Friday, May 26, 2006

BEA Diary 2006

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PROLOGUE

I read the news today, oh boy.

I was in a Beatles mood. I didn't know why. Maybe because I had just heard that Sir Paul was getting a divorce. Or maybe it was because I fell asleep on the red-eye listening to Sgt. Pepper.

A Day In The Life was in my head all week. So were Lucy, the Hendersons and Mr. Kite. I had no doubt that this BEA was the publishing industry's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Somebody spoke and I went into a dream..

It was the end of the show, time to strike the set, so to speak. The final curtain on this year's BEA was about to drop. I was heading up to the shipping area. This is a service provided by the convention where you get a big box, pop it on a table, and fill it with all the free stuff you collect at the show. If you are smart you do this on the first day and not on the last.

Going into the convention center I met up with Mayapriya Long, the talented cover and interior designer who runs Bookwrights. We always meet each morning for a short breakfast (and guess who buys!). Two minutes later, by chance we run into Sharon Goldinger of PeopleSpeak.

Both Sharon and Maya were smart. They had their boxes, had collected two tons of stuff, and were going to tape and ship them. I wasn't smart. I was going to set up my box and go down to the floor and scarf up whatever might be left.

Sharon and I are old friends, always giving each other a "hard time." It's a love-hate thing!

"Hey Sharon," I said as we rode up the first of several escalators. "If you ever start a blog I have a great idea for a name... People Squeak!"

Sharon turned to Maya, "Can we get a box big enough to put HIM in?"

Mayapriya, without a moment's hesitation said, "Not one that's air-tight!"

The show ended just as it had begun... with laughter, fellowship, and good wishes for all. When it comes to the fate of the publishing industry and the small press in particular it's a good thing we have those... because we don't have much else.

Oh, but there IS one OTHER thing we have... BOOK BABES. It's now a ten-year tradition that every year at BEA I nominate one, two, or three women to the lofty ranks of official Saturday Rant Book Babes to join such publishing luminaries as Mardi Link, Victoria Sutherland, Julie Hardison, Maya Long, and others. This year both of our babes come from Midpoint Trade Books, a well known (and really good!) distributor.

Our new BEA 2006 Book Babes are Robin Queen and Laurie Little.

Oh, lovely Rita meter maid,
Where would I be without you,


Laurie Little looking babe-a-licious!


Robin Queen, so young, so cute, so hot!


WEDNESDAY, MAY 17

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

I decided not to exhibit our Jaya123 web service

this year at PMA. Jaya is doing OK and last year I didn't get enough 'face time' with the PMA-U students. Also, PMA had raised the price and I just thought they had priced themselves out of the market. So instead of getting up early and getting to my booth, I took the morning off and went to the National Gallery of Art. Walking around looking at the pictures I wondered what art or literature of my generation would be seen hundreds of years from now. After seeing some of what passed for 'art' in the "modern" collection I decided there wouldn't be much!

I saw a film today oh boy
The English Army had just won the war

I then took the long walk down the mall to visit the Vietnam Memorial. I've seen it before but it never ceases to put a lump in my throat... all those kids... who would be my age now... dead for absolutely nothing. I saw some names of guys I went to school with. I'm a draft evader. I would not go... and did not go. I only wish I had done more back then to persuade others to take the "Hell no, we won't go" pledge. But we all make choices in life. I'm alive... their names are on a wall. I don't regret the choice I made, although I remember it wasn't very popular back then.

It was late afternoon when I finally got to PMA. This year, instead of holding the "publishing university" in a hotel, it was held at the convention center, as would the Ben Franklin Award dinner. Lots of people complained about the venue, but I had no problem with it.

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.

As soon as I arrived I ran into Dan Poynter and Pete Masterson. Pete had just published a new book on design and production and it has been well received. Dan had yet another edition of his Self Publishing Manual out.


Dan Poynter and Pete Masterson: good men who know this industry

I talked with Dan and Pete (and everyone) about what the future of publishing would be and for the first time I heard a tone of pessimism in Dan's voice. "The business model is broken," he told me, and he was not quite sure how the eventual adoption of e-books would change this industry.

Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph.

"Canton, that picture you took of me last year just about ended my marriage" I heard a loud voice say. I turned around and and it was none other than Jerry Jenkins of the Jenkins Group. He was referring to the shot of him looking down the dress of the former Miss USA taken at his previous IPPY party.

"Jerry, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime" I said to him in my best Bereta voice.

Jerry told me that the IPPY Awards had more entrants than ever before and he felt it was a good indication about the mood of publishers. Having spoken with Terry Nathan about PMA membership holding steady at around 4300 perhaps things were not as gloomish and doomish and they seemed to me.

From my conversations with people the past several months I've learned that the vendors are making money, the PMA is doing OK, the printers are thriving, and the middle channel is fine... but that the publishers are not making much in the way of a good living. It seems many have just exchanged being a corporate wage-slave for a low paying self-employment 'J-O-B.' But if they 'love' the job, I guess it is a fair trade.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

And talking about 'fair' I heard the distinctive chirp of "Don't forget about lunch at BEA." Turning around I saw my old friend Mayapriya Long of Bookwrights Design. It is a long, long, long tradition that Maya never pays for lunch at BEA. Someone (usually me) takes her to lunch. She's the only vendor I know who gets her clients to feed her. And the reason is simple. She is always in demand and people want her to do THEIR work... and food-bribery always helps!

Last year one of the books that Maya designed won a Ben Franklin award and she was up for one this year, as well as two IPPYs. She did the interior of a complex history of western movies and cowboys. I was sure she was a shoo-in because the book was drop-dead beautiful... inside and out. We'd know later that evening.


Jerry Jenkins and Mayapriya Long: good friends for many years

Just before going in to dinner (you have to be first in because the food is usually gone in a flash!) I spoke with Sharon Goldinger of PeopleSpeak. Sharon is always the voice of optimism, probably because she is always busy and her author/publishers always seem to do well from her stewardship of their books. Sharon is small in size but she packs a wallop in the book biz!


Sharon Goldinger

There were about 500 people at this year's Ben Franklin Award dinner and for the first time that I can remember, they didn't run out of food. Still, they gave us saucers as dinner plates as a ploy to keep people from taking too much. So instead, people made believe that this was a dim sum meal and they just collected little plates of everything offered. There had been a lot of grousing about the horrible box lunch that PMA had served earlier but from what I heard, this dinner made up for it. I thought it was quite good considering it was all from a commissary.

What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.

There are about zillion categories for awards, many of them somewhat esoteric such that no one really cares. But it's interesting to see the covers and titles of the nominees as they are flashed up on the screen via a Powerpoint-like presentation. What people hope for most is that the winner is not present and we are thus saved from a long, windy speach on the publishers humble beginnings, their struggle for success, and their vision of the great white light. The awards are probably the most boring two hours in the entire publishing industry. If dinner were not served you can bet that no one would go. In the small press there is no "draw" like free food!

This year most of the winners were not present... and I think the reason was because most of the books were really terrible and no one wanted to admit publishing them! There was nothing new, different, or even close to outstanding in my opinion. I can't think of the name of any of the winners and even when seeing the list not one comes to mind. I alwasys expect more from the small press and most years I'm not disappointed. But this year was a 'bust.' They (who?) always say we independents are daring and innovative. Well, not this year. We were just as boring and just as mundane as our bigger brothers and sisters in New York. If this is the start of a trend, it can't be good.

