Ten Things I Learned At BEA 2013

BEA, baby. Book Expo America.

I came. I wandered. I got swag.

This was my first. My BEA cherry is now popped.

Let’s talk about what I learned.

1. BEA is not actually a Bea Arthur cosplay convention. My Maude outfit — which was, forgive my ego, exquisite — landed like an iron turd. I tried to segue and pretend I was doing some riff on “50 Shades Of Grey-Haired Ladies,” but that just weirded people out even more.

2. People will step on their nieces and grandmothers to get certain swag offerings. Like, at first I thought, “BEA is like a polite, bookish version of Comic-Con,” and that largely remains true. People are generally quite polite and professional. Until — until — it comes time to procure a highly sought-after advanced reader copy of an upcoming book, particularly if you could also get it signed. I think I saw a few sharpened toothbrushes. One librarian had trained peregrine falcons to go for the eyes of anybody reaching for a book she wanted. What also enraged folks: the fact that some ARCs were not produced and made available. The fact that Veronica Roth’s newest did not have a galley copy on the floor drove one librarian into twerking as if possessed by a twerking demon, and those who got close to her were incinerated in holy fire. It’s possible I’m making this up. I did, after all, consume hallucinogens with Mister Tyrus Books Himself. We made LSD from library paste. It was, as the kids say, “off the chain.”

3. People in publishing are frequently demonized, but this to me remains largely unfair. Demonize the industry all you like (and it has done things worthy of the exorcisms and excrement thrown at times), but generally the people who work in publishing love it. They love books. They love authors. They love selling books and promoting authors. Sometimes they might not be as good at it as we want. Sometimes they might be mired in thinking that sometimes seems “backwards,” but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of people I meet working in the industry are there because they actually love the shit out of books.

4. Grumpy Cat brings all the boys to the yard. Seriously, like, I think Grumpy Cat’s line was longer than that of most of the celebrity authors who were there.

5. FUCK YES LIBRARIANS AND TEACHERS AND BOOK WORKERS. And book bloggers! I’ve seen commentary that dismisses them in favor of the generic “reader,” but that misses some things. First, it misses that librarians and teachers and book workers are readers. Second, it misses that these people can also be a book and author’s avatars into the world — they are not “middle men” fit to be excised but rather they are connective tissue that helps ensure that books (physical books and digital books) find hands. Anybody who cheers the demise of libraries or bookstores shouldn’t be allowed to write books and should in fact be slathered with tuna and thrown into a pit beneath Jabba’s Palace with a starving Grumpy Cat. GRUMPY CAT GONNA EAT YOUR FACE, FOOLS.

6. The BEA exhibitor floor is like a really boring labyrinth. (In the middle is not an angry minotaur but rather some tired guy trying to give away inspirational Christian cookbooks.) It’s amazing how I can get lost in a basic grid but after a while it’s like the streets of Los Angeles — it all starts to blur together and you start seeing the same corners and book hawkers and generic covers and next thing I know I’m drooling and pirouetting and peeing in a Starbucks cup. Then again, that might’ve been the library paste LSD? Hard to say.

7. If you’re a service trying to do outreach for authors and you want to step into the chain of authorial existence by adding yourself as a link, you need to have data. I spoke to a few services aimed at self-publishers (and they were admittedly free, to be clear, and were very nice), but they all balked when it came time to ask about data. No bells or whistles make a louder sound than a big-ass foghorn pushing back the haze with a trumpeting oomph of data. Have data. HAVE DATA. Authors across all forms of publishing NEED MORE DATA. Where are we selling? To whom are we selling? Who buys what where? Where are my pants? Where is the cheapest bottle of Basil Hayden bourbon in Manhattan? Details, please. Hopefully folks like Bookigee will do just that. Also, some companies will claim to want to cut out the middle-man while clearly inserting themselves as a new middle-man. See also: self-publishers who decry publishing while somehow missing the irony of creating their own small press publishing companies. If you’re going to tell me I don’t need a publisher, you probably shouldn’t then tell me you’re starting your own publishing company. Pro-tip, from me to you.

8. Given how many books they give away for free during this event, it’s amazing anybody worries at all about piracy. I’m not interested in a nuanced argument about the differences between targeted free marketing that you control and the lack of control one has over piracy — they’re different. I grok that. But for real, publishers give away a metric fuckliter of books. Effectively, to boot. Seems then that it would be best to find a way to utilize and steer torrenting and piracy (or in some cases, “piracy”) in a way where it adds value. Then again, what do I know?

