Book Expo America 2012: Why We Are The 5th Column

edenskeeper June 12, 2012 0 Publishing, Uncategorized
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I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to  attend Book Expo America 2012 this past week.  It was my first time attending the largest book event in the US and I was very excited. Disclaimer – my impressions are colored by the fact that I am an industry outsider, meaning that I do not come from a publishing background. That being said, I’d like to briefly share the impressions that have stayed topmost on my mind.

The event was three days long and was held in Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. For the first time, BEA offered an additional day devoted to book blogging! The blogging event was advertised as a place to network with authors & publishers with the opportunity to attend break out sessions that focused on topics such as making money with your book blog.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of electrical outlets in the main conference room.  Because we are bloggers, we are are heavy users of all forms of social media.  So – in a room full of bloggers Tweeting, Facebooking, Blog updating, texting, Tumblring and Pinteresting about the event- there were no outlets to help us replenish our batteries.  Further, there wasn’t a way to easily add outlets to the space. The lack of this important detail pretty much set the tone for the whole day. BEA (and the publishing industry) wants to reach out to bloggers but just doesn’t know what to do with us.

The panelists participating in the morning’s main session represented a variety of outlets including Goodreads, Huffington Post, Harper Perennial, an editor, and a book blogger.  The panelists responded to questions posed by a moderator.  Unfortunately – instead of addressing the impact of book blogging on the publishing industry, or the impact of social media on publishing,  the panelists focused their time condemning e-books, Google+, and Fifty Shades of Grey. They appeared entrenched in the self importance of the NYC publishing world.  This theme would permeate the whole of the BEA experience for me. An industry in flux, trying to change with the times, and wholly unable to even grasp where to begin to change the mindset.

In the afternoon, I attended two panels. The first promised to teach techniques for generating revenue off of your book blog.  Incredibly the panel began with each panelist admitting that none of them made money directly off of their blog but indirectly via appearances and promotions. The exception was The Book Smugglers. In fact The Book Smugglers shared the most applicable advice throughout the whole of the panel.  When deciding on a group of panelists – why would you bring in speakers who have no experience in the book blogging realm?  The positive part of the panel was that several sites that allow for blogging promotion were mentioned but otherwise I felt the panel was a dud.

The second panel focused on improving relations between bloggers and publishers and was much more successful. Lucille Rettino, VP & Dir. of Mktg for Simon & Schuster was wonderful! She got it! Her office actively courts book bloggers and makes a point of updating their database quarterly.  When Ms. Rettino was asked to share her expectations for bloggers she honestly stated “None.”  In other words, her office had yet to find a way to quantify the results from a specific review, or from a blogging event. What they felt confident about was that bloggers provided an effective means for promotion even if it was a means that was not immediately quantifiable.

The closing remarks were given by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess. Blog followers –  she is even more delightful in person!  Her speech was wonderful and her tips helpful. But  – why wasn’t the room filled? Because BEA decided to run a concurrent event called “BEA Editors’ Buzz” where they sought to promote 6 books for the fall.  What? I have never heard of a convention holding con-current events during the Closing Remarks?

The main BEA show started on Tuesday and would continue through Thursday. As one might imagine, the larger publishing houses had custom booths the size of icebergs strategically placed around the floor.  Not to be outdone, Amazon.com

and Sourcebooks.com also had huge booths.  But as I looked around the room I was amazed that the self publishing houses were so under represented. I looked for software like Scrivener or WriteWayPro and didn’t find those either.  There were booths for Kobo and Sony and even Kindle but I didn’t see anyone using one on the floor.  Nor did I see any posters of new covers being displayed on e-readers. The message was clear, we may have to deal in e-books but that doesn’t mean we are going to like it.

During the three days, panels were held on several subjects.  Authors were herded in and out of booths or signing tables surrounded by young publicists and given only 45 minutes to interact fleetingly with hordes of fans.  Signing lines could stretch for ages and it was all too common to be told after waiting in line for over 40 minutes that the author had run out of books and as such the event was over. Authors who signed within a booth seemed more comfortable and well tended.  But most authors were relegated to the stages at the back of the show. An area that looked about as welcoming as Walmart on a Sunday night, I felt terrible for everyone.  Firstly for the authors seated at tiny tables at the end of these white chained lines. Secondly for the fans who had no way of knowing if the time spent in line fighting off other fans would guarantee anything other than sore feet.

I’ve attended conventions in several different industries and one of the things that really stood out to me at BEA was the general lack of fun.  No opening night event for everyone at the convention to attend. No silly gags or funny events at each booth. The exception being Ellora’s Cave Publishing whose booth included plenty of books, models signing calendars, clever promo items, and authors!  In some ways, BEA is the most purposely anti-social sales event I have ever attended.  The tone being “I am far too sophisticated, intellectual and urbane to be bothered with anything other than a serious discussion about publishing!”

As a blogger who reads and writes primarily romance sub-genres, I felt like a red-headed step-child at BEA.  In example, over a three day period, Harlequin devoted only 45 minutes to paranormal romance. And the more time I spent at the show, the more I began to understand that I was different.  But not just myself, my little world comprised of authors and fans of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and steampunk was different.  In a room where authors and publishers often eschewed the need for authors to maintain websites, my favorite authors were so ahead of the game they were hosting message boards and forums. In a panel where I heard “Facebook is too emotional” while industry pundits nodded their cloned heads in agreement, my authors and their fans were FB posting, Pintresting, Tumblring and Tweeting sexy pics, funny memes, lines from their WIPs, and stories about their families.  And in a convention where people claimed to share the love of the written word – it was widely understood that this love was meant for words written on paper.  Most of my favorite authors could care less how you read their work as long as you read it (legally – no pirating).

My friends, we are the Fifth Column of the publishing world. Bloggers, readers, authors and some gutsy publishers who embrace social media, electronic mediums and the innovations in publishing as a means of sharing our love of reading and writing. Instead of feeling happy that I could walk away with a duffle bag of books, I felt stupid.  I wanted to download everything to my Kindle. I wished over and over that some booth would hand me a credit card sized USB promo card with the book files embedded in a drm free format along with teaser chapters for other books. How much fun would it be to fan them out like a deck of cards! How easy to carry around.  How easy for running contests on our blogs (and we could include international readers, too)! And the designs! Imagine the trading or bidding frenzy to have all the possible versions of the cards?

BEA 2012 has been a mind opening experience. I met several people who were interesting and kind. I received a ton of new books which I look forward to reading, reviewing and sharing with you. I saw an industry fighting to define itself in light of a changed marketplace. Most of all – I realized that in many ways the direction of the publishing world is not being set by NY but instead by readers like me & you living in towns and cities all over the world. Thanks to the internet we share our thoughts on books everyday almost instantaneously not only with each other but with authors, as well.  We each have our own preferences for reading books – the more options the merrier because the reality is that the more options you have the more likely you are to read. Who knows what BEA will look like three years from now? Probably, more like us.

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