We held our breath as Maya's book was shown, but alas she didn't win. When the awards were over I went up to the table with all the winning titles and looked at the winner, and I could not believe that the book that won... won! It was nothing. A college student could have designed it. Hell, my cat could have done it. Mayapriya's work, on the other hand, was about as complex as an interior can get with lots of 'call outs' and pictures, and design layouts. I'd love to find out who the judges were for the design category. I wonder if their names are made public. I wonder if any of them know squat about book design. You wouldn't think so from the title they named as the winner.

In a cap she looked much older,
And the bag across her shoulder
Made her look a little like a military man.

Upon arriving back at the hotel, I saw Dan Poynter and Florrie Kichler of Patria Press in the lobby having a drink. I decided to join them. I've known Florrie for many years. She is a Jaya123 client and always says good things about our web-service back-office system for small publishers. You can't help but like Florrie. She always has some good book-biz gossip because she is so involved with the small press and PMA. However this time she dropped a bomb on us. She said she is going to be the next PMA president!

I've long derided the PMA as a mostly 'do nothing' organization that is best at getting members to spend dollars with vendors. Yes, I'm a member because even with all its faults we're better off as an industry sector with PMA than without it. The SPAN organization never really amounted to anything (despite my high hopes and advice to Scott Flora) and so by default, PMA is about as good as it gets for us.

Well, with Florrie having some real input, perhaps some things can change. Of course I said that when Nick Weir-Williams was made president and later when Pat Bell was on the board and nothing ever happened. So I don't have really high hopes here either, but if anyone can kick some PMA ass, it's my old friend Florrie. (She's sure kicked mine over the years!)


THURSDAY, MAY 18

I've got nothing to say but it's O.K.
Good morning, good morning...

It was nice to sleep in. I knew it would be the last day I would be able to do so. Tonight is the annual Pub-Forum dinner. For those who don't know, the Pub-Forum is a mail-list chat group that has been around for many years. It's not the largest online publishing group, but it has a very high-quality subscribership of experienced publishers. Each year a group of us get together for a dinner to talk shop, knock back a few drinks, blow off some steam, and just have some fun.

While I wanted to go back to PMA to see some of the vendors as well as other people I knew would be attending, I didn't need to be there unitl the afternoon. Thus, I took the morning off and went to see the Space Museum. Having grown up during the days of Sputnik and the space-race it was exciting for me to be a "little boy" again and see the Mercury space capsules, especially the one that John Glenn rode into orbit. I had no idea it was so small. And when you look inside and see how primitive it was you knew it really took someone with the 'right stuff' to climb in there and wait to be blasted into space! Not me. I would have waited for the video!

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight

Upon arriving at PMA that afternoon I ran into a woman I'd heard of for several years but had never met in person, Antoinette Kuritz of the Kuritz Group. This very attractive lady hosts the Writers Roundtable Radio Show which I've known about but have never been a guest on. So I pitched her on the idea of a show about running a publishing office (a la Jaya123. If you don't ask, you don't get!) She also puts together the La Jolla Writers Conference in October, which has been running for six years now. She is really 'high' on this year's program and it sounds like it will rival the Maui Writers Conference. I wish her well on it and I suggest that those of you who find conferences helpful and enjoyable to check it out.

Along with Antoinette was Pamela Atherton, a well-known media coach. We had an interesting discussion on the 'power' of radio for book authors. The conventional wisdom is that print media is best, but with fewer and fewer people getting newspapers and magazines (the Internet strikes again!) and people driving longer and longer to work means that there is more airtime for stations to fill and authors always make interesting guests. It might be worth looking into.


Pam Atherton and Antoinette Kurtz: The PR babes!

In addition to Pam and Antoinette, another well-known PR expert was at PMA giving a seminar. This was Penny Sansevieri. We talked a bit about some of the basics of book publicity and how the Internet has changed everything. Whatever you thought you knew about getting some 'buzz' is now probably dated... or just worng! It's not any easier, mind you, but the net does open up a lot of other venues for getting publicity.

As the PMA-U wound down I spoke to some of the attendees. They were satisfied with the program and felt that they got their money's worth. However all of them, to a person, complained about the box lunch that was served. With all the money that PMA makes from this event and the Ben Franklin entry fees you'd think that they could do better than airline food!

She's leaving home after living alone
For so many years. Bye, bye

I talked to the vendors. One statistic noticed by all of them was that attendance was down by almost 20%. PMA-U usually books about 530 students. This year it was just over 400. Thus, the vendors paid higher rates for fewer "bodies." No one was happy about that. And just like last year, I was told that the schedule was so full that the students did not have time to speak to every vendor, or even a majority of them. As I've said year in and year out, the PMA really needs to re-think their schedule and their pricing if they want vendors to continue to support the program.

Talking about support, I noticed that several long-time vendors were absent. Central Plains Book Manufacturing was a no-show. I missed seeing Becky Pate, an old, old friend who's company has printed a number of our books. I don't know why they were not there. Another vendor I expected to see was Fiddler Doubleday. I also noted that United Graphics was not at PMA either.

While it has long been the case that 4-color work is often done offshore, I've heard that the Asian printers are now sucessfully competing for traditional black-ink work as well... even with the high cost of shipping. Is book printing the next industry to be lost to foreign competition? I won't be surprised.

PMA used to have an end-of-event food-fest. In previous years they have had ice cream, or a chocolate fountain fondue, or just coffee and cake. Not this year. When it was done, it was done. I'm all for the PMA making money, but the old saying is true: Greed Kills. If attendance is down next year they won't be able to say it was because of the DC location. It will be because people just don't feel they are getting the perks they have come to expect and which other seminar firms offer. How much would a sheet-cake and a few urns of coffee cost the PMA to wrap up the event on a fun and happy note? Only Jan Nathan has the answer.

The Hendersons will all be there...

So it was on to the Pub-Forum dinner. Dan Poynter and Mayapriya and I walked the few blocks down 7th Street to the RFD restaurant where some 35 list members were gathered at the bar in the private room that Sharon Goldinger and Fern Reiss (of Publishing Game fame) arranged.

Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key.

For the second year they composed a song that features all of the dinner guests. We all got a kick out of it. Here is one verse (done to Blowin' In The Wind):

How many booklets can Paulette produce?
She must do it in her sleep.
Yes 'n how does the granddad of self-publishing, Dan Poynter, know
parachute leaps?
Yes 'n how many bucks can Shel Horowitz save--he has all his fun on
the cheap.

The answer my friend, is on the list,
The answer you'll find on the list


Fern and Sharon doing their American Idol thing

I immediately ran into Florrie, Gene Schwartz editor-at-large (a good title for him.... he's built like a linebacker) of ForeWord Magazine, and a newcomer to the group, Mim Harrison, the head of Levenger Press. I never knew Levenger (you know, the catalog for readers) had a publishing arm... but yes they do and Mim told me all about it. Gene is still traveling all over the country for ForeWord and it was good to see him looking so fit.


Florrie Kichler, Gene Schwartz, and Mim Harrison

I had a nice chat with the Pub-Forum dominatrix, Marion Gropen of Gropen Associates. Marion and I chatted about the problems of this industry from a financial standpoint (she is a CPA (Certified Pain in the Ass)) and has worked with publishers large and small for many years. For a CPA she actually has a nice smile and personality. You don't find that too often in bean-counters.


Jacqueline Church Simonds and Marion Gropen with a buzz.

