This was probably my fifth or sixth time at Book Expo of America (BEA) at the Jacob Javits Center. I first heard about Book Expo when I was in college and got the opportunity to volunteer in the autograph area where I met many authors of various genres. It was my first time being exposed to the largest book convention in North America, and I liked it. I volunteered through my Alma matter a couple more times in the autograph area as long as BEA was being hosted in New York City. (It used to change its location every year rotating between New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.) As of 2009 it was announced that Book Expo would remain in NYC until 2012, which made me extremely happy that one of the largest conventions would continue to be in my backyard, so to speak. As of late I've been part of the press attending Book Expo and am glad not to volunteer. While I enjoyed the busy-ness of BEA and being part of the staff and having access to areas many others didn't, I also realized that not working allowed me more time to browse and see what the conference was actually about.
Book Expo has always been about introducing new authors & titles to a wide audience as well as garnering additional press for established/best-selling authors. Sometimes illustrators are also present. Librarians come to Book Expo to learn of the new titles they may want as do booksellers. Educators enjoy Book Expo for the opportunity to find new literature to stimulate students and themselves. Book lovers come to BEA because, well, BOOKS! And the exhibitors of big and small/international and domestic publishers, typesetters, digital publishers, literary agents, Newspapers, and new writers come for contacts and to bring notice to what it is they do. Book Expo has always been a great place for those with a strong love of books and realize how much they can inspire and entertain.
This year, Book Expo wasn't as I remembered it. And it made sense that in economic hardship one would notice how much the publishing industry was affected as well as the convention itself. Last year, Book Expo was the way I always experienced it, bustling; filling two floors with most publishers around and hawking as many galleys, ARCs (advance readers' copies), published titles (successful and new); food samples for cookbooks; samplers as intros to their books; beer & popcorn (just cause); and so on and so forth. Yes, we were in a recession, but apparently people hadn't been hit hard, yet.
This year BEA was condensed to one floor; there were less giveaways of books, galleys, and so forth and the giveaways that were available were timed early on. Many co-workers I saw in late morning or early afternoon expressed disappointment at the slim pickins. I informed them that had they been at Jacob Javits at 9:01 am they might have gotten some choice stuff. The autograph area and in-booth signings have always been a key source of getting some nice titles, but many people aren't keen on spending most of BEA standing in line. The press room last year was bountiful with food (muffins & bagels in the morning, cookies & brownies in the afternoon) all the while having coffee and tea readily available. This year the press room had limited offerings. Only a pitcher of coffee and tea respectively that did not get refilled and also a plate of brownies and cookies and a large serving of lemonade in the afternoon, these "amenities" also did not get refilled once supply dwindled to nothing. In exchange for less treats the press did get internet access and computers to use to constantly update their news wires, but I did miss the snacks to nosh on in the midst of running around from booth to booth, talk to talk, or meeting to meeting.
Some big name publishers, like Scholastic Inc., didn't have booths just meeting rooms and were not giving away galleys or ARCs to the public from a booth and had limited author signings in the autograph area. Last year Macmillan went that route, but this year had a small booth and did a limited number of signings. Many publishers had smaller booths which accounted for the available space on one floor.
The autograph area of about 30 signing tables or so was brought upstairs to the main hall, as was the Children's publishing pavilion (section dedicated to children's publishers solely). Because of the newly condensed conference this made for some heavy traffic throughout. Add on the limited amount of giveaways and people churning for anything they could get their hands on (title, subject matter be damned), in addition to long lines for in-booth or autograph area signings and you had yourself on heck of a traffic jam! The space between the autograph area and booths was smaller, causing the booths closest to the autograph area to be blocked off for their own signings or advertisements and patrons to just be all-around confused as they tried to find their author of choice. For some big ticket items like Melissa Marr, Kate DiCamillo, Sarah Dutchess of York, Mo Willems, Louis Gosset Jr., and so on and so forth lines started early and so you had a growing line behind a line extending to the exhibitor area and blocking who knows how many tables. I've had the pleasure of working in the autograph area and with Dave Holton who manages this section and it can get pretty hectic when people want to make sure they see James Patterson or Carol Higgins Clark or Teresa Giudice from The Real Housewives of New Jersey or just want a really nice cookbook. Some people get snippy, others full-on irate, some give up and just ask if you can give them a copy of the books sans signature, others may see a friend and skip the line thinking no one the wiser. And you have to be the one to try and keep the peace and maintain order. Not always easy on a summer day in a packed conference hall.