9. The show isn’t super e-book friendly. Some publishers are getting there — they’ll give e-ARCs by scanning badges, which is a cool feature. (I saw a few recaps lamenting the lack of QR codes on the show floor — no, no, no, a thousand times no. If you tout the awesomeness of QR codes, you go on the “Grave Distrust” list. You’ve seen the handy helpful flowchart to help you decide when to use a QR code, right?) Generally, though, you still get the vibe that e-books aren’t “real” books. I heard more about how e-books were “cooling down,” which is like saying, “This 747 has reached its cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.” Yeah, it’s still 30,000 feet. It’s not crashing. E-books are a giant part of the ecosystem now so let’s not pretend they’re not. Also, publishers, it’s really, honestly, seriously time: if I buy the physical copy of your book, give me the e-book. Just do it. Take that leap of faith. Realize that this will sell more books, not fewer books. Add value. Do not limit it. If you don’t do it first, Amazon will.

10. BEA felt like a battle of cynicism versus enthusiasm — on the publishing industry side, it’s easy to see that cynicism at play (and that cynicism is, despite appearances otherwise, because many of the people in publishing love books so much and yet have to operate in what is presumed to be the best interests of the industry rather than the best interests of the art). But then in meeting the people who come for the books you get a face full of wide-eyed enthusiasm: people are excited as fuck about books. If there’s anything to take away from all the Monday Morning Quarterbacking and Grumpy BEA Wrap-Up Bloggery, it’s exactly that: we should embrace an industry that can support thousands of people descending upon a single place (whether as angels or as vultures) to feast upon Publishing in all its splendors and glories and frailties. People love stories! This is a place where people come to demonstrate that love and, ideally, carry that love back to classrooms and libraries and bookstores — and beyond. And this is why I will always embrace the enthusiasm rather than celebrate the cynicism. Meeting fans and readers and even publishers gave me energy going forward.

My Own BEA

A more personal look — had a great trip to NYC, met lots of great people, enjoyed the time spent with my publishers. Finally got to put faces to Twitter handles (Liberty! Shecky! Pabkins!). Finally got to meet writers I admire and adore (Erin Morgenstern! Robin Wasserman! T.L Costa!). Got to meet old friends (Dave “Eel Penis” Turner! Joelle “The Testing” Charbonneau! John Hornor “Twelve-Fingered” Jacobs!”). And more that I’m forgetting since I’m dizzy and tired and probably still half-drunk on books and fancy cocktails. I signed hundreds and hundreds of books for folks, which was wild — many of them seemed to actually be fans of this very blog or my Twitter feed. And the Blue Blazes launch at the mighty mighty Singularity & Co. in Brooklyn was bad-ass — wine! Charcuterie! An electrical fire outside! Bumsiders!

Good times.

Sleep now.

37 comments

  • Amen, brother, especially #9.

    Sorry I missed your signing, but I reached critical mass earlier than expected. I do have a couple of additional thoughts:

    Anyone having a book signing cannot be in the middle of Javits. They must be along the wall, so the swag-hungry masses can line up without blocking every damn aisle in the place. Better yet, but all book signings – all book signings – separate from the exhibitors. I know, not going to happen. But I can hope.

    Quadruple the number of Starbucks. I found a one on 33rd a block away that had NO LINE. You shouldn’t have to devote so much time to getting your caffeine fix.

    Hey, why NOT have cosplay at BEA? Librarians will sign up first – they are serious partiers. Anything goes, except possibly 50 Shades…

  • Yes, as Chuck mentioned to me, I do not much resemble my Twitter avatar.

    For what it’s worth, I had an *amazing* time Friday evening at your PAR-TAY and all day Saturday at BEA. Much of what you said about the place being filled with book lovers was pounded hard into the eyes and ears. Talking to people from SFWA, indie publishers, funky new authors… there’s a love all over the place that stuck right to the heart-strings. Fabulous people everywhere!

  • It was great seeing you on Saturday and being in a line of people anxious to get their hands on your book. Thanks too for the kind words about librarians. I’ve never been called “connective tissue” before but I like it!

    • June 2, 2013 at 2:21 PM // Reply

      Yeah, kind of cool. In my case, I can be connective tissue between myself and my public, since I’m a writer and a (sort of) librarian!

  • I don’t begrudge Grumpy Cat getting its 15 minutess of fame; the internet is a fickle mistress. Not that I’ll see the movie if it comes out, though.

  • Re: #9–I was over in the Independent Book Publishers Assn booth for a signing of my novel, The Trajectory of Dreams, on Friday at BEA. It was late in the day, like around 4pm. My publisher sent physical books and e-books on disk to give out. While most people wanted physical books, there were people who were ecstatic to receive the disks. I think by 4pm, everyone is so loaded down with books that something lightweight (and digital) is a welcome option. Plus, those who went for the e-book were thrilled to be able to get it in every digital format imaginable. What was funny, though, is the divide. There was no in-between: people either loathed e-books, or they loved them.

