Recapping BEA

Alison Morris - June 5, 2007

So, I tested a theory last weekend and it proved correct. Whether you spend two, three, or four days attending Book Expo the end result is the same: you go home (or to your friend’s wedding) feeling completely and utterly exhausted. End of story. The reasons you feel this way are as follows: 

1.  You stay up way too late at various author dinners/publisher parties/late-night chats over cocktails with people you see far too infrequently.

2.  Even though you’ve learned this lesson countless times you still get up outrageously early so that you can attend author breakfasts that start much too early given your late bedtime the night before.

3.  Even after you’ve made every effort to pick up as little "loot" as possible, you wind up carting FAR too many books around the trade show floor, on the unforgiving straps of FAR too many totebags.

4.  You smile at too many people, make too much small talk, and pretty much exhaust your abilities to be both charming and professional, at least at the same time.

5.  You process, think, reflect, process, think, reflect, process, think, pass out from exhaustion.

What made this BEA worth all the fatigue were not the moments and experiences I had on the trade show floor so much as the conversations I had with fellow booksellers, with authors, and with publishing folks, mostly at dinners and parties but occasionally at places where we just happened to run into one another. Outside the actual exhibit hall Gareth and I stumbled into a long, delightful conversation with Judy O’Malley of Charlesbridge Press and author/illustrator Susan L. Roth. A Bloomsbury party brought me face-to-face with new celebrity-turned-author Julianne Moore, who seemed able to make delightful conversation with everyone in the room. I talked and talked with Laura Godwin at a wonderful Holt dinner at which I also talked and talked with author/illustrator William Low and author/illustrator Peter McCarty. A Holtzbrinck dessert party afforded chances to chat with authors,  illustrators, booksellers, and publishers galore, and the ABC auction and dinner felt like a who’s who of the children’s book world, with everyone doing (what else?) lots of talking.

Perhaps I need to amend my list of fatigue-inducers above to include a #6: talking. But this year the talking part really was the bulk of the fun.

Here’s what I did NOT like about BEA this year: the almost complete inaccessibility of books in the booths of most large publishers. As I strolled the trade show floor I found it almost impossible to get a sense of most publishers’ lists, because I couldn’t even get near the f&g’s of their forthcoming picture books, if I could even find them in the first place. While, yes, the crowds of people clogging the aisles were part of the problem, I couldn’t help feeling like the booth arrangements themselves and publishers’ decisions about what to feature in those booths were the bigger culprits. Time and time again I found that the only samples available for perusal were on a low shelf behind a table crowded with people conducting business. My options were to either interrupt these busy folks or move on having seen nothing. In most cases, I wound up doing the latter, ultimately walking away with no sense of what books that publisher was happy to be promoting.

The same is mostly true when it comes to novels. While I understand why publishers aren’t carting as many galleys to the show and stacking as many in grand piles within their booths, I have to say that the loss of those stacks ultimately leaves me with a lot less information. What is so-and-so excited about this season? I have no idea, because nothing stood out for me. What midlist author are they hoping to push to the forefront? I couldn’t begin to tell you, unless they happened to be part of special featured programs, like the New Voices one organized by ABC.

This means when you ask me what the "big books" were at the show for me this year, I’ve got almost no answer for you. Unless I happen to have already purchased a publisher’s fall list or happen to have dined with a particular author, I don’t necessarily even know what "the big guys" are selling. As a buyer who meets with sales reps at the store to do my purchasing, this is not a huge problem, but it is a disappointment. More importantly, it’s a missed opportunity. Think of all those frontline booksellers and librarians and people from other publishing houses who interact with customers, with patrons, with friends who have money to burn. They don’t have the sales rep advantage, they don’t have a chance to see the books that aren’t carried by their local bookstore, and they don’t know what they’re missing. These are people who can easily influence the purchasing decisions of their stores, their libraries, their fellow book-lovers. Why have so many of the larger publishers stopped catering to them?

In my head I’ve long had a list of those publishers who excel at making even their "small" books accessible in their large booths. Candlewick’s booth is probably the most bookseller-friendly, because it’s arranged with all of the books up front, where they’re easy to browse. Any meetings in their booth take place in semi-private sections where you don’t feel you’re tripping over them. Likewise, Chronicle Books always has their titles neatly arrayed, making them easy to pull from the wall to peruse. Houghton Mifflin makes clever use of their sometimes limited space by putting their picture book f&g’s in spinner racks. Voila! Browsers in the booth can still see the list, and Houghton folks can still make use of their meeting spaces. At the bottom of my mental list are Scholastic and Random House, who, for all the great, great books they produce, almost never display the bulk of them in their booths, giving me (sadly) fewer reasons to frequent them.

