Wednesday, June 04, 2008

BEA Diary 2008

I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

I've been to something like twelve Book Expos and while I always look forward to them each year I always wonder if this year is going to be the last year that it is held. Except for the parties and the remote possibility that one might sell a book or two, there is not much reason for this show to exist anymore.

I well remember when there was a large computer show called COMDEX. It was huge... like some 100,000 people each year... until the Internet came along... and poof it was gone... the show could not sell the space and it just disappeared. Bye bye.

If someone at Reed E. (the fine folks who put on this show) decided to scrap BEA I would not be a bit surprised judging from this year's edition. It was a "why bother."

It's a short flight from Sacramento to LA but of course the plane was late getting off so I had to hit the ground running to make the annual Pub-Forum dinner at the Daily Grill in downtown LA (just a block from Wilshire Grand hotel where I was staying.)

As soon as I walked in I saw my good friends Paulette Ensign and Brian Jud. Paulette has made a zillion dollars showing others how to make money with booklets and Brian is the ultimate market guru in this industry... and not only a very nice man, but one who has many wives (an industry insider joke which I won't explain now, but you should write Brian and ask him to explain!)

Paulette and Brian

The highlight of the evening was when Dan Poynter gave a long and wonderful speech about being an "Internet-aholic." He had everyone in stitches. Some of you know Shel Horowitz who is the king of cheap. Dan said that Shel graduated from college in three years because he didn't want to pay for a fourth year!

Dan Poynter speaking at the Pub-Forum dinner

And talking about Shel, he was about the only downer of the evening. He made a point of coming up to me and telling me in no uncertain terms that I was lucky he was so "nice" because he claims he could have sued me for something I wrote earlier this year (I forget what I said) when he raised his prices. I simply let him vent since that was probably the main reason he went to the dinner in the first place.

I don't much like Shel, he doesn't much like me... and I'm fine with it. He's a spin-meister and so I never know when he is serious or when he is doing what PR people do... which is lie. All I know is that he was way out of line at that place and time and I think he was lucky that I didn't let him have it right then and there with both barrels. I just let it go. Jerks will be jerks. It's true.
It was really good to see Irma Martonyi, the beautiful wife of Andrew, author of the award winning Little Man in The Map book. Both Irma and Andrew have a great sense of humor... but Irma is a major Book-Babe... and Andrew isn't!

Irma "Babe-alicious" Martonyi

It was a great dinner and I enjoyed seeing lots of friends from the Pub-Forum list. I wish some of the other pix I took came out but it was a somewhat dark room and my iPhone camera just was not up to the task as it does not have a flash. I should have brought a real camera.
I went back to the hotel and got what I knew would be the only eight-hour sleep I would have for the rest of the week.


Did you write the book of love,
And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock ’n roll,
Can music save your mortal soul,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

I hate when the phone rings in the morning and wakes me up. And guess who it was. It was Mayapriya Long ... my friend for the past fifteen years or so. "New tradition. You have to take me to breakfast," she chirps in the phone. I saw her at the Pub-Forum dinner but didn't have much of a chance to talk to her, not with all the other good looking women who were after me! "I'll meet you upstairs at the Executive Suite in twenty minutes." The hotel had a really nice continental breakfast for guests in the more expensive rooms... or who had stayed at the hotel on previous occasions... and this was the third time for both of us.

It was good to see her again. We had not spoken much in the past several months and it took a long breakfast to get caught up. Economy or no economy, she is as busy as she's always been. She's forged a national reputation as a book and cover designer so I'm not surprised.

The morning went quickly talking to old PMA friends. The big news was that PMA changed its name to the IBPA or Independent Book Publishers Association. No one could figure out why. "It wasn't broken, so why fix it," said Dan Poynter and just about everyone agreed. With the passing of Jan Nathan I suppose changes were bound to come, but no one expected something as "dumb" as a name-change.

Let's face it. Are we really going to be publishing "books" five to ten years from now? Probably not. Anyway, it was the topic of conjecture for those of us who were long-time PMA members... although now many of us have dropped out for various reasons. For me it is simple. If I can't run for office or even vote for someone else who is running to be an officer or a board member, I won't join. I want to have a say in how my dues are spent... and PMA... oops... I mean IBPA won't let me vote... so I won't send my money. The board is chosen by the executive director and the board chooses the officers. There is no formal input by the members. It has been this way forever and I've ranted and raved about it, but it has never been changed. Until it does, they won't get my $200.

Around lunch time J.C. Simonds and Susan Goland showed up, along with Cindy Frank (an original Book-Babe). JC is one of the list-moms on the Self-Publishing list (owned by SPAN.) It is heavily moderated... and they won't let me on it... they think I write above the level of their readership... and having met some of their subscribes I have to agree!

