Book Expo 2013: How's the Publishing Industry Faring Since?

Well now that almost two months have passed since BEA, Penguin Random House has officially merged, there've been layoffs at academic publishers such as Wiley and Pearson, and who knows what more may come especially with the DoJ agreement keeping Amazon from owning a good portion of the industry in terms of rights. But, as always around Book Expo of America (BEA) time the outlook for the publishing industry and state of books is optimistic and favorable. But you wonder is this because of the BEA crowd being booksellers, librarians, bloggers, publishing professionals, authors, agents, and the like or because now that there's a day for Super Readers as well extends to people who just have a love for books?

This year BEA was very giving. And while there were rumors of some houses having significantly smaller booths than last year I didn't see much that was different from the past two years before at Jacob Javits Center. Random House had a good sized booth away from the cluster of the big six which helped them move and start lines in the autographing area. And many signings had huge turnouts and waits, particularly those for Rainbow Rowell's latest, Fangirl. The acclaim for Eleanor & Park (St. Martin's Griffin) sent fans standing in line for up to an hour just to get a chance to take a picture of the author whose lovely smile and comical and searing prose was worth the wait.

Rick Yancy's The 5th Wave (Penguin Teen) and Sarah Maas' latest in the Thrown of Glass series (Bloomsbury YA) drew huge crowds and waits before hand as well. And that's just a bit of proof of how much young adult titles continue to grow favor and lines at Book Expo with YA authors being a good portion of those doing signings.

Scholastic Editorial Director and author David Levithan signed two of his new/upcoming titles, one of which is the gorgeously elegiac Two Boys Kissing (Knopf for Young Readers). Veronica Roth signed posters for Allegiant (Book 3 in the Divergent trilogy, Katherine Tegen Books). Marie Lu signed samplers for Champion, the last book in the Legend series and she'll be gearing up for her new series with Penguin due out fall 2014.

Algonquin had a YA takeover at their booth one of the days of BEA in celebration of their new Young Readers imprint that will have debuts this fall. Two of their titles were on the YA Buzz Panel. Hitting the 30 year anniversary it seemed apt that a new imprint could bring a new face to Algonquin. And one of the big draws and titles talked about on the Buzz Panel were If You Could Be Mine about two girls in a relationship in Lebanon and the MG book The Time Fetch. And even Tuttle Publishing which is known for it's books bringing Asian education and flair to the marketplace has YA books they were promoting alongside many of their popular cookbooks. And with Paleo becoming a bigger contingent in the cookbook scene Tuttle Publishing has that covered.

There was also the literary contingent with Andre Dubus III signing a new book out with Norton. Elizabeth Gilbert signing her new fiction title with Penguin. Giveaways for National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward's latest, a memoir entitled Men We Reaped about the men she's lost in her life and her life in the South. Colum McCann signed hard copies of his first book since he won the National Book Award in 2009, Transatlantic. Add in the talkative Adriana Trigiani and Jason Mott whose debut The Returned from Harlequin imprint Mira has been getting raves and there's a well-rounded amount of authors for a diverse audience. There was the hype for Burial Rites a debut from Hannah Kent and Wally Lamb's latest along with Son by Phillip Meyer. And Neil Gaiman didn't just have a children's book he was promoting and signing he also had an adult one (The Ocean at the End of the Lane) and drew a HUGE crowd on Saturday morning for his talk on writing and the business along with a signing afterwards.

Amy Tan was there to speak of her new book due out in November. Jim Carrey had a fast-moving line curling around Perseus's distribution booths for signing of posters for his first picture book for kids and Chelsea Handler was there for photo ops. Julianne Moore had another children's book she was promoting and Giada De Laurentiis signed her first children's book as well called Recipes for Adventure with an imprint at Penguin. But the biggest star seemed to be Grumpy Cat who had about a 45 minute wait for a picture beside him. But you could not touch the cat. At all.

So that's the fun stuff, but what about the business of publishing? How is that going? Ebook sales are rising but still do not make up a huge portion of the market. They take up 15-20% of sales in trade and many independent presses and small university presses are trying to find a piece of that pie. Making the Digital Zone and coinciding conference IDPF huge draws for industry professionals to get to know what's available on the digital side and how they can reap the benefits for low costs.

Even with sales not taking a huge piece of the pie like expected ebooks are and will continue to be very important to the market. Kobo, one of the lesser known e-readers may soon be striking a deal with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) to distribute their ebooks exclusively with independent stores helping both parties in one swoop. One of the detriments of the indie store has been competing in the digital market and a contract with Kobo can improve that. I mean look at this New Yorker cover (below). Doesn't that say enough about the state of the indies? Especially indies in big cities like NYC where ones pop up but need a steady base of customers to continue to go to. And in places like Queens and the Bronx we do not have many if any.

From the agent perspective, especially if you follow the Twitter-verse and look at new books coming out in the Young Adult realm certain trends are slowing and others are surging. Amy Tintera's Reboot and T. Mike Martin's The End Games both play off of zombies, which may be the new "thing." Dystopian is losing ground but there are still new ones coming out like Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing series from HMH Kids. And aliens are making a comeback! (See the popularity of The 5th Wave and also Malinda Lo's sequel to Adaptation.) Maggie Stiefvater's latest in the Raven Cycle series was a huge item up-for-grabs and traipses along a new line of fantasy and mystery and the hunt for a mystical king. Whereas contemporary YA is gaining ground and will always have relevance (note what I said about Rainbow Rowell's line).

Mysteries and their big name authors like James Patterson and Preston & Child had ARCs flying off the floor. And with the Readers Day on Saturday people went buck wild about the freebies.

More MG is being sought by publishers and agents. More specific stories and non-recycling of themes we've seen/heard/read before. It's becoming harder to become unique if in certain instances trends are the thing but good writing is good writing and books is what excites everyone about BEA in the first place.

So what is the outlook on the publishing industry? Well, it has ebbs and flows as any business does. Super Readers on Saturday proved to be big fans and also those in education seeking out titles to give to students and promote reading. Books will always be a necessity whether for entertainment, inspiration, or education. And BEA tends to remind those of us in the industry how much people enjoy it and how important it is. Yes, people get very grabby hands at BEA and there is shuffling of bodies and pushing of arms and taking of items clearly marked for sale but in the grand scheme of things it's about books and book lovers and uniting them for a celebration of the industry not just an analysis of it.

Time will tell what the (immediate) future holds for publishing. A lot of predictions made don't come to fruition. A lot of sites in beta may or may not be the next huge thing. And many books predicted to be hits may flounder and those that barely got any publicity may surge due to word of mouth from various people in the community. There's no true tell-tale sign except that publishing needs to be malleable and change with the times while consistently seeking to produce great content and find the audience for it.

For next year and the year after BEA will still be held in New York City at Jacob Javits before going off to Chicago for a year or maybe more. It's been really nice having BEA in my hometown/backyard for the past three years straight and I'll continue to enjoy it no matter the locale.