Authors At BEA: Probably Not

May 22nd, 2006 · 6 Comments
by Booksquare

Gena Showalter signing at Book Expo 2006In a recent comment, author Mia Zachary asked, quite rightly, why some people think authors shouldn’t attend BookExpo America. After all, from her perspective, she made good contacts with booksellers, got some quality time with her editor, and the price was right. All excellent points. Any time you, the author, can get yourself in front of people who will help your career — and you can do so in a non-obnoxious manner — we say go for it.

However…while the floor of the conference is rife with authors (which, if you close your eyes and imagine it, well, yeah, not pretty) and there are high-profile authors speaking at breakfasts and lunches and dinners, this is not an author-oriented event. Sure there are signings and parties and, we’ve been told, 25,000 people, but is it right for your career?

Well, as you wander the crowded alleys of the exhibition hall, you’ll notice that there are a heck of a lot of people selling things (mostly books, but also some fascinating other items). Your one book is a tiny blip on the conference’s radar. Unless you happen to be James Patterson, who is now apparently the biggest name in children’s fiction (which confused the husband who thought it was some dude named Harry).

Book promotion run amok at Book Expo 2006The sheer magnitude of stuff can be overwhelming and disheartening. Especially when you realize, should your book be chosen to be given away in droves, that you’ll be charged for promotional copies. Ain’t nothing free in this world.

Attending publisher parties will get you the attention of other party attendees — and we will admit that we met some great authors at various parties, including the one sponsored by Unbridled Books. It’s a great way to make contacts, and, if you do the diligent follow-up thing, even better.

However, there is considerable expense involved with attending a conference of this nature. Mia noted that her cash outlay was relatively small; she’s local to the D.C. area and didn’t stay overnight. To maximize your experience, you must plan for conference fees, hotels, transportation, and, most importantly, meals. Weigh these costs against your entire promotion budget, and you’ll probably think the money could be better spent on anything-that-isn’t-yet-another-bookmark.

We’d like to strongly suggest a professionally-designed website with maybe a blog component that is updated regularly, thereby providing fresh content for search engines to eat and a good reason for people to keep checking you out. But that’s us, always thinking crazy stuff.

The exhibition floor at BookExpo America 2006As for the great contacts you’re making, well, you’re probably making many of the same contacts you would if you attended smaller, more focused conferences. Or spent some time developing online relationships with the right people. Or working on that aforementioned blog.

If you, the author, can attend BEA free or at a very low cost (and you, the author, have a legitimate reason for attending, like a book coming out within the next year), then sure, BEA is a great idea. But if you’re just going to go, then there are better ways to spend your time and money.

[tags]BEA 2006, books, authors, promotion[/tags]

File Under: Marketing For Introverts

6 responses so far ↓

  • SusanGable // May 23, 2006 at 6:05 am

    Love the pictures! Okay, the one reason that I could see for going is simply ALL THOSE BOOKS! Wow. To a bookaholic like me, that’s just dying and going to heaven to see all of those new books. (g) Books, books, books!

    Why will the author be charged for promotional copies? The publishers aren’t giving them away? The author has to buy the copies to give away here?

  • Gwenda // May 23, 2006 at 6:39 am

    Kassia, this is a GREAT post — right on target. You shouldn’t get to be so cute and this smart too.

  • Sandra Gurvis // May 23, 2006 at 7:05 am

    As an author who just attended BEA, those were points well taken. I do have a book coming out this year (Where Have All the Flower Children Gone? University of Mississippi Press), and although the cost was reasonable and shared by my publisher. it is definitely not an author-oriented event. What I needed to meet were radio/TV/print people, book festival organizers, and librarians and college program planners who might be interested in my topic. And few were there.

    Nevertheless I made some excellent contacts and passed out lots of promotional material. Not to mention checking out new books, books, books (and lots of cool and wacky other stuff!)

  • Mia Zachary // May 23, 2006 at 10:41 am

    Okay, Kassia

    I see your point. Because, you’re right, if my publisher hadn’t paid for my badge and I didn’t live close enough to come in for the day and then leave, I would not have considered this an affordable promotion- basically one hour of face time with booksellers and a few readers.

    I consider this- my first BEA- to have been a very positive experience career-wise but I won’t be going next year.

  • Booksquare // May 23, 2006 at 11:59 am

    I know, Gwenda, I know. It’s a curse!

    Mika/Sandra — your thoughts are really useful. I’m sure my positions on this topic will be evolving over time as I get more input and the world changes. Sandra’s comment about getting together with festival organizers, etc is very interesting. Is there a conference that brings authors together with the people they need to work directly with? I am not aware of one, but it seems like a perfect opportunity for someone who is far more organized than me. Which, I suppose, means most of the planet.

    Susan — While you don’t have to pay directlly for promo copies, there’s a cost involved. The publishers are printing them up and handing them out like Halloween candy (meaning, like with said candy, there comes a point where you think, no more, please no more!). So they’re deducted, at a minimum from your sell-through number. And your meager publicity budget, should that come into play. While I don’t recall the royalty calculation for your publisher (g), I’d be disappointed in the business of publishing if they weren’t recouping these costs some how, some way. Publishers are not charities!

  • M.L. Malcolm // May 23, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    I went to BEA for the first time and found it very rewarding and highly educational. Part of the experience frankly depends on what kind of personality you have. If you’re up for introducing yourself all day (like me) you can really make some excellent contacts. Also, one can pick and chose who gets free copies of your book; it’s not all money down the drain. I think BEA is especially valuable for authors who work with small presses. Meeting your distributor’s sales reps in person really can make a difference in how your book is handled. LOTS of librarians and people in book clubs go to BEA. Every author should go at least once!
    M.L. Malcolm, author, Silent Lies (Longstreet Press)