I had never met J.C. Simonds but had corresponded with her for years. She runs a growing publishing "empire," writes books on women pirates who kick butt, and is one of the admins for the large Self-Pub listserv. She is getting into the distribution biz and I was impressed with the amount of energy she has. She may rule the Self-Pub list with an iron fist, but in person she's a very sweet woman.

Would you believe in a love at first sight,
Yes I'm certain that it happens all the time.

Sometimes a name comes at you from out of the past. I was standing at the bar when an attractive women walks up and says "You won't remember me but I really helped you out several years ago." I wondered if this might have been some ex-girlfriend... and was she going to make trouble? In this case it was Carol Hayes Uber of Stephens Press. Years and years ago, when I first brought out PUB123 she was an early adopter and helped me debug it. She was later offered a dream job with Stephens Press where she runs a company with over fifty titles and many more on the way. She said that it was I who recommended she sign with Midpoint Trade distribution and that she wanted to know if I would go to their annual pizza party as her guest... and bring as many people as I wanted. I never pass up free beer and pizza!


Carolyn Hayes Uber... she runs a book empire!

It was nice to see Steve Carlson of Upper Access. Steve and I are long-time competitors as we both do software for small publishers. While our Jaya123 system is web-based (nothing to download or install) his is traditional desktop software. It's a big market and everyone has different needs. Some like our system, others prefer his. We co-exist pretty well and I often recommend his software to people who have specific needs that ours does not cover.


The author (left) and Steve Carlson. We compete, but we're cool.

The band begins at ten to six
When Mr. H. performs his tricks without a sound

I guess that the city cops were not enforcing the parking restrictions under the various bridges because both Shel Horowitz and his wife were at the party! Shel is the king-of-cheap and has made a lot of money publishing books on how to live on ten cents a day via his Frugal Marketing site. We don't get along too well. Oh hell, we don't get along AT ALL, but his wife is real cute so I cut him some slack when he brings her. :-)


Shel Horowitz and wife. I hope their car isn't towed from under Key bridge.

I saw Deb Robson of Nomad Press. I've known Deb for a few years and have come to admire how quickly she has learned about this biz. She has published books on knitting but is now branching out into a young-adult (YA) imprint. She's one of those publishers who has done everything right and will end up being one of those who make real dollars in this business.


Deb Robson so happy to see everyone!

Two of the grand ladies of the independent press were at the party. Pam Fenner of Michaelmass Press is the perfect example of the niche publisher by doing books for the Waldorf schools. I've known Pam for many years and it's always a treat to see her. Tordis Isselhardt is another successful publisher. Her Images From The Past company concentrates on regional, New England history. There is much both these ladies can teach you about how to do this business.


Pam Fenner and Tortis Isselhardt

Also in attendance was another super-successful publisher, Paulette Ensign from Tips Products. Paulette has made a large fortune from small booklets and is known as the "Queen of Booklets."

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Pub-Forum has a lot of successful publishers because they all publish to a niche and don't try to compete with the big-guys in New York. Think about it.


Paulette Ensign (always in purple) and the ladies of the list

It was a fun party and I wish it went on all night but we all knew that the real work was starting. Tomorrow was the first day of The Big Show... the BookExpo America and we all needed to sober-up and rest-up for the busy (exhausting) days to come. Carolyn Uber had a car so Pete, Maya, and I walked her to the lot and then went to the Metro to catch the subway back to the hotel.


The party's over... turn out the lights

What do you see when you turn out the light,
I can't tell you, but I know it's mine.

While I was pretty tired I got a short blast of energy upon arriving back at my hotel and saw a dear old friend, Peter Goodman of Stonebridge Press. Peter used to go to the list and the Ben Franklin dinners but since he sold out and became a billionaire he has other masters to serve, so he says. We had a good discussion on the industry. He had just come back from setting up his booth at BEA and neither of us could quite understand why BEA still exists. There are no book buyers any more. So why spend the money? We didn't settle it, but we stayed up a while trying. I would have liked to have stayed longer because I knew I wouldn't see Peter again. But fatigue (and the beer) got to me. I went upstairs, turned off the light and fell into a dream.


Peter Goodman... the most successful publisher I know


FRIDAY, MAY 19

Friday morning at five o'clock as the day begins
Silently closing the bedroom door...

... I went downstairs and got the free bus to the convention center. I've said it over and over again: I love the first day of BEA. It's just like spring training at the ball park. Everyone is optimistic. Every book is going to be a big hit. Returns are not going to happen. Critics are going to rave. It's going to be the book industry of 1980 all over again... and nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than in the small press area, which is where I start each BEA. I met Mayapriya for a quick sweet roll and some juice. We agreed to meet for lunch around 1 pm. ("Agreed' is a euphemism for "I pay for HER lunch!). Some things never change.

In past years my first stop has always been to say hello to Scott Flora of SPAN, the Small Publishers Assoc. of North America (why isn't it SPANA?) I was surprised that SPAN did not come this year but I found out later that Scott's daughter was graduating and he had scheduling conflicts. Scott is a good guy and would be a successful guy if he listened to me and made SPAN into a vocal advocate for the independent press... something PMA refuses to do. But hey, no one ever listens to me... so why should Scott be any different! This year I'm going to join SPAN. Maybe then he will listen? They have a great newsletter and I just plain like Scott and want him to succeed.

The small press was spread out in two sections... regular small press and something called "premium" small press. It made no difference. Most of the items in the small press were not only terrible and poorly thought out, the publishers I spoke with didn't have the first clue about how this business works and how important distribution is in the trade book sector. I can't tell you how many times I told these folks to walk way across the hall and talk with the PMA and maybe get some help and advice.

If most of the books were terrible, there were some non-book items that caught my fancy. One of them was a sponge-baseball yoyo by Tinytot Sports. It was kind of silly, but I liked playing with it. It was one of the ideas that you don't think will 'work' on paper, but when you get it in your hands you don't want to let go.


I don't know if I liked the yoyo or the blonde better!

Another interesting "almost book" item was the Book In A Box. I'm not totally clear on the concept and these folks don't have a website that helps in the endeavor, but what I saw I liked. If you are looking for a gift for someone, you might want to check this out... and then tell me what the hell this is all about and why I liked it so much when I saw it!


The Book In A Box booth-babe

Not far from the box babe were the rubber-book women. Say what? Yeah, well these gals "invented" a book for babies made out of some kind of latex stuff that babies like to chew on. I'm serious here. Farm Charm is a small picture book targeted to teething babies. Hey why not. I once bought a Pet Rock!


And they say innovation is dead in the book industry? Not so!

And it really doesn't matter if
I'm wrong I'm right
Where I belong I'm right

This year the convention planners again grouped the Afro-American publishers in one area. Maybe those publishers like the idea, but I thought it was a really poor concept. Anyway, most of what was out there was Afro-oriented fiction, most of it in the "dark and stormy night" tradition. And the books that weren't badly written (if first paragraphs are any indication) had trite or just butt-ugly covers. But there was one I liked called Between My Thighs by Naija. I don't know if there is a market for black erotica, but if so, this one will hit.

I love authors who have the balls to dress up in costumes and put it all 'out there.' I don't know if the book is any good but the concept is, especially for the Black community which badly needs some good self-help role models. Dr. Ida Green is a professional speaker with a whole slew of books, one which claims to teach you how to connect with your Guardian Angel. Why not? How often have we heard "may the force be with you." Different strokes, different folks.


