Book Expo 2012: Lots to Celebrate (and Learn)

Last week the largest book convention for those of us in the book industry reared it's head again in midtown Manhattan. Book Expo of America (BEA) was held in conjunction with the newly purchased BEA (formerly Book) Blogger Convention, IDPF, and Blog & New Media Expo. And New York City will be the home of BEA up until 2015, which makes me particularly happy as it's been housed at Javits steadily since 2008 after it used to rotate locations between Los Angeles and Chicago. This year BEA focused on different ways of thinking. Publishers connecting with consumers directly and cutting out the middle man. Sessions have steadily been geared towards how to utilize social media to its highest potential and how to make books (particularly young adult and middle grade titles) that much more exciting and interactive for the end user.

Many articles in the media have touted Amazon as an enemy for publishers with low-cost products and small returns. Becoming the Walmart of the book world Amazon has it's own self-publishing imprint (CreateSpace), has launched it's own publishing sector, and is still one of the first places consumers go to purchase books at a deeply discounted rate with free shipping and many other goods available from clothes to music to appliances and various technology. And Amazon continues it's growth in the publication industry with the purchase of Avalon Books which specialized in romance and mystery titles.

In a market that is slowly on the uptick publishers are trying new ways and harder than ever to connect with consumers directly. Book Expo allows them this opportunity but many times it is press/media and booksellers that get more of the publishers attention. Book bloggers have been indelible in spreading the word about little known books becoming the next big thing. A prime example of this is The Hunger Games which is a true word-of-mouth success from book 1 to the final book Mockingjay released in 2010. As is there was a huge blow up in the media blogger realm when numerous book bloggers and other forms of press were denied press credentials months after registering for BEA. To Reed Exhibitions credit they reneged on the subsequent denials noting their mishap in cancelling registration for bloggers who had registered in January and February and not informing them until the day before Good Friday (when much Reed staff was already out of the office.) Next year I'm sure whatever stringent guidelines that make press press will be clearly outlined early on and handled much more swiftly post-registration. But this sent flurries throughout the blogosphere noting how important bloggers can be to publishers and how important they are to spreading the word about books many may not be aware of and providing a hardcore fan base for authors of various genres, particularly in the young adult (YA) market.

BEA Buzz Panels for both YA and Adult books were huge draws for bloggers, booksellers, and fans alike giving attendees the inside track on what publishers are noting as their big debuts for the year. This included Kat Zhang's YA paranormal book What's Left of Me from HarperTeen and Shani Bioanjiu's The People of Forever Are Not Afraid from Hogarth (a division of Crown Publishers). Bioanjiu was also a National Book Award 5 Under 35 Honoree this year. But debuts weren't the only things lauded at Book Expo of America, prize winning authors like Junot Diaz, Mark Helprin, and Tracy K. Smith were on-hand for autographing. Pulitzer Prize winner Diaz spent hours with fans lined up to read an excerpt from his new collection from Riverhead (an imprint of Penguin) This Is How You Lose Her. He even said it was great to meet readers. "I'm like thank God," he said. The realization of meeting those who enjoy your work can be refreshing. Dennis Lehane (Live By Night) from William Morrow (HarperCollins) and native New Yorker Victor LaValle (The Devil in Silver) from Penguin they were appreciative of those lined up to meet them and of the compliments received and were happy to promote new work.

Book clubs are another big score for publishers and this year a speed dating event was held on Wednesday by The Book Report Network where leaders and members of book clubs could meet with publishers and hear about upcoming titles (in hardcover & paperback) they think would fit with book clubs. In meeting Erin Morgenstern for a signing of the paperback version of The Night Circus she had said that she thinks her book is great for book clubs. Being "fun" to discuss. Her editor was also quick to note that during Erin's tour they would be happy to speak more with those interested in doing Night Circus for book club discussions. Not only was Morgenstern there promoting the paperback version of her book but so was National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones also in paperback. My book club is fond of books in this format and it is often when reprinted in PB that publishers add book club guides to the back to promote discussion. Book clubs can generate great sales especially if they meet regularly and have a dozen or more members. Many of the members of my book club have turned to digital means and so have a friend of mine with me being one of the few still pursuing the printed text. But the printed text still has a great ways to go before being eliminated and so publishers are aching for book clubs to "adopt" their titles.

And there were numerous celebrations! The arrival of Book Expo of America also initiates NY Book Week with lots of parties going on around NYC hosted by bookstores, publishers, authors, and bloggers. But within the realm of Javits Center there many anniversaries to be celebrated from Little, Brown's 175th to The New Press' 20th to Scholastic's Clifford the Big Red Dog turning 50 to Sourcebooks celebrating the quarter century mark. Russia served as the guest of honor at Book Expo this year and had a huge section devoted to "Read Russia" where champagne in crystal flutes was on-hand to celebrate new and established authors from their homeland introducing them to an international audience. Taunton Press had signings by cookbook author (and local foodie) Abby Dodge offering great samples of her orange sesame cookies. Tuttle Publishing had daily samples of desserts from Sushi Secrets and gluten-free items. HarperCollins had beer and cupcakes, Perseus had an open bar and there were wine tastings near the ever winding Starbuck's line and check in downstairs.

Discussions on Uptown and Downtown stages ranged from the Bellwether prize where winners Heidi Durrow and Hillary Jordan sat with veteran author and Bellwether judge Barbara Kingsolver to the always advancing digital age in publishing to applications that can help sell your ebook. Scholastic was heavily promoting their new series Infinity Ring that is both a print book and available as a game, readers can choose either (or both) formats to enter the world of this new middle grade series, each book written by a different author. The author breakfast and lunches welcomed (back) Stephen Colbert, Junot Diaz, Barbara Kingsolver, Zadie Smith, Chris Colfer, Lois Lowry, Michael Chabon and John Green to name a few.

And while in years past Book Expo of America had been slim in pickings there was much available to take in and take home. BEA is an avid reader's playland and a future writer's inspiration. Meeting authors, publishers, agents, bloggers, and booksellers immersed in the same love is a great way to be reinvigorated and well informed. BEA provides a way to connect all facets of the industry to learn more about what is working, what isn't, and what the larger masses want in terms of upcoming titles and their platforms. Next year I imagine much of the conversations will be the same discussing the success of some strategies and the complications of others, but it's good to know that those within the industry seek to change the way literature is provided and taken in and that there's always a format for everyone. After all books should be celebrated and Book Expo of America is one of the biggest venues to do so.