One of the big themes at BEA this year was Going Digital! There were many talks about the future of e-book publishing, how publishers can try and garner more interest in e-books, and authors being more open to the possibility. Some authors, mainly Scott Turow (author of Presumed Innocent and the recently published sequel Innocent) was vocal about worrying about the copyright and safety of the author's work when it came to e-publishing. How safe are e-books anyway? This is kind of the same position musicians first took when their music was available online. How can one monitor where your music is going and if you'll get compensated for it? The truth is no one has a good answer for that one. So it seems this debate may go on and on and on. After reading a review of this talk from Publisher's Weekly daily review of Book Expo it was interesting to learn that publishers wouldn't necessarily make all books they published available in e-book form, mainly high profile authors (aka guaranteed bestsellers) and mid-tier books they have high hopes on. Indie publishers can't even think of going digital right now what with their book lists being small in general as well as their budgets. So knowing that some obscure authors or new authors may not even get a chance at having their books available online kind of hammers home the point of how important print books are as well as libraries and heavy promotion by the author.
The daily review from Publisher's Weekly also noted that international companies were not too fond of the shorter week. Before, the conference was Thursday-Sunday. With Thursday being a day of press events and the keynote address officially marking the beginning of the conference, as well as set-up for exhibitors. The conference would officially be open to all Friday-Sunday for meetings, exhibitions, giveaways, and formal talks to the public about the theme as well as more pavillions dedicated to various genres. Last year had an African-American pavillion which also offered around-the-clock meetings and one awards ceremony in celebration of this specialized genre of literature. Whereas this year there was no advertised celebration of African-American literature or Spanish literature per se beyond a talk or two on the meeting floor. This year Tuesday was the day for press events, leaving Wednesday and Thursday for meetings and the official opening of the exhibitor floor. International publishers/companies were upset that they lost a day for meetings as not everyone was allowed on the exhibitor floor on Tuesday. Many wanted a refund for the day lost. Some booksellers weren't keen on the new format because Monday-Wednesday tend to be big days for signings in their stores and attending Book Expo took away from their availability as well as authors and, potentially, attendees who may be at BEA and not want to visit bookstores after a full day of books, books, and more books (in addition to achy joints from standing in line for all those tomes.)
While I was disappointed this large conference was on a slightly smaller scale and in the middle of the week rather than on a weekend, I did enjoy my time there. I didn't mind standing in line for books I was really interested in and in the mean time met a lot of nice authors and patrons. I was big on story collections this year and every author I met was interested in starting a conversation and was glad to hear how excited you were about their book. Some authors like Kathryn Stockett, whose book The Help became a NY Times best seller, basically signed and smiled to keep the long line moving. While waiting in line for her book we did get a nice caramel cake straight from Mississippi where the novel takes place. I got to tell Scott Turow how much my mother loved Presumed Innocent. I got to let the authors of Going Rouge know how intrigued I was by their book after reading about it in Entertainment Weekly and learning that one was on "The Insider" and how much we found the show to be a bit disconcerting. I got to learn more about the background of Tony O'Neill author Sick City and a genuinely nice guy. In the midst of waiting for autographs I got to meet a woman from the Midwest who loves The Hunger Games series as much as I do and a bookseller from New Jersey who kept referring good books to me by saying: Holy shit that was a good book! I met a teacher who was basically asking every publisher if they needed a lawyer for her daughter a new graduate from law school while collecting as many collectibles as she could. And I met author Lutishia Lovely, who also had a penchant for cookbooks as she and I met in line after line for certain titles.
Next year Book Expo will retain the current format of a shorter conference, mid-week from May 24-26, 2011 in NYC. While I see the ups-and-downs I cannot foresee ever not enjoying a conference that celebrates books so intensely. Each year I feel an immense sense of luck at being exposed to so much in a few days.