Monday, May 23, 2016

BEA Diary 2016

By Alan Canton...  with invaluable editorial assistance from Mayapriya Long
[Note: Click on any pix to see it enlarged.]

Dear BEA Diary:

I can't believe this was the 20th BEA that I've covered. While I'm missing some of the earlier ones, the last fifteen years or so are at the end of this electronic fish-wrap. And almost all of those earlier BEAs were held in Chicago, just as this one was. However, there was a difference: Size!

But I'm ahead of myself here.

Do you know how cold it can be in Chicago for someone from sunny California? How cold is the North Pole? The answer is "warmer than Chicago was last week! And what is this rain all about? It does not rain in California in May (not that we couldn't use it!) I found myself standing in freezing drizzle waiting for my car service to show up at the airport to take me to the hotel I booked (Hilton Garden Inn.)

I guess everyone outside of California knows to bring a warm coat to Chicago! So if you don't have a warm coat, what is the next best thing? Good booze.

As usual, I come to the BEA to cover it for other media we contract with (mostly Asian and European) but to also prowl around looking for web clients for our NewMedia Create web design service. This year we are rolling out a new platform called "Less is More" which are shorter, less expensive websites for authors and publishers. These sites go up in a day or two.

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I took a quick shower, grabbed about an hour of ZZZs, threw on some clean clothes and headed off to the annual IPPY party. But wait! How would I keep from freezing to death before I could get a cab to pick me up? Well Chicago is prepared for that because on every block there is a least one official warming center... and on my block was the Rock Bottom Bar.

When you order two shots of straight whiskey in most bars the bartender looks at you like you just landed from Planet Zardo. Well I came from drinking stock, not sipping stock. How this country went from twelve year old Scotch to 'a glass of white wine' I'll never know but I think it has contributed to the continuing downgrade of our county from world leader to world wus... but that's another story.

The first shot of Maker's Mark was not really for me... it was for my old, dear friend Dan Pointer, the man who virtually invented the 'small press.' Dan passed to the other side a few months ago. We had a drink at every one of the past BEAs... all twenty that I attended.

I put the shot glass on the edge of the bar, held up the other and toasted my old drinking buddy from those BEAs long ago. I said quietly, "Say hello to Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Salinger for me in the Russian Tea Room, wherever you are!" I could see Dan sitting there next me with his infectious smile.

As the booze warmed my body I saw the level of the bourbon drop in the other glass and I knew I was with my old friend for one last time. It was our last drink together...  there would be no others.


People need closure. I wiped away the tears in my eyes, took the glass from the edge of the bar, downed what was left, and walked out into the cold to hail a cab. When you feel sad you don't much feel the cold.

Good-bye to an old and dear friend, Dan Poynter

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I've known Jerry Jenkins almost as long as Dan Poynter. He's always been a trusted friend. Jerry's company had their annual IPPY at the Willis Tower this year (aka Sears Tower.) It was good to see Jerry again and meet with some of the IPPY winners.

The author (left) and Jerry Jenkins 

The view from the Willis Tower was incredible... and even better after a little more warming tonic. At one point the fog rolled in and we were above the clouds. We could see the stars but not the buildings and streets below.

View from Willis Tower close to sunset

It was not a long party... over by around 10 PM and I was pretty tired (but not feeling much pain.) I didn't see any cabs in the area so I used the Uber app. A car came in about three minutes. It's a great service... if you have not tried it you should.

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The BEA convention hall seems like a million miles from the hotel district so they run free buses back and forth. And usually the busses are packed by the time they hit the last hotel for a pickup. My hotel was the last pickup and I expected I'd have to stand for the entire ride. But the bus was half empty (or half full if you are trying to 'spin' this!) Well, that's not how it is supposed to be. Something was amiss.

I found out when I arrived. The crowds just were not there. Where were they? I didn't know. Maybe they would come later or the next day? All I know is that I didn't have to wait in line to get my BEA badge because... there was no line!

