Book Fairs – whom do they help?

I was reading Victoria Strauss’ blog post this morning about book fairs and the less-than-savory publishers who charge their authors to attend a signing, and I found myself nodding in complete agreement – something I usually do when it comes to Vic’s posts.

I think back to the many times I’ve stolen a few free minutes from our own booth and toured the halls with Sweetcheeks in order to see what everyone is doing, and of course, seek out my favorite authors. There is a section at the BEA reserved for POD and self pubbed authors. It’s a sad little place because there are few people wandering about those aisles. The authors bought those spaces in hopes of getting some attention from librarians, bookstores, or agents. What they don’t realize is that this rarely happens. Deals aren’t struck in this venue, so they’ve spent a barrel of money for very little in return. No one really walks those aisles, and they always have the worst placement.

It’s very hard to walk through the POD section. You can almost feel a difference in air pressure there. No one is smiling, and the authors’ faces reflect the same expression – “What the hell was I thinking?”

Book fairs are giant, very expensive parties. We all wear our Sunday best (our upcoming titles) and pay dearly for a booth in the main hall where all the big boys are. It’s about exposure – and this takes time and lots of money and hard work. Rarely does someone burst on the scene from out of nowhere and turn the industry on its ear. The last time I saw a publisher do this dramatically imploded within a few short years after they burned through their investors’ money. Rather, it takes years of attending and getting industry insiders used to seeing your name, as in, “Oh yeah, I saw your booth last year and took one of your books to read.” It also takes a steady influx of new titles every year.

The POD section is filled with one book wonders.

It’s hard work for seemingly very little payback. Time was, the BEA (Book Expo America) was a great place to meet buyers and write orders for upcoming titles. That practice, for the most part, is long gone. Nowadays, the distributor’s sales teams go out and do the dirty work, armed with ARCs and catalogues.

We go because we play the game, to plant seeds, to network, to have meetings – not because we’re certain anything substantive will happen. We never know. Sometimes fabulous things have happened. Other years, not so much. But we bring in our authors to do signings, both on the signing floor and at our booth, and give out hundreds and hundreds of books. We’ve done interviews in TV and print. It’s all about being seen. And because we’ve been doing this for a number of years, I’ve never felt that going to the BEA was a waste of time. But we were also in a position to play the game.

The one-book ponies don’t have that same kind of pull or capability.

As Vic points out in her blog post, there are the skank publishers who charge their authors to do booth signings. They build up the importance of appearing to the point where the authors have stars in their eyes. I agree that it’s very cool to attend at least one BEA so you can see how the industry works at this level. But it’s pure fantasy to believe that your book will gain national distribution or that an agent or foreign rights deal will swoop you up. These are nothing more than money-making ventures for vanity presses.

If you’re going to go, then go with your eyes open. Know exactly WHY you’re going. Understand that it’s a magical place, but very little magic takes place for the one-book wonder. If you are with a publisher who is offering you “the chance that you deserve…” for only $199, then run. Far, far away. Everyone in the industry knows very well who these folks are, and they avoid those booths like the beagle avoids sobriety.

Sadly, we’ll miss the BEA this year, but the upside is that our baby daughter is graduating from college that same weekend. So while we’ll be cheering like the crazies that we are, a part of me will miss seeing the guy wearing the toilet on his head, or the giant pickle, or the sandwich board lady who is offering herself to whomever buys her book.

8 Responses to Book Fairs – whom do they help?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    …sounds like some of those book fair people are almost as crazy as the sci fi con crowd. (I wonder if I will see anyone wearing a leather tutu…and a Y chromosome…at the next one).

  2. Drax says:

    This is an excellent post, Lynn. Well done and dead on.

  3. Mary Hoffman says:

    I wonder if your BEA is anything like The London Book Fair, which I’ve just blogged about at http://bookmavenmary.blogspot.com

  4. Hard to get away from the ‘us and them’ mentality. But this is a business, not a benevolent utopia where all writers are equal.

  5. I went to BEA for the first time last year and you are right, it is a magical place, but as with all magical lands, there are dark forests. When I finally figured out where the POD/Self-published authors were (way on the outskirts, far from the “big dogs.”) I felt really bad for them. It felt like I was walking down a back alley in a poor part of town. No one looked very happy to be there and very few of the the ten’s of thousands of attendees, ventured that far.

    I agree that all writers should attend a book fair at least once to see how that part of the industry works.

  6. Amber Polo says:

    Book trade shows are much like all trade shows. It’s networking and connections. When I exhibited at American Library Association shows, sometimes just being there reminded people your company was still in business – and that was enough. Thanks for making it clear.

  7. Letisha says:

    It can often be very expensive or unfeasible for small publishers or authors to attend book fairs and trade shows. Sparkabook is an online community for people interested in buying or selling rights and it’s free to join and create listings for titles. Check it out!

  8. New murder mystery novel…

    […]Book Fairs – whom do they help? « Behler Blog[…]…

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