I hope my angel is prettier than Dr. Green!

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

There was one game that I thought was a great concept... it's called HotFlash! The flyer reads: "Land on the wrong spaces and players can get stuck in PMS Purgatory or go down the Fallopian Tubes and end up in Bitchy Boulevard!" How can you miss with this?


PMA, PMS... all the same to me!

There was a very nicely done blank 'signature' book for parties and weddings etc. You used to see a lot of these at BEA but not so much anymore. I lost the name/address of this company so if anyone recognizes the woman or the book please let me know so I can edit this and add it.


Who is this woman?

I met Mayapriya for lunch where I bought her and myself an overpriced plate of lo mien and a spring roll. The food at the convention was soundly criticized and it was justly deserved. The smart folks were the ones who went to Subway before coming into the hall and had a half-way decent sandwich to eat. After lunch, it was back to the small and semi-small presses on the outer perimeters of the hall... the cheap spots.

And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz!

Outside of booth-babes, I love it when kids write books and come to BEA to hawk them. After lunch I ended up at the Sunridge Press booth where the sweetest teenager I've met in a long time was in a homemade costume trying to get some interest in her equine fantasy adventure novels for adolescents. I wished her luck but it seems that today's kids would rather reach for a GameBoy or X-Box instead of a book... and while that's a failure of the parents, it's also a failure of our industry. Why don't we have a "Got Books?" campaign? (Maybe not such a good idea after all since I'm told that milk consumption has dropped since that campaign started several years ago.) We need something to enlighten kids that reading is FUN and not a drudge.


Why can't all kids be this good?

I'll mention more about this later, but there were a ton of animal-theme books and items at the BEA this year. And why not. Everyone else in the world has learned that sex, babies and small animals "sell". But not the book industry. We're still on the "high road" of "literary excellence." Nothing wrong with that... if you want to starve! One of the most interesting items was the Mammalian Daily. This is a really fun NEWSPAPER about a fictional park run by the animals. OK, it sounds crazy, but this is written as well than the NY Times and looks as professional They are charging $10 a year for 4 issues and this is a great gift for any animal-loving person. I loved this.


One of the most fun items I saw at BEA

It had been a long day of trekking through the small press area, talking with folks about their books as well as Jaya123. There was a lot of interest in Jaya, way more than last year. I think people are far more comfortable with the idea of a web-service where they never have to install anything, never have to back-up anything and all the data is on our super-secure servers in the bank-quality data center we contract with. We always get a bunch of new Jaya123 "victims" from the small and mid-size press sector that attends BEA.

I took the bus back from BEA and just by luck ended up sitting with Florrie Kichler.

"Please Al, don't give me your ideas on PMA," she pleaded.

I didn't as I knew she was tired. But I've written many times that if I were running the BEA I'd take it out of CA and pop in New York City and also put the management contract out to bid. But I have about as much chance of running PMA as I do winning the Powerball lottery, so it's all moot. Anyway, I long-ago became tired of PMA politics. I'll let others carry that torch from now on. So Florrie was spared my PMA ire. Besides, it was party time.

I get by with a little help from my friends,
I get high with a little help from my friends,

I changed clothes, took a quick nap and headed off to Jerry Jenkins IPPY party... good food, beer and booze, and lots of friends to argue with, dance with, or just schmooze with. The party was held at the Museum for Women in the Arts which had a beautiful marble lobby... plenty of room but deafening acoustics. Walking in I quickly found Jerry who already had a buzz on.


Just as the band played "Higher and Higher" so were we!

After getting a glass of an adult beverage I walked around and ran into two of my favorite pub-babes... Carolyn Hayes Uber whom I mentioned earlier, and Cynthia Frank of Cypress House. Cindy and I go way, way back to the old San Francisco Book Show days of the early '90s. Cindy is on everyones short list as one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry on foreign rights. I've always said that she has forgotten more about publishing than most people ever learn. It was great to see both of these gals again, especially since they each won an IPPY award. It's nice to see that there is 'justice' in the IPPY Awards because there there doesn't seem to be any in the Ben Franks. I was still shocked that Maya didn't win.


You want to know about publishing? These gals know it all!

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmellow pies,

Cruising through the party I came across another Jaya123 client, Sheila Ruth of Wands and Worlds. You can't help but just LOVE Sheila. She's every man's dream... a technologist, a martial arts expert, and a woman of letters. We talked a bit about where her company was going (like to the top!) and where this industry is headed (like to the bottom.) Well, if we are headed toward bad times I have no doubt that Sheila will be one of the survivors.


She's a black-belt in Aikido. Hurts do good!

I talked about Marion Gropen earlier and how she is a CPA and thus not allowed to have any fun... but when she wants to strut her stuff, she has all the babe-a-licious ingredients. She was one of the 'hits' of the IPPY party. I don't know if the guys liked her in her blue dress... or if they just wanted free CPA advice. All I know is she was Ms. Popularity at the ball.


And you say CPAs can't look good? Yeah, right!

It was good to see John Kremer again. Somehow the past few BEAs I'd missed him. He's such a sweet man, always willing to help someone. Like Dan Poynter, John gives away far more consulting than he ever charges for. I told him that he and Dan ought to team up and go on tour with seminars called the "World Series of Independent Publishing." It would be a huge hit. John says he is leaving Iowa for a drier climate that will be more hospitable to his wife. No matter where he goes, he will always be sought out for his excellent advice on how to sell books.


He's not Mr. GQ, but he knows this biz better than most.

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
And she's gone.

After getting some food and having a few (maybe ten) drinks I found the lovely and talented Robin Quinn an editor of unparalleled excellence. I've known Robin for many, many years, but had never seen her in clothes before. Well that didn't quite come out right. She was dressed to the nines and with her long flowing LA hair you just knew that you didn't have a shot with her unless you were a Hollywood star. I wasn't, but I still enjoyed being in the picture with her and Mayapriya Long, another dancing queen.


Robin, me, and Maya. Hope my wife doesn't see this!

Toward the end of the evening I got a chance to talk to one of the really "big guys" in this business... Dawson Church. Writer, editor, one-time distributor (Atrium), Dawson has worn all the hats in the industry. I talked to him about the future of the small press and he summed it up in one word: E-Books. We agreed that when we get a "reading tablet" that is 6x9, 1/4 inch thick, takes cheap batteries, is back-lit, and cost only $15.95 so that you can have one in each room of your house and the kids can lose them, that is when content will again be "king." Dawson was hawking a book called Healing The Heart of the World and was with a beautiful young woman. I didn't ask... and he didn't tell.


Dawson and his date? Anyone know her? I bet you wish you did!

Man I was mean but I'm changing my scene
And I'm doing the best that I can.

The hour was late and I needed to get some sleep in prep for the next day of BEA. Walking back to the Metro I looked in the window of a sushi place and saw Barry Kerrigan of Desktop Miracles with a large group of clients. Although he has a website that is un-readable by FireFox browsers, all done in flash with microscopic fonts, he makes up for it with his basic talent as a book designer. I don't know why so many book designers feel they have to use Flash in order to make them look like they are on the cutting edge but what they don't know is that Flash does not render well with all browsers. Anyway, I stopped in to say hello to him and was not surprised to see that he was not a sushi guy. "Where I grew up we called this stuff 'bait.'" he said. I always enjoy seeing Barry. I just wish he would fix his website so I could send customers to him!!


