Wednesday, June 4, 2008

BEA and things

Over the past weekend, I went to Los Angeles to Book Expo America.

What a reader's paradise! Books, books everywhere from almost every publisher you can name--booths had authors signing free copies or gave away samples and arcs. I had to mail a big box home with all the stuff I collected (I'm still waiting for UPS to deliver it).

I signed a large stack of arcs for my September release (Immortals: The Redeeming) and gave away many bookmarks and pens.

What is Book Expo America? And why do we care?

BEA is a trade show, the American equivalent of the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here publishers spread their wares and try to woo booksellers, distributors, libraries, and wholesalers to buy, buy, buy.

Many publishers simply had tables with catalogs where the publisher's sales reps could sit and chat with buyers. I saw much activity of this sort. In fact, when I approached the Penguin booth (I write for Berkley, one of their imprints), all the sales reps were engaged, so I didn't get a chance to introduce myself.

Another thing that happens at BEA and the other fairs is secondary rights sales. It's a place where publishers try to interest overseas publishers into buying foreign rights or interest tv/movie producers into offering options. This is why you want your publisher to go to BEA. :-)

(By the way, don't think you are ever too new or too unknown to get foreign rights sales or interest from tv/movie producers. It can happen to any author at any publisher at any time. This is why you need to know exactly who is getting what percentage of what rights in your first book contract. Which is why I'm always going on about needing agents.)

For me, the author, the fun was simply to see what publishers were up to (and get freebies). There were 37,000 attendees at the show, which took up two huge halls in the Los Angeles Convention center. The place teemed with people, and my feet ached from walking from one hall to the other.

A disappointment for me was that most publishers were ignoring their genre books in favor of pushing their big-name, hardback and mainstream authors. I am a huge genre fan--I read sf-fantasy, mystery, thriller, romance, and the like by the ton. If I have a choice between a Pulitzer winning, Oprah-sanctioned novel and a midlist science fiction, I'll go for the midlist sci-fi every time. I think there's a lot in genre novels that gets buried by all the glitter/glamour surrounding the mega-stars of mainstream.

So, I was disappointed that most of the big publishers completely ignored their top romance novelists, their top urban fantasy writers, and others who sell tons of books and make them gobs of money, in order to look serious and literary.

That's just my opinion. Ahem.

My other publisher, Dorchester, publishes nothing but genre novels, so I loved their booth (and it was quite popular, I might add). Dorchester publishes romance, thrillers, horror, and the Hard Case Crime imprint (and I think still westerns, but I'm not sure about that).

I have a pic of the wall of their booth, showing the books they were showcasing. (Can I be smug that one of them was mine? It's one of the red covers on the yellow background. Click the picture to look at a larger version)

Another disappointment was that I didn't get much industry buzz. Since the point was to push to buyers, of course no one was going to talk about what wasn't working any more.

What I gleaned just through observation was that many publishers are pushing children's books and YA (the third book of the Eragon series was prominently featured all over the place, and I do mean all over the place).

Romance still is selling well. Any publishers (like Harlequin and Dorchester) who were showcasing their romance writers had constant traffic at their booths. (I confess I have no idea how much of that was booksellers/book buyers vs. fans.)

Paranormal apparently is still strong. At the Dorchester booth, almost all the romances showcased were paranormal. The Penguin booth featured huge posters for Christine Feehan and L.K. Hamilton (yes, they're genre, but they're also big-name hardback sellers.)

I heard that far fewer booksellers and librarians attended this year as compared to last year. I think part of that was the location. Los Angeles is expensive and difficult to get to for east coast or midwest people. (I went only because California is a short flight for me.) L.A. is a royal pain to navigate as well.

If you are an unpublished author and decide to look in on BEA, don't go with the idea you'll be able to pitch a book. Most of the acquiring editors don't go. It's for the sales side of the house. However, it's a good place to look around, pick up the publishers' catalogs, and grab the books the publishers are giving away.

Why read those other authors' books? Because those authors are the ones the publishers are showing off--usually offering advance copies of books that will come out in the fall. It's a good way to know what kind of books and writing has the publishers excited.

In other words, they're not just giving away the books they have too many of. It's expensive for the publisher to produce advance reader copies for giveaway, expensive to ship them to the expo, expensive to get the author a badge so they can come in and sign--you get the idea. They bring in what they want the buyers to notice. Good market research.

I admit I was not pursuing as much market knowledge this trip as I could have been. Just walking from hall to hall was draining, I was looking for specific publishers and authors, and I was worried about not getting back to our booth in time for the signing. Plus I was only there Friday, so if anything exciting happened on Saturday I missed it.

Here we are, from right to left: C.L. Wilson, Gemma Holliday, and Jennifer Ashley

All in all, it was an interesting, upbeat, exciting experience, and I'd do it again. Though I'll bring a bigger bag next time.