J.C. Simonds, list-mom of the list they won't let me publish on!

I didn't get a good pix of Susan (or Cindy) but you can find both on previous BEA journals. We went to lunch at the Fire House No. 29 (or 28?) around the corner from the hotel... and we sat there for about two hours discussing the dismal state of the publishing industry.

Not long after we got back to PMA it was time to run upstairs to dress for the annual Ben Franklin Awards dinner. In past years they would give us saucers instead of plates and the food would run out anyway. However this year it was truly a feast. There was a huge amount of food and it was terrific... best they ever had. Maybe the name change from PMA to IBPA was a good thing! I sat next to Barbara DesChamps of Ch√Ęteau Publishing at the same table with Paulette and several others.


Barbara (above), our table (middle), the ballroom (below)

There is not a whole lot I can say about the awards except that thankfully very few winners showed up so we were spared the long and boring "I want to thank the Academy" speeches. If there was one outstanding book in the entire lot, I sure as hell didn't notice it!

The only part of the program that was truly outstanding was the slideshow montage of the late Jan Nathan's life. I knew Jan for almost fifteen years and while I didn't always agree with her I always respected her for her work and devotion to the small press. The retrospective brought a tear to everyone's eye. I know Terry (her son) will do a good job but it won't be quite the same without Jan. And as I told Florrie Kichler (PMA President)... no vote... no dues!

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!

The best part of the evening was sharing a beer with Tom Alexander . No one knows more about where the parties are at BEA than Tom. Tom is also an expert in the marijuana laws as well as distilled spirits. Tom is a fun guy and if you ever get a chance to party with him, don't miss it.

Tom "Hisp, hisp... good sheet, man!" Alexander
It had been a good day of seeing old friends, talking about the publishing industry (which as I've mentioned is in a sorry state of affairs) having good food, good drink, and just kicking back... knowing that there were three grueling days of BEA ahead.


Did you write the book of love,
And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock ’n roll,
Can music save your mortal soul,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

Every BEA I start at the small press area. And in every BEA Diary I say the same thing... that Friday morning is just like baseball spring training. Everyone thinks they are going to have that big bestseller. Everyone is going to get on Oprah. Everyone is going to find a distributor. I love Friday morning in the small press section.

The problem is that this year the small press was two short rows of some of the worst books you have ever seen. Same old... same old. It was slim pickings but I did find a few things that were pretty good.

One that I liked was Your Turn by Dr. Nancy Irwin. She has the credentials and the subject of hypnosis is always interesting.

Dr. Nancy Irwin... She can hypnotize me anytime!

There was a lot of bad fiction in the small press section, just as there is every year but Corpse of Freedom had a twist to it that I liked... as well as the booth

There is a movie contract somewhere for this book.

I saw several business books this year, something that has not been in the small press for quite awhile. I think that Cook Your Assets has a shot if the author can get some distribution.

Good title, good cover

Easily the best book in the small press section (and all of BEA!) is one that probably won't sell many copies but which was beautifully done. Journey Through Literary America is a photographic essay on the places that inspired great American authors. Thomas Hummel wrote the narrative and Tamra Dempsey did the photography and together they created a stunning book... easily the best thing I saw at the BEA this year.

This is a terrific piece of work.

With the aging of the boomers I expected to see more material targeted to that segment, like I saw last year, but about the only book on display was Carolyn Gross's Treatable And Beatable . This looked inspiring and the author has a lot of media experience. It should sell to those facing cancer.

Disease books are always good sellers.

It has been ten years since ForeWord Magazine burst upon the publishing scene as an alternative to Publishers Weekly. It is always nice to visit with Victoria Sutherland who was one of the first two official Saturday Rant Book-Babes! I had a nice chat with her and was happy to learn that she has taken on a new magazine on spirituality.

Victoria (left) and helper.

There used to be a lot of G&L books and publishers at BEA but this year there were very few. I'm told it is because the genre has been taken over by the large "mainstream" publishers. These two gals from Torquere Books (a very large publishing house) have blazed a trail in gay sci-fi. You have to love their slogan!

There is something for everyone at BEA!

There are always a lot of self-help books as they are always good sellers. Linda Thompson claims to be a playwright, author, and consultant and I have no reason to doubt her. She was interesting to speak with and I assume her I Am My Own Dragon book will be as interesting.

I loved the balloon!

Along the same lines, it seems that "discovery" is the big self-help buzz-word this year. There is a lot of discovery going on! Ask! had one of the more interesting booths. I'm not a big fan of these simple "short question" books but I know they sell well... yet I don't know why!

