Saturday, June 02, 2007

BookExpo America at the Javits Center

It is what it is. But maybe it’s something different for everyone who attends.

I spent most of the day yesterday walking the aisles of the impressively large BookExpo America. But while a great many attendees were standing in line for authors’ autographs or collecting as many advance reading copies (ARCs) as they could from the booths (packing and shipping show booty was a major activity with its own dedicated area), I bypassed all of that greed-driven hubbub. My weight management strategy was to turn down all the bookmarks and blads (book prospectuses) and gimcracks and gewgaws that were proffered. I carried around a large bag, but all I had in it was the show directory, itself a fairly heavy book. The deal I made with vendors was that I’d only take their business card if they’d take mine, so I had no net gain in the weight I had to carry around.

As I said, I bypassed all the big publishers, even the ones that are already my clients. The show was not the place to talk that kind of business in their booths. Instead, I concentrated on meeting representatives of companies I have only anonymous contact with–book wholesalers and distributors, review journals, book manufacturers, infrastructure companies–and these contacts will enable me to improve the service I provide my individual self-publishing clients. I’m excited about being able to smooth their way into the book distribution chain from now on.

The other group of booths I stopped at were those where a single author had made the enormous and risky investment of renting a show booth to pitch one or a few books they had written.

I found several who had approached self-publishing the right way: They had had their manuscripts edited professionally; they had hired a professional designer for both the cover and the interior; they had formed their own publishing imprint; and they were approaching publishing as a business. I wished those folks well and moved on.

I also found several who had fallen into the trap of thinking that self-publishing is synonymous with do-it-yourself publishing. They may or may not have hired an editor (it was obvious either way). They may or may not have hired a cover designer (it was obvious either way). But they certainly did not hire a typographer for the book’s interior, which invariably looked like a badly formatted Microsoft Word document. Most of these individuals were receptive to my comments and were happy to take a card. If they get to the point where they want to raise the book to a commercial level, they will call me or they will call someone else who can help them. At least they know what mistake they made and will solve it the next time they travel this road.

There were also a sad few who, having drunk the vanity press Kool-Aid, still believed themselves to be self-publishers. They sat there with their books–pretty enough, but full of glaring errors and with a vanity house imprint on the title page–and smiled, hoping to attract buyers. I wished them well, too, but I know they will leave the show the poorer for the experience. And until they awaken from their stupor and realize they’ve been had, there is not much to be done to help them. I gave them cards, too. But I think most of them found my analysis of their plight somehow insulting. It’s unlikely I’ll even hear from them, and I don’t doubt they’ll tell all their friends and listmates what an evil guy I am. That’s the curse of curmudgeonliness, of course. But I’ll live.

BEA continues through tomorrow at the Javits Center. It is open to the trade only, which means you need some sort of affiliation with the book business in order to be admitted. BEA is in Los Angeles next year and back at the Javits in 2009.

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