    • June 2, 2013 at 2:24 PM // Reply

      That is funny. I love ebooks, for many types of books. And I love paper. I love to come home from the library (can’t afford BEA) loaded down with books to have and hold (for a little while). If I’m buying, I’d rather buy ebooks, both because I’m as cheap as only the product of semi-employed Despression-era parents can be, and because, frankly, our house is going to collapse under the weight of all the books. Soon.

  • Your bit about Amazon doing it if the industry won’t is pretty damn spot on. Latest feature I caught on Amazon: Autorip for certain music CDs. Buy the physical copy, get digital copies automatically included in your cloud player. Talk about an awesome reason to buy physical copies.

  • Completely agree with #9. I’ve been saying for a long time that we should get a digital copy with purchase of a physical copy. more people would buy the physical version and it would be great to have a book for the shelf and be able to read it on my iPad too.

  • Some day, I’ll hit BEA. It’s usually the week of or the week after Phoenix Comic Con, though, so that’s a hard sell for me.

    You hit upon something that I’m trying to figure out: Marketing e-books. My publisher is digital-first and only after I hit a certain magic number will my book take its Dead Tree form. This is cool because with a little clickety-clickety my book is in someone’s hand. Problem with that is at conventions….what do I sell? What do I sign? What do I put in someone’s hand that is as powerful and potent as a book-book?

    I’m still trying to figure all of this out. My release is in November and I’ve got a few local cons I’m hitting, but until then I get to wonder if a QR code is really so evil.

    Gah.

    Any advice?

  • Piffle. I’ve been struggling with the mental image of it being an Aunt Bea cosplay. *shudder* At least there’d be pies.

  • I’m smart phone-less, but I’m wondering what’s the problem with QR codes? Especially if the ebook is available for smart phone? For Jamie Wyman’s point, I could envision a book mark or a 4×6 card with book cover on one side, excerpt or blurbs and QR code on the other. That would be signable. And for those with smart phones, boom, there’s the sale. No misplacing that ad piece and then forgetting to buy the book.

  • “People will step on their nieces and grandmothers to get certain swag offerings.”
    This is so true. An old lady in a motor scooter practically rolled over my twitching body to get the last copy of Clockwork Scarab.

  • Best freaking BEA 2013 Post report ever. I don’t think anything can top this, probably… Adding it to my list of things doing post Book Expo stuff research. It goes a good way of promoting you as an awesome writer as well. Looking forward to The Blue Blazes,

  • Excellent point in #9. Several people already mentioned that you get DVDs with Blu-ray and Amazon’s new autorip for CDs. Both are great options. I have a standard DVD player in my workshop and a Blu-ray in the living room so having a playable copy for whichever room I’m in is excellent. Not needing to sit down and actively rip my CDs is also a huge time saver. Amazon did offer digital copies of select physical books many years ago (before the e-reader explosion). If you bought the physical copy, you could add a .pdf or something similar for a couple dollars. I would absolutely love to have the option to get both the physical and digital copies of a book. I have a Kindle so if Amazon does it “first” (or again) that would be awesome!

  • Very, very cool – and thanks for sharing these thoughts. I’m optimistic about the publishing industry as a whole (books have, after all, been around long enough that I somehow doubt they’re going the way of the dodo RIGHT THIS MOMENT OMGWTFBBQ!) and it’s nice to see someone else share that optimism.

    Also: YES to more data. The lack of data makes it so much easier for authors to make uninformed decisions, and uninformed decisions often end badly. Out-the-door-at-30,000-feet-who-needs-a-parachute badly. And yes, this is one example of a time when the math might save your life.

  • It was definitely an awesome event! It was like swimming through a crazy swarm of book-eating piranhas. I shit you not I bent down to pick up a book one morning during the 9am book drop feeding frenzy and I was trapped on the floor under the crush of bodies and almost didn’t make it back to a standing position. I crab crawled out from under those people.

    It was awesome to meet you and so many other wonderful authors. I completely agree – when you buy a print copy you should automatically get the e-copy. The main reason I don’t buy many ebooks is because it’s so hard to lend or give away a book when you want to force feed that sucker to someone else!

    *blushes* I was mentioned – that alone might be worth almost being trampled to death by the hordes of BEAers.

  • I totally agree on the point of giving the digital copy when a book is purchased… As much as I love the feel of a “real” book. My kindle is so much easier to drag around. Not to mention the kindle ap on my phone when stuck in a waiting room for longer than I had planned on. After spending $30+ on a hardcover at a recent book signing for N0S4A2 I couldn’t let myself spend another $12 for the Ebook.

  • Amen to #9. If a publisher gives an ebook free with the paper book, they’re not really going to lose a sale. If I buy one, I’m not going to buy the other and give them money twice. I’m motivated to publish my latest work with a note in the paperback edition offering a free ebook version. Come on publishers. Let me have my lovely hardcover of 1Q84, but use the ebook version so I don’t break my wrists holding it on the bus. 🙂

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