I have been attending Book Expo America for a long time, never in the capacity of a show-goer, but always as someone representing a publisher—big or small. When I started out working in book publishing, we went all out with parties, huge booths, and galley giveaways in the thousands. It was crazy.
Different publishers had different rules for the staff on the floor too, like no sitting down and to look excited and friendly. Don’t let any important booksellers or media get by without a handshake, a pitch, and a smile. Don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and if pressed, refer potential authors to the editor on duty (who might duck out at that opportune moment).
For the most part, the show has had its fair share of ups and downs, but there are some things that really stood out for me this year and made the experience somewhat new again:
1. The number one thing that made an impact for me this year is that I took someone from my office to the show who had never been there before. Not only was she excited right up until the day of the show, but she doggedly went to stand in line for Lemony Snicket, Jim Carrey, Ann Romney, R.L. Stine, Snooki from “Jersey Shore,” and Chelsea Handler. She grabbed the swag, like free totes and after the first hour proudly sported an assortment over her arm. Starstruck and thrilled are the two best words to describe how she seemed to experience the event. An avid reader and book person, for her this was like heaven on earth. How fun for me to see the show through her eyes!
2. Saudi Arabia, China, Mexico and other foreign entities have taken over where other domestic publishers have taken to cost-cutting and smaller booths. Those banners were impressive, even though I did a double take, expecting to see the words Simon and Schuster across the sky.
3. Prospective authors are very different than they used to be. With the business of self-publishing booming, there are less people meekly approaching the booths. There is definitely a stronger sense of esteem and affirmation—and “I have as much right to be here as anyone else” vibe, which is as it should be.
4. Fewer familiar faces of booksellers and of course, a dearth of book editors. There are a couple of things happening here. One is I’m getting older and new people are replacing the old, and two the traditional world of book reviewing and “book media” is still downwardly adjusting for the digital market. It is as hard as ever to get reviewed in print, but online opportunities continue to grow.
Things are always changing and for me this year the key was definitely to go into the show with an attitude of interest and anticipation. It is fun to see old friends and co-workers and it is still exciting to be in the midst of an industry that in the face of all the challenges still boasts an underlying passion for its product.
Thank you to the Book Expo team. See you next year!