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!