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.