SATURDAY, MAY 20

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat

I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's the best they are going to feel all day!

I met Mayapriya for our usual juice and roll beakfast. Mayapriya never drinks.... does not use booze at all... ever. Makes a guy like me want to hate her in the morning... always looking so fresh and alert.... and (oh god I hate this word)... perky!

"You look terrible. Let me guess. You got loaded and struck out... again." she said.

I glared at her. "I don't trust anyone in the book biz that doesn't drink."

"You gonna find a bestseller in a bottle? I don't think so. It's been tried before," she countered.

"I drink because I write... and I write because I drink" I told her in my best Hemingway accent.

"Too bad you can't do them both at the same time... you might actually get something done," she fired back.

I had made one of two of life's greatest mistakes. First, you never go to court on a traffic case and testify against a station-wagon full of nuns. Second, you never try to argue with a book designer, especially a talented one, and especially when you are hung-over. You're going to lose each and every time. It's much better to fight with an agent or a publisher. But you're no match for a sober designer. That's why we all hate designers.... especially on Saturday mornings... after we've had too much to drink... and have struck out with all the book babes... and when we realize that life really is unfair.

I knew today was going to be both long and boring as I was going to cover the big booths of the mainstream publishers. These folks buy huge amounts of floor-space, put up elaborate booths, and give away tons of ARCs (advanced reading copies) and other free stuff. Do they get a return on the investment? If they do, no one seems to know how. There are no book buyers parading in the aisles. There's not even that much media anymore. So who are all those people walking to and fro? It's mainly other publishers and vendors. No new business to be written with these folks!

I can see the day when these big publishers wake up and realize that there is no "there there" and just decide to opt out of BEA. It happened in the computer industry with COMDEX. Can BEA be far behind? I don't know.

I walked from one booth to the other, hour after hour trying to find something that was new, different, exciting, refreshing. If it was there, I sure as hell didn't see it. There were a few interesting books... but not many.

I liked the The Greatest In The World series of books. The gal in the booth had a sweet smile as I walked by and it caught my attention. These folks are out of the UK and were hoping to sell rights to what I saw as a really nice, simple line of how-to books on everyday subjects. If the "dummies" books could make it, maybe these could as well. They were a nice couple and I hope they do well.


She had a nice smile, I stopped to chat her up. Her husband was a good sport.

They've been going in and out of style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.

Things were so dull in the main section of the BEA that I was relegated to looking for the bizarre. I came upon one chap dressed in what I believe was a zoot suit. I have no idea what book he had published, but I was so taken with the costume that I snapped a pix of him. If anyone knows what he was hawking, please contact me.


Great outfit... but what did he publish? Let me know.

You've probably all seen those poetry magnets where you get to form your own refrigerator classics. But have you ever met the gals who made them? Well they were at the show and they had a pretty good crowd of people playing with their toys.


I'll bet these gals made a fortune on this simple idea.

As I said before there were a ton of animals and animal related books at the show. One publisher brought out a book on FEMA rescue dogs and they had an official FEMA volunteer with her official FEMA German Shepherd Dog. And what was the name of the dog? I don't make this up. The dog's name was Brownie.


"You're doin' a hell of a job, Brownie."

Not to be undone by FEMA, one publisher paid a lot of money to be in the center of the hall, with her dog Sadie, hawking a tome called The Dog Diet. I loved the dog... and the book, while at first sounding silly, actually made sense when I read some of it. What do they say? D-O-G is GOD spelled backward?


The dog is in better shape than I'm in!

There was not much in the way of cat books. I saw Bad Cat, a collection of note cards taken from the bestseller from Workman Press. And there was Blue Cats a nice calendar of cats of the Greek islands. There was also "Duke" the talking dog from the Bush Beans commercial, but whenever I went to the booth, Duke was out doing a press conference or something. Still, given all the animals at the show the best one, far and away was Amadeus. I featured this dog in last year's BEA Diary and I was so happy to see that the folks I had spoken with and had given advice to were doing so well. Amadeus is a Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog and about the most beautiful animal you will ever see. I have not read the book, but I understand that it is selling well, in addition to the other toy tie-ins.


I'm the one with the red shirt without the wet nose!

Got the bill and Rita paid it,
Took her home I nearly made it,

The final book that caught my eye this long day was also from a mid-size publisher. This was an old-time Western for YAs titled Nick & Slim. I don't know if there is a market for this in the YA sector. Seems kids these days are more taken with shoot-em-up video games of aliens and cave monsters. But if a Western genre can appeal to kids, this might be the one that will. The gal in the booth sure as hell appealed to me!


Howdy Miss Kitty, I'm Marshal Dillion.

After some six hours of combing the booths of the large and mid-size publishers I was beat and ready for some real food and good beer. Mayapriya Long, Dan Poynter and I had been invited to the annual Midpoint pizza party by Carolyn Hayes Uber. This year it was being held at Uno in Union Station. So we met at the PMA booth and figured out how to get there via the Metro. We could have taken a cab, but this was going to be more of an adventure. Maya was our guide, Dan our scout, and I took the notes to chronicle our journey just in case there might be a book in it. There wasn't.

Suddenly someone is there at the turnstyle,
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes.

When we got to the restaurant we immediately saw our hostess and previous official Book-Babe, Gail Kump. In this business there are people who talk about books and people who report on books, but there are damn few people who really KNOW what books will sell and which won't. Gail is one of those people. Eric Kampmann might own Midpoint, but Gail (a partner) makes it run. And the great thing about Gail is that she is a down-to-earth, just-plain-nice 'girl.' There are a whole hell of a lot of people in this industry that have only half of Gail's ability but who are a hundred times more arrogant. Even when Gail says "no" to your book, you know that she wishes she could have said yes. Gail is terrific. Everyone loves Gail.


Damn right she's a Book Babe... and a Book Ph.D as well!

Julie in the sky with diamonds,

One of the high points of every BEA is seeing one of my favorite past Book Babes, Julie Hardison. Julie has come up through the ranks at Midpoint and has (finally) been given a big promotion to Marketing Manager. She is going to embark on a new initiative for Midpoint, offering a number of new services to publishers. This will all be announced later, but I can say without reservation that Julie is the gal who can make it happen. It's nice to see young people advance. Her husband was with her and the two of them make such a nice looking couple.


Me and Julie

I talked to a number of Midpoint's party guests. One of the most interesting was Richard Hains, an author from Oz who is bringing out his first novel Chameleon, a financial thriller, published by David Nelson of Beaufort Books, the publishing arm of Midpoint Trade. David told me his company plans on a $100,000 marketing campaign with ads in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, along with a multi-city book tour. I was really impressed with Richard and I'm looking forward to seeing this tome. It's been a long time since the likes of Gordon Gekko. With Enron in the news, and the size of the advertising budget, this book has a shot... if it is any good. They promised me a review copy. I hope they mean it. I like this genre.


Richard "Gekko" Hains. Can $100K buy success? Stay tuned.

After eating about ten pizzas and drinking a keg or two of beer I was ready to hit the sack. Sunday is always a quiet day at BEA and each year they start packing earlier and earlier. I wanted to get there early so I could collect some free booty as well as see some of the sofware providers I compete with as well as a few booths I'd marked off in the show catalog that I hadn't yet gotten to.


SUNDAY, MAY 21

How do I feel by the end of the day
(Are you sad because you're on your own)

Arriving at the convention center I met up with Mayapriya.