Great booth... great girl!

If celebrity testimonials can make a book into a bestseller than Be The Media! should be huge. This author/publisher has done his homework and I predict this will sell very well. The book was badly designed but they say they are going to re-do it before the final print run. No one in their right mind would print a 300+ page book in a san-serif typeface!

I'm told David was voted the show's "pub-stud" by my female publisher friends.

It was lunch time so I left the small press area and did the mile hike back to the main hall to have my traditional lunch with Mayapriya Long. Did I say "have?" I meant "buy." It is a long standing tradition that Mayapriya never pays for lunch at BEA and this year was no different. We each had tiny and over-priced pizzas in which the box tasted better than the pizza! Someday I'm going to learn to bring in a sandwich and not get gouged by the convention hall concessions.

After lunch I resumed my quest to look for "new" and "different" and "exciting" items. It was tough going. If there was ever a "why bother BEA" this had to be it. I kept on thinking that if what I saw exhibited was any indication on the state of this business... we were in deep trouble.
Rummaging through the children's section I came upon a booth selling something called Mo's Nose. This was really clever... a "press to smell" book. The book enbeds technology that enables readers to actually smell what Mo smells. Cleverly embedded within the pages of the book, are innovative scent-dispensing packets good for thousands of “sniffs” containing safe, non-toxic scents that truly mimic true-to-life smells like a fresh picked rose or juicy strawberries. Obviously the book is targeted to children, but I found it fascinating.

This will be huge in the kiddie market!

The last stop of the day was at a mom-pop publishing house that was selling one of two good Christmas books that I saw at the show. Indeed, I've never SEEN a Christmas book at a BEA before... at least I can't recall one. Charlie Tree looks like a nice little children's book that has twelve stories... one to be read on the twelve nights before Christmas. Good concept.

It's hard to miss with a good Christmas book

My feet were killing me and it was close to closing time so I trudged down to where the busses were, went back to my hotel to dress for the IPPY party. This is always a fun event and in the past it was a mad-house. However, this year it was by invite only in order to keep the cost down. I'm not a big fan of awards but I think the iPPY awards have some merit... at least as much as the Ben Franklin and the ForeWord awards. It all depends on what the publisher DOES with the award... because winning alone won't sell books.

Well, I know that you’re in love with him
`cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
You both kicked off your shoes.
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.

I saw a number of old friends at the party such as Barry Kerrigan the Vermont cowboy who runs Desktop Miracles, an award winning graphic house. (D.M was one of the sponsors of the party.) Barry is truly an industry expert, as is my old friend Jerry Jenkins of The Jenkins Group. If you want to know what is going on in this biz, ask either of these guys. I wish I had some pix but it was too dark for my cellphone camera.

I had an interesting talk with Carolyn Long of Pratt Publishing. She is going to bring out a high-budget book called A Dogs Guide To Training Owners which looks very interesting. I wish her well on it.

The most interesting guy I met at the party was Dan Seidman of Sales Autopsy Press. Some of you know that besides Jaya123, the order-entry, web-based system for small and mid-size publishers, that I also run a life and health insurance agency called InsuranceSolutions123. Most of you have probably not heard of Dan, but in the insurance biz he is a major celeb. His column of sales "horror stories" runs in many of the insurance magazines and he is in much demand as a speaker. We walked back to the hotel together and it was the highlight of the entire show for me to meet him.

Dan Seidman... sales guru.


I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.

Friday is always crowded at BEA but this year unlike past years it was not elbow to elbow. Saturday is always the bell-weather test to see how much interest the show draws... and if this Saturday is a prologue to the future, this show is headed for trouble. I wouldn't say it was empty, but with the exception of the large NY houses, the aisles had lots and lots of room in them... and some of them you could go bowling and not hit anyone! I also noticed that while there were plenty of advanced reading copies being given away, there were not nearly as many as in previous years. Same goes for totes and other give-away items. I found only ONE publisher giving out t-shirts. In past years you could get enough shirts to sleep in for an entire year and never have to wash one!

I have an old friend in this business... one that goes back almost twenty years when we used to see each other at the old San Francisco Book Show. Peter Goodman is the owner of Stone Bridge Press. I sat with Peter at his booth and we talked about how the book biz has been this year and what the future might hold. Neither of us were all that optimistic. One thing we agree on is that the future is electronic... and it will arrive when Apple brings out some kind of iBook and do for (or to?) books what they did for (to?) the music business.