I say put your books (or at least sample pages) out where people can see them. I think people are more likely to recommend and sell the books they’ve actually read than the ones they’ve just seen advertised on their promotional totebags, beach towels, and post-it notes.

8 thoughts on “Recapping BEA

  1. lucky

    After working the different shows,BEA, LIBF etc, I have a few observations: 1) no one honors legally binding contracts,(so I don’t kow why they have them) 2) Security stunk. people were STEALING items off the shelves, which is why publishers don’t put much on the stands, 3) lots of people seem to be having affairs with each other(very incestuous); I am so glad i am NOT in your industry!

  2. bookgirl

    I guess you missed booth 953. On the lower level, far from the madding crowds and mega-dollar publishers, Shenanigan Books participated in its first BEA. Strategically positioned across the autographing line for Tiki Barber, their books were accessible, their tote bags were invisible and their mermaids were hospitable (characters from their kid’s book The Book of Mermaids). It made me think that less is more, that a small company with a dozen good books might be easier to buy from than weeding through hundreds of titles, not all of them worthwhile.


    Scholastic take note: It is NOT about the posters, book bags etc. We want to see book content!!!! As a librarian and reading specialist your books fill an important nitch. I want to see the actual pages of your new offerings!!!!

  4. ShelfTalker

    bcbookseller, I couldn’t tell if your comment was in regards to the unfriendliness of the Random House booth or a comment about Random House as a publisher. With regard to the latter, we’re still receiving a lot of expert service and assistance from Random House Children’s Books, due to the fact that they still employ a sales force staffed by (at least in our case) EXPERT sales reps. My RH children’s rep, Kate Sullivan, is nothing short of fantastic. She reads EVERYTHING (books by RH, books by other publishers) and will go above and beyond the call of duty to assist us with events, pass our feedback along to those in-house, and make sure we’re getting the books we need when we need them. I think there are a lot of other folks like Kate who are still at RH fighting the good fight — they just get caught up in the same red tape that’s rampant almost everywhere in the publishing world these days and especially evident at events like BEA.

  5. ShelfTalker

    lucky, I’m curious what industry you’re part of that finds you so often at book industry conferences. Would you mind filling us in on that bit? As for your allegation that the book industry is an “incestuous” one, I can only say that I’m guessing it’s far less so than other media industries, and that “incestuous” or not, I’ve found it to be peopled mostly with good, honest, likeable people. I’m sorry your experiences have given you such a different (and negative) impression.

  6. ShelfTalker

    bookgirl, I think there are a lot of smaller publishers who do a great job of displaying their books and making them the focus of their BEA push — some of them producing high quality books and some of them not. I do think that, in either case, smaller publishers have an easier time arranging their booths, as they’ve got shorter front lists, MUCH less backlist, and less in-booth wheeling and dealing to have to accommodate. What they all (for the most part) do well, though, is what you’ve said — they make their books accessible and make their books the focus of their booths. Ultimately, I think the bigger publishers need to find a way to copy them in this regard.

  7. lucky

    Sorry, I am in the computer software industry; husband is in publishing; almost every supplier he has worked with has NOT honored any contracts/aggreeemnts. Its amazing how business gets done… In my industry, you would immediately conduct legal action for not honoring a contract. Incestuous is the wrong word; sorry again. But I overheard 2 times with in an hour’s span how certain women were having an affair with a married man; 2 separate stories… then I overheard similar speak at other parts of the JJC. Just too much negative and immoral stuff. PS RE: not enough books on the shelves, we had books on our shelves and had most of them stolen! How the heck can you do business if a whole lot of non-trade and public visitors come in and pillage the stands before you start apcking up. We lost all of our dummies(stolen!). I walked through the security line 5 times WITHOUT BEING CHECKED… ANYONE could have walked right in there with a bomb!!! Security was pathetic! Sorry to be so negative, I am very analytical and my job is to think of every pemutation of soemthing that can go wrong. Well I saw alot of bad security issues at the Jacob Javits Center, both product and safety-wise…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *