Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yawning at the Apocalypse: Thoughts from the BEA 2011 Showfloor

This time last year, I had been blogging for about six weeks before I went to BEA. The experience was eye-opening; I knew little about the world of publishing and publicity. It was exciting to get copies of books that I didn't yet know existed and wouldn't be available to the public for several months. There were also authors I admired signing around every corner.

A year later, I am more interested than excited. I pay much more attention to publishing news, so nothing at BEA was really a surprise. Also, my reading list is longer now that it has ever been, so there's quite a bit less room for serendipity or experimentation. So I turned up at BEA more for the spectacle than for the surprise.

Here's a few things I saw:

1. I think the rise of self-publishing reduced the number of oddball publishers and authors at BEA. For the entry fee, they can do quite a bit more online and ensorcel unsuspecting readers directly.

2. Imprints from the Middle East had some seriously huge and beautiful booths. Though, much like a mall in Dubai, they were huge, beautiful, and empty.

3. It's all well and good to know that China has some human rights issues, but it's another thing to flip through an English language Chinese magazine and see absolutely no critique or observation of anything wrong with any aspect of Chinese life.

4. There was one guy sitting the lounge outside the registration area with a weird hat advertising his book PROVING GOD. He sat there alone and made no move to pitch anyone his book or move about at all. I guess they don't make evangelicals like they used to.

5. It's one thing to know that romance moves the most units; it's another thing to see the Harlequin autograph lines. And it's another thing to try to cross those lines to saner ground.

6. Florence Henderson does not blink. Not in a metaphorical sticks-to-her-guns way, but in a Madame Tussaud's way.

7. The coolest thing I saw was Xerox's on-demand publishing set-up. This thing is basically the size of a washer and dryer and can spit out a pretty attractive paperback in a few minutes. I'm currently wondering if they will accept my left kidney as payment.

8.  In case there was an doubt, I am an elitist pig.

9. It's really too bad that the walk from Penn Station to the Javits Center is one of the 9 ugliest walks in Manhattan. The other eight are from behind dumpsters in the Lower East Side back to your apartment.

10. I thought e-galleys would be a big thing this year. I was wrong. You know what is a big thing? Publishers scared shitless of e-publishing.

11. Best way to spend your publicity dollars at BEA: complex carbohydrates. Cookies, whoopie pies, pastries, bagels, whatever. For 100 bucks worth of Oreos, you can have every librarian in New England visit your booth. Of course, then you have every librarian in New England at your booth. Kidding, librarians, kidding. We all love you. Now. Back in grade school you creeped us out.

12. The L. Ron Hubbard landing craft was a bit smaller this year, though it was more informative. Did you know you can get Dianetics in over 37 Earth languages?

13. I really want to care about self-published novels. I saw nothing that moved the needle for me though. (Keep it clean, Ape. Keep it clean).

14. Blogging about literature is exponentially more interesting that the publishing business. And more relevant too.

15. YA literature.....the enthusiasm for the genre blows me away. I wish literary fiction had as much juice going for it. Lines of people 100 deep waiting for autographs from people I had never heard of. Considerably shorter lines for Karl Marlantes autographs. Sigh.

16. Tote bag hoarding was in full effect. Saw one surly homonculus with about 12 bags completely empty freebies on his shoulder. Disconcerting.

17. A truckload of digital publishing businesses who all provide weirdly vague services. Can't help but think this is a kind of carpetbagging before the war is over.

18. Couldn't swing a dead cat without seeing something using an Ipad. I mean, my dead cat kept hitting those bastards.

19. Didn't realize it until I was out on the showfloor, but I am about ten times as interested in the Book Blogger Convention than anything the publishing business is hawking. Not a great sign for them.

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  1. Ooooh. Thanks for the report from the front. So Publishers are scared shitless of e-publishing, huh?

  2. Elitist pig! The Javits Center might be the ugliest building in Manhattan!

  3. Loved your observations. :) Totally agree on the YA vs. Literary Fiction. It leaves me a little befuddled.

  4. In the run up to BEA, I was starting to feel a bit left out considering the fact I'm in the UK and would never realistically get the chance to go. But on hearing everyone's feedback this year, I don't think I'm missing out on much.

  5. I want an on demand publishing machine for my house too.

  6. On the positive side, if you're easily bored the Javitz center is a hop, skip and a jump from the Intrepid and Fleet Week.

  7. I don't get what's so great about YA fiction either. I mean, I read them when I was 14-15 when my mom used to shove them on my desk by the dozen. But I moved eventually to other things. I wouldn't care as much about YA fiction if it actually brought young adults to read. It's read by people who are 25 to 40 years old (from my personal experience). There's something sick about that I find.

    Oh and about your number 6. Mary & Carol Higgins Clark have the same problem. Came across them in the yearly book convention in Montreal.

  8. Anne-
    Yup. They are trying to adapt, but they don't know what to do.


    Befuddled. Good on them for loving it, but befuddled.

    I think if you read a bunch about books and literature, you aren't missing much info. If you are into shaking an author's hand and getting swag, you are. The second part just doesn't do much for m.

    We can only hope that some day they are small and ubiquitous as toasters.

    Man of La Book-
    Or really anything else in the city....

    I'm not so interested in cracking on YA, just wistful for literary fiction having such ardent supporters. If lit fic produced the same kind of compelling stuff for its readership, then a similar following would happen I think.

  9. Ape, I don't think that by definition, this is bound to happen. People verse into YA because it's easy reading and not intimidating. And by definition (at least mine) lit fic is about going deeper into issues and making your readers work.

  10. Ta for the summary Ape ... Good for those of us unable to experience it. re ePublishing, what are the publishers doing about it besides being scared?

    As for YA, There's apparently a huge YA focused blog community largely comprised of middle aged women. Strange.

  11. Love your report / observations! So true, and some is so scary. Like the YA craze. Though uhh, I sadly stood in line for a couple (because I'd rather spend my book money on the lit fic and nonfic).

  12. 'If lit fic produced the same kind of compelling stuff for its readership, then a similar following would happen I think.'

    I just started reading YA again two years ago, but I've been a big lit fic lover since I started reading adult books and this comment rings so true for me right now. Sometimes I feel like I'd constantly hearing about the same, rather dull sounding lit-fic book over and over, but I'm not, I'm hearing about seven similar rather dull sounding lit-fic books. Subjective I know, but whatever, it's how I feel right now. The lit-fic world feels so consolidated by subject and technical trends at the moment. I know YA has its crazily overwhelming trends too (vampires, so many vampires)but I have a big YA community around me online that will help me navigate through the trends and it feels like there's always something new to be explored, or like authors are experimenting with something, somewhere. Maybe that's just a side effect of the big YA online community, we're more aware and enegaged with what YA authors are producing?

  13. I like to think that what we lit fic bloggers lack in numbers we make up for in awesomesauce. As in: Karl Marlantes's line was shorter, but how many people REALLY threw panties at one of the YA writers?