"Hey pork-boy! Did you leave any pizza for anyone else last night? I should buy stock in the Pepto company!"

She's always after me to not eat meat. "You should be happy I only ate the non-meat pizza," I told her.

"You could have saved some for others at the party. And were you expecting there to be a beer shortage sometime soon? You drank enough to turn yourself into a Clydesdale. We'll be looking for you on the next Budweiser commercial."

"Shows you how much you know... it was Miller light. Tastes great, less filling," I said trying to imagine Mayapriya and Marion in the famous Miller mud-wrestling commercial. "Maybe if you took a drink now and then you would feel better," I said, knowing that Mayapriya NEVER touches alcohol.

"Yeah, because I want to look and feel like you do this morning? That's rich. I know why your ancestors emigrated in the early 1900s from Ireland to Toronto. They saw a billboard in Dublin saying "Drink Canada Dry," she retorted.

If given a few minutes I might have been able to cut through the cobwebs and followed up with a smart remark, but we ran into Sharon... and you know the rest of that story from the opening prologue.

Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high.

As I said, my goal today was to get free books and stuff. I had heard that there was a terrific book on growing pot at the show and I thought that maybe they were giving out samples or maybe they had a small tent and were offering 'hits.' (Amazing what we come up with early in the morning when we have a Miller Time hangover.) I found Marijuana Access but alas there were no samples. Very nice book. When they legalize this stuff these folks will have a big hit.


She wasn't happy when I said I was from the DEA!

While filling my tote bag with this, and with that, and with whatever looked interesting... I came across several titles that I thought were fun. One was a literary travel book called Traveling Literary America which has references and annotations to more than 200 homes, museums, exhibits, memorials etc. of various writers What a fun type of vacation for a writer to take.

There are always all sorts of bookmarks at BEA. I missed the guy who sold the oriental rug markers but I saw something new called the Bookflip. You can get these with your company logo and they make great holiday gifts to your best customers.

We'd like to take you home with us,
We'd love to take you home.

There were a number of services that had exhibits, not the least of which were Microsoft's Live Book. They had a large display outside of the main hall. You send them your hardcopy and they will scan the complete book and will show whatever parts you want when people browse the site. Yeah, and we all know how honest and above-board Microsoft has been in previous years when working with small companies. Yup, that's just what I want to do... hand over my intellectual property to Microsoft because you JUST KNOW that they are going to take great pains to guard and protect it and not use it without your express wishes. (You're buyin' all this, aren't you!)

I found something that was very interesting to me, but will probably be a snoozer to most everyone else. This is a new OPEN SOURCE platform for creating eBooks called dotReader. These folks are going to use the OpenReader.org format. I know it's all 'geek' to you, but believe me there are some really big things happening in e-book land... and Microsoft, Adobe, and some of the greedy corporations are not going to be happy when they find out about it.

If you are a publisher and you want to be one of the survivors when e-books FINALLY become a reality, you MUST join and participate in the OpenReader.org program. I look for great things from the dotReader folks as well and it will be nice to see a start-up beat the crap out of the established players... most of whom don't know what they don't know about publishing. Please folks. We don't have to give in to Microsoft, Adobe, Sony, etc. Learn about Openreader.org, volunteer some time to help them, and it will be 'good' for all of us. End of sermon.

I didn't see too many children's books that made me stop and peek, but one of them caught my eye... Octopus Rex. The book had great art and was just... different. It had a CD with songs and narration. Maybe this will be a venue to get kids to read? Why not. Nothing else seems to be working.


I would have called it Calamari Rex

Getting back to services, the POD monsters were lurking. Both Lightning Source (owned by the the Evil Empire known as Ingram) and Booksurge owned by Amazon were doing all they could to convince all who would listen that print-on-demand is the way to go for OP (out-of-print) titles. One thing that LSI has going for it is that by using their service you get automatic entree into the Ingram database. I think this is more hype than substance, but it's something to consider if you're thinking of going this route. Of course, if you go with Amazon you are automatically in Amazon. Where would you rather be if you're trying to sell books? I'd take Amazon.

If you don't need to be in Ingram or Amazon, then Publishers Row might be a good option for you... as might Starnet. I don't know much about either, but the people at both booths seemed knowledgeable.

Another service that had a huge booth was AuthorHouse. They claim to have printed over 32,000 titles. When I told Dan Poynter this he retorted "How many have they sold?" Jan Nathan (Director of the PMA) told me later that so many authors have come to her bemoaning that they have used a service like AuthorHouse which publishes under their own ISBN and thus is publisher-of-record... and only the POR can deal with distributors, wholesalers, etc. If you are going to go this route, make sure you know what you are doing.

I used to get mad at my school
The teachers who taught me weren't cool
You're holding me down, turning me round
Filling me up with your rules.

While there were a ton of university presses at the show, I didn't spend much time in any of the booths. Why? Well for some reason the people who staff these are always so aloof... almost stuck-up... as if they are better than anyone else because THEY are part of a prestigious university. Or maybe it's because many of them are subsidized and they really don't HAVE to get out there and SELL or sully their hands with filthy lucre. Maybe there is still a reason for university presses to exist, but I sure as hell can't think of any. YMMV (geek-speak for "your milage may vary".)

I always like to stop and chat with the folks from the various regional publishing associations such as Publishers Association of the South and their sister group PubWest. The Colorado Indie-Pub Assn. also had a booth... first time I remember seeing a non-regional association at BEA.

I wonder if it might be more worthwhile for publishers to attend the regional tradeshows that these groups put on as opposed to BEA? I've never been to any of them because the regional groups tend to overprice their exhibit booths compared to the number of 'victims' that turn out for the show. But maybe I'll take Jaya123 to one of these events this fall and see how it goes.

There weren't too many publicists who took space this year. I saw Irwin Zucker walking the show and had a nice chat with him. He is the founder of the Book Publicists of S. California... even has an award named after him. The California group publishes the "Chopped Liver" series... such as this year's tome: Chopped Liver for the Loving Spirit. Forget Chicken Soup.

Newpaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.

Also in attendance were the folks from PRWeb. If you've never used this terrific press release service... you should... and while it is free, you should contribute a few bucks so that they can continue. It's the right thing to do.

There used to be a fair number of 'book shepherds' (not to be confused with Australian Shepherds) that attended the show. This year I only saw two...one called Book Connection and the other with the catchy name of Perceptive Marketing... actually more of a publicist than a "take-it-all-the-way" type of outfit. I think the BEA should have a section (with low booth rates) for publicists and consultants.... but for some reason Reed (the BEA company) just doesn't listen to me!

There wasn't much in the way of political books this year... as there were during the last election cycle. While not overtly "political' I met these two women from Elva Resa Publishing that have a line of books they call Military Family Resources. These titles are targeted to families who have loved-ones deployed in the Middle East. Since so many publishers are politically just to the left of Hilary Clinton and Al Sharpton, I was not surprised when they told me that they had taken some 'heat' from the liberals in the industry. I'm against this damn war as well (especially after just visiting The Wall) but my heart went out to these women as I think they are doing a good service to their country. I hope they sell a ton of books. I really do.


Whether you are for or against the war, these women are patriots

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in

I always enjoy going to see my software competitors. Both the Cat's Pajamas and the folks from Acumen were at the show. I like both of these companies. Often we get people who call about our Jaya123 web-based system and say:

"Whoa, $14.95 a month? That's a lot of money each year! I want to OWN our software! This Jaya subscription thing sucks!"

