversation about the Agency Model,” with Michael Cader from Publishers Lunch,  and the Google sponsored “How the Digital Book Cloud Works for Publishers and Users.”

Thursday was significantly less crowded, though most of the interesting panels, including Author’s Breakfast with Jon Stewart (who can make publishers laugh at their own hypocrisies), and Author Luncheon with Christopher Hitchens, who had to jet off to London for some international spy agenda (just kidding…or am I?). Sara Gruen gave a great introduction to her $5 million novel, Ape House, which will be out in September. She even signed my copy (even as a publicist surrounded by authors, some things still give me a thrill).

Edward Nawotka, editor of Publishing Perspectives, along with Denise Oswald, Editorial Director at Soft Skull, Nick Latimer from Knopf, John Reed from the NBCC, and moderator Carolyn Kellogg from the LA Times, had the most delectable discussion on the “Next Decade of Book Culture”. If only they had had enough time to fully discuss the outrageous statements they made (Moderator: “Anybody worried about copyright infringements on digital books?” Panel: “Nope.” Moderator: “Next question…”). However, Nawotka thrilled every publicist in the room when he mulled the complaints of book reviewers who complain about getting too many unsolicited books in the mail. “I just don’t get it. You’re a reviewer, it’s your JOB!”

The crowd seemed to thin out significantly around 3 pm on Thursday, as people were wrapping up their last meetings and grinning through the last two hours of Expo. “There may have been less time on the floor, but that of course forces us to focus, so I may well have ended up accomplishing more this year,” said James Meader, Director of Publicity at Picador. This sentiment was echoed throughout the remainder of the day, as people seemed exhausted but happy. How people managed to attend the Book Bloggers Convention the next day escapes me.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a report without a mention of the parties. Literati a Go-Go, along with the National Book Critics Circle, threw a Monday night bash that was well attended by authors and critics and publishing veterans alike (including Elyssa East (Dogtown), Joel Whitney (editor, Guernica), and Jane Friedman (former CEO of HarperCollins). Culture Ireland hosted a party at the Irish Consulate General’s penthouse apartment on East 39th street with a view of the entire city, and Wiley feted Charlene Li’s new book, Open Leadership, at the Harvard Club on Tuesday. The former Stanford Publishing Course, which is being revived at Yale this summer, celebrated a welcome party early Wednesday, the same night as not only the Tin House Party, Citylights Party, and New York Times party, but also the BEA Tweetup, for those brave enough to venture to Brooklyn on the subway. Thursday’s Goodreads Pub Crawl seemed tame in comparison, starting at Housing Works and ending at KGB Bar, where most of the New York literati ended up drinking and chatting until the early morning, this being New York after all.

I received a follow up email from Book Expo the next week, asking what I thought of the entire experience and what I would suggest to make it better. Besides returning to the full three days and making more space available for meetings, one idea that has been coming up more frequently is opening the Expo to the public. There are certainly two sides to this argument: while the primary function of the Expo is network and exchange ideas to empower the industry, it is also held to drum up buzz for fall titles and to meet All-Star authors in person, something avid readers are sure to appreciate. If BEA could find a balance between accommodating publishers, writers, and readers, the convention can remain relevant and perhaps even profitable well into the next decade.


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