I attended my first Book Expo in 2002, working as a book designer for M. Evans and Company, and have gone about every other year or so, and I’ve attended in Chicago and Los Angeles, although for the last four years the expo has been held in New York.
I remember George De Kay, a veteran publisher who passed away in 2003, telling me about the early days, when it was just books on tables. No booths, no author signings, no foam-headed mascots.
For years, there have been divisons throughout BEA: there’s the small publishers versus the larger publishers, the small printers versus the larger ones, the lesser known authors versus the — you get the idea.
And there’s also the odd fact that while they all make books, there are much different kinds of book publishers. You have scholarly publishers, health and fitness publishers, science fiction publishers—what exactly do all these people have in common?
It makes you realize that when we say something like, “I like to read” we might as well be saying, “I like to eat.”
This is the one time of the year when book covers are like flags or pennants; there are people carrying printouts of book covers, there are huge posters and banners. While there are not so many actual book designers (although Chip Kidd made an appearance this year), graphic design is everywhere.
There’s a section for digital book packagers— which already feels a bit antiquated. Maybe there are people looking for new ebook readers out there, but I think most of us are good with either our phones or our tablets. And the idea of someone being new to ebooks is strange, because the workflow for ebooks and their providers isn’t mysterious, it’s been a part of the regular workflow for years now. On-demand printers (a system where books are not printed until ordered) has been a reality for years, and some book stores already have them.
I’ve heard the tone of this year’s Expo described as “subdued.” Could it be that the Keep Calm and Read On t-shirts that were everywhere actually worked? Maybe it’s just that reading, or even just looking at books, is inherently a thoughtful activity. Some of the lines to meet authors were just endless—is that really subdued?
I’ve heard varying descriptions of how many people were in attendance this year versus previous years—the thing is, these debates aren’t really new. I’ve heard different things from different people every year, the same way I’ve heard the debate surrounding the actual worth of the expo itself. I mean, it’s gigantic—you can’t make all the panels, visit all the booths you want to, meet all the people you want to meet, get copies of all the Advanced Reader Copies that you want. Even if it could, would you sell more books? What are book publishers, sellers, book designers, authors, printers, agents supposed to do?
There’s no way that anybody can answer that question, and I think it would be strange if they could. I never really know what I’ve got out of a Book Expo until it’s long over. That’s when the puzzle pieces start to click and you realize that you know someone at another publishing house who can answer a question you have, or maybe now you know a reviewer who’s interested in exactly the kinds of books you’re working on now. Maybe you met a designer whose work is amazing. How you use the Book Expo is up to you. That’s one of the beautiful things about BEA—it’s a confluence of creative, much like books themselves.