So I tell them, "You're right. Maybe you will be better off with Cats or Acumen. Go to their site and take a look. Let me know what you think. Thanks for calling."

Understand that both of these products are at the high-end... like around $10,000 "high"... and that's just to get in the door. Once in, you have customization fees as well as yearly maintenance fees. It's amazing how many call-backs I get saying "Hey, you guys really look good... I like this Jaya123 thing." :-)

So each year I go and talk with the two Cat women who sit the booth (both very nice) as well as Larry Wolf of Acumen and tell them how much I value them because they really make our software look 'good' pricewise!

Everyone you see is full of life.
It's time for tea and meet the wife.

It was 2 PM and I met Mayapriya for lunch. Normally I wouldn't mention lunch, but we went to the food court and got Wolfgang Puck pizza. Now Wolfgang is a pretty high-end name... synonymous with gourmet dining so I figured the pizza would be pretty good. Uh.. major big-time wrong. It was the worst pizza I'd ever had. As an experiment I tore off a piece of the brown box the pizza came in and tasted it. Yup, the box tasted far, far better than the pizza. It was true. I should write the Wolf-man and tell him he may want to take his name off of this stuff. Either that or give the pizza away for free and sell the boxes and designer scissors to hungry convention goers!

By two-thirty the hall was almost empty and the vendors were starting to pack up. In the past two years this didn't happen until an hour later. And two years before that the show was crowded right up to the closing bell. I ran up to the packing area, loaded up my box, got it taped and shipped and went back downstairs for my final visit... which has traditionally been to see Victoria Champagne-Sutherland at ForeWord Magazine to get her 'take' on the BEA and where the industry was headed.

First she said "This BEA shows that people are tired of bestsellers."

"Uh, Victoria, is that sort of what Yogi meant when he said 'No one eats at that restaurant anymore because it's too crowded'?" I asked.

Victoria, who IS a lady of letters realized the incongruity of her remark and then gave me a quote about how publishers have to follow something called the "long tail' theory of marketing. I had no idea what she was talking about and was too tired to ask. She said the show was great for her and the magazine, so I'll just go with that.


Victoria Sutherland, chosen Book Babe in 1996

The hour was late and I started thinking about the folks that didn't come to BEA this year. I missed Pat Bell, one of the grand ladies of the small press. Everyone misses Pat. And another well-known "personality" of the independent press who didn't come this year is "V3" aka Virginia Van Vynckt of V3 Graphics. (She is a top-flight web designer and editor... and helped edit this BEA Diary... thanks V3!). I was surprised that Jay Brown and Barbara DesChamps didn't make the trip this year. And, of course, I missed Harry Pariser... for reasons I won't go into here!

I always hate it when the show ends. Reality sets in, the euphoria is all gone, and it's back to returns, problems with Ingram, no checks from B&T, and incomprehensible statements from distributors. I walked over to the PMA area, said good-bye to Jan, Terry, Maya, Dan, and a whole bunch of other hangers-on and trudged "bump, bump, bump" up the stairs, got on the bus and went back to 'real life.'


EPILOGUE

We're Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
We hope you have enjoyed the show
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
We're sorry but it's time to go.

So what kind of a show was it? Where is the industry going? Well, if you believe that the amount of floor-space sold by Reed and the number of exhibitors is an indication on the health of the industry then you would walk out feeling very optimistic.

But if you use attendance as your measuring stick, you will come away feeling that this show is in trouble.

This year they scanned badges EVERY TIME you went into the exhibit hall. Not the building, but EACH hall. Thus, when you came out for lunch and went back downstairs (or upstairs) you got scanned. When you came from downstairs to go upstaris you got scanned. So will Reed 'spin' the attendance by touting hall-visits instead of head-counts? It won't surprise me a bit.

As much as I love going to the BEA, for the life of me I can't understand why the big publishers pay more than $100 a foot for their space, bring in tons of people and construct expensive booths. For what? There are no buyers. There is little media. It's just other publishers scouting out other publishers... with the occasional service vendor like the printers and designers walking the show.

When you ask people "What's wrong with this industry?" you get simplistic (but accurate answers) such as "too many books," "too many returns," "not enough readers," or you get complex answers detailing how the business model of the industry is 'broken' and how this whole business is basically a house of cards.

One thing I do know for a fact is that the Internet has hurt the book business by enabling people to get free content quickly and easily. Years ago there were tons of computer books on every large publishers' list. Not any more. Same goes for the travel sector... and just about ever genre we publish to. What's the answer? The only thing anyone comes up with is e-books. I guess it's like the old 1969 baseball Mets fans who said "Ya gotta believe."

Me used to be a angry young man
Me hiding me head in the sand
You gave me the word
I finally heard
I'm doing the best that I can.

I don't know if the large corporate entities that dominate this biz are making money, but I'm sure that the smaller houses are not. And when it comes to the smallest of the small, only those who understand the niche model are doing well. You either have to publish to a sector that is 'information bound' and which likes to buy books (such as Christians... and not truck drivers) or you need to have content that is so original, so unique, and so compelling that people line up to buy it, sort of how the "dummies books" are sold.

I admit it's getting better
A little better all the time

Maybe Sgt. Pepper thinks so, but I don't believe this industry is getting better, but I think it WILL get better, as I mentioned earlier, when we finally get e-books. However, when I asked the guys and gals in the big booths about this eventuality, they looked at me with blank faces... sort of like how deer look when caught in the headlights.

Why do we stay in this business. Well for sure it can't be for the money. It's the culture... and the need to keep it. We stay in the book biz because we just... have to. I'm sure I could write a long-winded monograph on this, but Woody Allen really nailed it in his final lines of Annie Hall:

Alvy Singer: It was great seeing Annie again and I realized what a terrific person she was and how much fun it was just knowing her and I thought of that old joke, you know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken,' and uh, the doctor says, 'well why don't you turn him in?' And the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but uh, I guess we keep going through it...because...most of us need the eggs.

Or perhaps it's even less rational than eggs (if that's possible.) It's a mission for us. No matter how bad this business gets, no matter how many returns pile up at our door, no matter how many unsold books sit in our warehouses, and no matter how badly we get treated by the middle-channel, we persist. After all these years in the business I believe that down deep in his or her heart of hearts, every publisher lives one dream... one mantra:

I read the news today oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade

I'd love to turn you on

-30-


If you liked this special edition of A Saturday Rant or if you disagree or if you have changes to be made, please let me know by writing to: rant at adams-blake dot com.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, to B-E-A We Go!

Note: For many years Al Canton has penned a publishing industry 'column' called "A Saturday Rant." While it has been dormant for the past year due to his wife's health problems and the death of his father, things have improved and he has decided to bring "A Saturday Rant" back to life and hopes that people will find it fun and informative. Many of the names mentioned are well-known personalities in the small press industry as well as on the Pub-Forum listserv. To join that list (free) go to http://www.pub-forum.net. To contact Al, go to either of his websites listed at the end of the piece.]

A Saturday Rant 5-13-06

HI HO, HI HO, TO B-E-A WE GO...

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you next week at the PMA/BEA.