Peter Goodman: He knows this biz

I found a cat book. It was the ONLY cat book I saw at the show. Animals were not "in" this year. I liked the cover and the treatment of Stratford Road Press's Romeo Crumb title.

Interesting cat book

Walking down another (empty) aisle I saw my second Christmas book of the show... two more than I had ever seen before! The Old Traditional Christmas will be under my tree next year as a gift for my first, current, and very expensive wife who loves the season. I'm a sucker for photography books and this is a great one... showing holiday pictures from the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

This will sell if they get good distribution in gift stores

You don't see too many legal self-help books beyond the Nolo Press booth, but one that was generating some interest was Immigration House Call With all the talk about our borders, I can see this book doing well.

He should bring this out in Spanish

Everyone knows I'm a sucker for a well-turned ankle (talk about an archaic expression!) Anyway I turned the corner and saw a stunning woman posing for pictures about her book, Secrets To Date By. Her name is Jula Jane (yes, Jula, not Julia) and this is no "dumb blonde" or your typical booth-babe. I have no doubt that she will take this book as well as her sequel Date Your Mate into six-figure success. And her figures are not so bad either!

Jula Jane and the author

Jula is an official Book-Babe (like you had any doubts?)

I mentioned Nolo Press earlier. They were the only publisher who told me that their business was good... and getting better. When I asked why they said it was because they publish to a niche where books are a great value compared to the alternative... lawyers. I was surprised that they were doing so well seeing how much free legal help is on the Internet, but they claim business is great... and I'm happy for them.

Sales reps from Nolo Press. Biz is good!

There were the usual gift items but The Chocolate Traveler is quirky enough to be a hit. The aim is to sell chocolate in bookstores... and I don't see why not. I sent him over the the Midpoint Trade booth in hopes that they would distribute him, but Julie told me later on that to do food you have to have an FDA inspected warehouse and theirs is not up to FDA code.

I hope this works for him

Talking about Midpoint, I went over to their booth and talked to Laurie and Julie. The distribution sector is also being hit hard by the economy and freight costs. However, Midpoint tells me that they have cherry-picked their inventory such that they have a good selection of publishers who know how to drive sales and how to work with a distributor. So many publishers think the distributor is going to do EVERYTHING. The truth is that most distributors work on the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of the sales come from twenty percent of the inventory... and it is those books that the distributor pours their heart, soul, and money into. I love Midpoint. Erik Kaampman (who you might remember sold $2.3 million dollars worth of the O.J. book,) runs a well-organized, fair, honest, and efficient distribution operation. If they are your distributor, you are one hell of a lucky publisher or author.

Laurie (left) and Julie. Major Book-alicious Babes!
No BEA is complete without a dog... and this year the only dog I saw was Soaring Cindy. It seems that Cindy has had a lot of TV and media experience and I expect that this book will sell fairly well. Kids and dogs... a recipe for sales.

Sweet dog... everyone loved her

Historically one of the most entertaining booths of the BEA belongs to the Scientology folks. This year they had two booths, one for their non-fiction... and one called Galaxy Press for their fiction titles. This year they were featuring a book on pirates so everyone was in costume... and as in past years, they had a jazz band for a couple of hours. People were dancing in the aisles and enjoying the party atmosphere.

Shiver me timbers!

You would expect that there would be many books on writing and literary subjects at BEA... and there are... but there never are many good ones. I was impressed with Peace Hill Press's book Writing With Ease. It was more of a text book than a trade book, and knowing how poorly students write, I think it will sell well in the school market.

How to write right!

I always like to look at covers and titles and try to come up with one that... just says it all. I don't know about you, but Tom Marioni's title works for me! I thought this was one of the best non-fiction covers I saw. I can't speak for the book since I didn't read it!

Drink and read!
I don't know why but humor books are a hard sell because most are not very humorous. However, I looked though A Collection of Emails and found it quite funny. Maybe if they had hired a professional cover designer they would have an easier time getting the distribution they were hoping to find at the show. If I knew someone in the hospital, I'd send them this book as a "cheer-up" gift.

A funny book with a horrible cover

I was hoping to get out of the show early in order to attend the annual Midpoint pizza party at the California Pizza Kitchen, but I had late afternoon appointments to see several publishers who were interested in Jaya123 and by the time I got to the party it was breaking up. I was told they had a huge crowd and that it was one of the best parties of the show. I was really sorry to have missed it but I did sign a number of new Jaya123 victims (oops, I mean customers). I went to the take-out section of the restaurant, ordered a small pizza and a Coke and took it across the street to my hotel to eat while watching TV. My feet were killing me... I was tired... and I fell asleep.


But february made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I learned that cold pizza for breakfast is really not all that good!