I have a long-standing tradition of going to the BFD (no, that stands for Ben Franklin Dinner and NOT what YOU think it stands for.... but now that I think about it....) and sitting with the very wealthy Peter Goodman of Stonebridge Press (who sold to a large Japanese house,) the lovely, talented book designer, and extremely cheap Mayapriya Long, the funny, witty, and even cheaper (like in KING of cheap) Shel (who will be living in his car under the Key bridge), maybe one of the Foreplay (oops, ForeWord) book-babes and perhaps Our Mother of Aggravation, mother of all list-moms, the mean and terrible dominatrix of this list Marion (whom I hit on every year and and every year I strike out. She has this fidelity thing going on or something! She's obviously an accountant and not a publisher (right Jerry?)).

And of course my trip won't be complete unless I get to meet (or is that meat?) and greet our own Harry. (Sharon and Fern are selling tix to this, and the Harrah's sport's book has me as a 3 to 1 favorite!)

Of course, I'll miss Grandma Bell, but Pa Kettle-Poyter is almost as old so there will be some adult supervision in the room.

And, of course I look forward to getting a picture of of Jerry Jenkins with his hand on some babe's thigh (or higher!) at his annual book-bash with the book-babes.

Most of all BEA is a reaffirmation of faith that somehow we all made it through another year in this difficult business and that perhaps what we don't make in money, we make up in friendship, camaraderie, and the knowledge that we are keepers of a culture that is under constant assault by the electronic media as well as governments at all levels as well as parties of red and blue, green.... and pink (i.e. the CA bill requiring publishers to include gay/lesbian annotations in public school textbooks.)

As for books, here is some advice.

Forget about selling your books.

First of all, everyone and their dog are trying to sell their books, either to the retail/distribution channel or the media. And when it comes to selling, it is pretty difficult to out-muscle the bigger houses that have hoards of well-trained, well-contacted sales people (booth-babes!) as well as tons of heavy-duty, high-skilled, in-house publicity talent (media-chicks!).

Second of all, there is no one to sell to. There are no ("we don't need no stinkin'') blue badges anymore. There are damn few bookstores who send "buying" representatives to the floor. Hell, there are damn few independent bookstores in the first place. Any publisher looking to sell their books or even to make good contacts to sell later on is probably going to be disappointed.

Oh, yes, you are going to make lots of contacts and meet lots of people who are going to tell you all sorts of things about what they will do for you. But when you call them a week later, they won't know you from the last guy who they just got off the phone with.

So what is BEA good for? Two things.

First, it is a celebration of ego. We put the fruits of our long hard labors on the table and say "Look at me, aren't I great?" And we say "Wow, your books are great too." We both say, "Gee, we're lucky to be able to be in this industry where we can do great work."

BEA, unlike many trade shows where the emphasis is on sales, is really an old-time "tent revival," , a chance to escape the confines of the spin-doctors, and get some feedback from colleagues and peers on your products. And it is a great excuse to let down you hair (and skirt/pants?) and have a party. And all of the above is good. I'd worry big-time about our industry if there weren't a well attended BEA. It's a chance to spend some of those profits (or forget about the ones you didn't make) and have a good time. (Except for Marion... who is an accountant and not allowed any fun.)

Second, BEA is a chance to learn. If you exhibit you will find out in short order if your wares are "interesting" or if they are just "run of the mill." You will have the opportunity to hob-nob with publishers and vendors of all stripes. And you will get an opportunity to attend seminars (PMA-U, AAP, etc.) and learn the elements of the business that you might be weak on. And this is all good.

But BEA is not for "selling". It is for "buying". I don't expect to sell one book from BEA and if you go with the idea that you are going to come home with either a stack of orders or a ton of business cards from potential buyers, you are going to be heartbroken.

You need to find reasons other than sales for the BEA to be a meaningful event for you. Whether it's the parties, the seminars, or the chance to see what others are doing, you should come up with one or two things you want to accomplish and pursue them.

I don't mean something like "I'm going to get a distributor." You'd be better advised to set you sights to "I'm going to learn about and make contact with three or four distributors I can approach later." Or "Each day of the show I'm going to make two media contacts in my genre whom I can approach later on a first name basis." Or "I'm going to have a three day party, drink Dan under the table, and swim naked in the Potomac with Hilary Clinton (although you have a better shot with Bill if history serves me correctly! ) Plan your "go" and go with your plan.

So you ask, what is MY plan?

I like to publish books that I can sell for obscene margins to those who are not using their own coin to buy. For example, for many years I've published "MoveIT: The Complete Guide to Moving a Corporate Data Center."

http://tinyurl.com/j3ssc

I print in low quantities from Alexander's Digital and sell the tome for $99. OK, I only sell about 200 a year, but it only cost me $10 to print and $10 in royalty. If you have 10 of these...do the math. (I used to sell 1,000 of these before the Internet made ALL information (accurate or not) "free.") I'm going to look for an author or a publisher who has the next "MoveIT" and see if I can buy rights from them.

Thus, I'm going to BEA in order to "buy" not to sell.

Of course, if you are also a vendor to the industry like me, Dan Poynter, Shel Horowitz, Mayapriya Long, Marion Gropen, Fern Reiss (some of whom are both publishers AND vendors), it might not hurt to pass out a flyer or a business card at selected booths. I always get new Jaya123 victims (I mean clients) from BEA.

Indeed, I think that the only people who can really "sell" are the vendors. Publishers, I believe, have to be content to "buy." It is kind of ironic isn't it? Here is this huge trade show with 1000 publishers and yet they are now all selling to basically 10 or 20 customers: B&N, Borders, Amazon, Wall-Mart, Costco, a few distributors, and the last small group of indie bookstores stores left who send buyers (Cody's, Tattered Cover, Powells, etc).

So here are my parting words to those of you going to DC. Read the next TWO paragraphs three times until you understand it! They are two of the best I have ever written. Print them and paste them on your mirror and read them every day until you arrive in DC.

When you go to BEA ask not what you can sell TO it, but ask what you can take FROM it. Approach the show from the 20,000 foot level, looking to get a broad overview of where the industry is going, what others are making money at, how others have found niches to sell into. Go to learn what the technology will do to change things... and try to find out if there is a way you can use all this knowledge to better your competitive position.

Don't go to sell books. What did I just say? Again, don't go to sell books! Go there to buy ideas. Don't go to make something happen. Go there to understand what will happen. Don't go there to sell your products or ideas, but go there to buy the ideas of others. You have this wonderful chance to see, touch, ask, learn, question, and network. And while you may seek one or two specific goals, don't be surprised if the compendium of information you glean from BEA coalesces into a terrific business idea that you can pursue in the near future. If you go to BEA with a buyers attitude, you will more than make up the money you spent being there.

And while we're talking about buying, it is true that buying a drink or a lunch or a cab ride for someone who works hard writing gems of wisdom that he shares with you via his Rants, is always a worthwhile investment :-)

By the way, I have it from a very, very well placed source you all know and admire (think parachutes) that it would NOT be a good idea, when Fern and Sharon are introduced at the list dinner, to start a chant of "Take it off, Take it off" unless you want to see a cabernet bottle hurled at you faster than a Barry Bonds triple to left. And I wouldn't make any references to mud wrestling either.

And make sure you walk up to me and say hello. I don't bite. But you guys better be careful of Mayapriya Long of Bookwrights. The woman is a black belt in Aikido and can turn you from a rooster into a hen before you can figure out how to say her name. However, if you mention "How about I buy you lunch," she becomes a pussycat.

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you and I hope that the above will serve as food for thought.

Al Canton Adams-Blake Company, Inc. http://www.jaya123.com http://www.adams-blake com

Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.