I got to the show early because I still had a lot to see... and Sunday is the best day to see it because it is usually close to empty. This year was no exception... it seemed even more empty than usual. I don't have a good feeling about how long BEA can continue as a three-day event.
I had heard some buzz about a new biz book called Decide Better and wanted to meet the author. It is published by Motivation Publishing which is putting some big dollars into the tome. They have one targeted to college students, to business people, and to the general population. They also have a daily calendar. If any new author is going to make it big, it will be Michael McGrath... assuming they hire a better book designer before the final print run... the interior looked terrible!

They should "decide better" on the inside design!

There are always some celebs that sign books at BEA and this year was no exception. I heard that Barbara Walters was there but didn't see her. The only person I saw was Alec Baldwin. I didn't stand in line but I watched how a professional actor... acts. He greeted each person and acted genuinely happy to see them and sign his name for them.

"Oh Mr. Baldwin I'm such a big fan!"

With all the emphasis on the environment I expected to see more books on "green" than I did. But one that was an absolute standout is a series of city guides from Greenopia. These folks have put together books on where to find "green" products in various cities. Their listings are NOT paid for and their research is extensive. I expect to see big things from this Santa Monica based publisher.

The tree-huggers will love these books!
I saw my old friend Janet Hardy at Greenery Press which specializes in books about BDSM. If you don't know what that is, you probably don't want to! Anyway, the author of The Human Pony was signing. I had no idea there was a book market of people who want to role-play as a pony. Weird stuff to me... but to each their own.

Off to the races?

This year there were far fewer vendors of what are called "sidelines"... all the things that are sold in bookstores but which are NOT books. There is no shortage of book-lights out there but the best vendor in my humble opinion is Mighty Bright . They have a new line of flexible lights called the XtraFlex2 that are just so cool you will want one... maybe two. I use mine all the time. No need to light up a whole room just to read a book. I don't know how much I save on my light bill but I'll bet it is far more than that cost of the light!

Great for late-night reading. I have one.

Another product I saw that I liked was the Ecowaterbottle . These are lightweight stainless steel bottles that will replace plastic and save energy and our landfills. They cost $10 and up, but they look good and are good for the planet. I wish they were selling them at the show as I would have bought one right then and there.

Good for the environment

The final gadget I saw that I liked was the Global Talking Translator . If you do a lot of traveling and you are language-challenged, this is the thing to have. You can get previous models from for about $60.

"Where is the bathroom?"

In years past there were hundreds and hundreds of computer-tech books. This year I saw only a few and only from one publisher (O'Riley). The only tech book that I thought had practical application for a wide audience was Content Rich . This book purports to teach people how to write for the internet so as to help sales. It is more of a manual on how to write web-based copy than it is a tome on search engine optimization. I'm sure a few people will read this book and then go into the web-write biz. If you do, let me know how it goes!

Could be a biz-op here?

It was getting late so I headed over the PMA area to discuss the show and say good-bye to people. One woman I met there was a publishing consultant named Amanda Willis who used to be in real estate but was now taking her marketing skills to the publishing biz. I'm not sure what her credentials are, but if being a Book-Babe can help, she will do very well.

Is selling books like selling houses? Ask Amanda.

I ended the show with the same attitude I had when I started it. "Why bother." It wasn't so much that there wasn't anything there (although there wasn't) it was that there was an overwhelming malaise that permeated the entire three days... it's like everyone knows there is going to be a train wreck but no one wants to believe it. Everyone knows that the business model is broken but no one seems to have a solution to fix it. The attitude is "If I can just get through today, maybe tomorrow will be better."

Everyone knows how to make books but no one seems to know how to make readers. There is plenty (too much) supply, but not enough demand. So what are we doing about it? We just keep bringing out more supply hoping (against hope) that maybe we'll stumble upon the one big book that will pay for all the losers on our lists.

Publishers are looking for ways to cut costs... move pre-press and production to India or China... but they are not looking for ways to increase demand.

Publishers have substituted copy-cat titles for imagination and creativity. You walk around the booths of the large houses and you see the same old, same old. If something "sells" for Publisher-X, it is not long until Publisher-Y brings out something similar.

I've said the same thing for the past fifteen years now. We don't need more books. We don't need better books. We more and better readers. We need to see ourselves as a business and not a public trust. We need to recognize that we compete for the time and dollar of the customer... and we have strong and powerful competitors... videos, computer games, films, TV, music, etc. We take it for granted that just because people can read and have to read, that they WANT to read. We try to sell books... we don't sell reading. We sell the steak... when we should be selling the sizzle.

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.