I was still half asleep so I went to get some coffee and whom do I run into? It was my old friend Brian Jud who runs a terrific organization for publishers involved in non-bookstore (special) sales called APSS. Brian is a master bookseller and the information he provides his members is priceless. If you sell to niche markets this is the only organization you ever need to join.

Brian Jud of Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS)

In past BEA's a well-known porn publisher called Ellora's Cave would have a large booth with busty babes and  beefcake biceps, but this year they decided not to exhibit. The only other erotic publisher I came across was Cleis Press. I liked the sign; I thought it was an upcoming book but it's not. Anyway you should check out their list if you are into sex (is anyone not?)... they cover it all... straight, gay, kink, S & M... you name it they have a book on it.

Stephanie Lippitt of Cleis (no, not Cialis... but same concept!)

I didn't see a lot of religious books this year. In the old days there would be a ton of Christian publishers and even a few non-Christian belief foundations at the show. Not this year (are you starting to see a theme here?) I did see one interesting book. Buddha’s Light Publications offers quality translations of classical Buddhist texts as well as works by contemporary Buddhist teachers and scholars. They say they embrace Humanistic Buddhism, and promote Buddhist writing which is accessible, community oriented, and relevant to daily life. I'm more into Krishna Consciousness myself, but I've always found the Buddhist approach to life rather interesting.

Ven. Miao Hsi for Buddha's Light Publications, USA

There were very few small press booths this year... for good reason... most small presses can't afford BEA space rental. So instead there was a section of tables for small publishers, and it was right up front (as opposed to being in Mongolia as in past shows.) There were only a dozen or so of them and most were novels like this one from Vanessa Leigh Hoffman. I have no idea what it is about because she didn't put anything on her website about it.

I'm not sure what it is about but I liked the cover

Some authors just perplex me when their website is not in English yet they are exhibiting to an English-speaking audience at BEA. Yolanda Ledesma made great use of her booth by having a life-sized pix of herself. If anyone can figure out what her book is about let me know!

She only had a table, but it got a lot of attention. 

I don't usually spend much time with kiddie books... I find most of them the same. But this one by Wild Ivy Publishing had a good message. Caring, compassionate Billy wants to help a friend buy a backpack to stay organized for school, but how will he get the money? This book teaches children social responsibility and kindness while showing that kids can earn money by WORKING!

Ivy Pate shows one of her books.

When I think of kids these days I think of them playing mindless video games. Well not twelve year old Thomas Aaron. I don't know what Magyka is about because again here is an author without a web page. However, it looks like a Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of book. I thought the cover was terrific. Honestly, how many twelve year olds write books? It gets a mention here for that alone!

The young author of Magyka

Not only were fewer publishers represented but the crowds had also vanished. Normally aisles are, if not elbow to elbow, at least rather full with visitors looking at new books. Not this year. I don't know why but Reed (the folks who put on BEA) did get out in front of the issue and stated their Show Daily publication that the this year had 20% fewer booths than last year. I noticed that a lot of publishers and distributors bought half the space that had purchased in New York in previous years.

Were where the people? They were not here in Chicago, that's for sure!

In previous years all of this space would have been sold. 

There are lots of interesting booths at BEA, but a few are way more interesting then others. Some people put a lot of work and imagination into their little two day sales "office" and one of the best was Oblation Papers and Press of Portland Oregon. They call themselves "a 19th century print shop designing wedding invitations for the 21st century, offering fine papers, artful cards and ephemera." Their products were beautiful. I will buy from their online store.

Jennifer Rich of Oblation Papers

Every journalist who attends BEA is a sucker for someone in costume. This year I saw very few authors willing to go 'all in' and dress as their character. Mario Garnet is the author of The Wizard's Handbook and really enjoyed the roll he was playing.

Not exactly Harry Potter!

There were a few small technology booths this year, most of them selling digital book conversion services. But there was one that was very unique. They could take a book and couple it with an iPhone app to make it somewhat interactive. Unfortunately I didn't get the name of the company that did the app as I was so taken with the demo. I thought I'd find out by looking up the author and book, but no luck.

Albert The Confused Manatee is the book by Christopher Straub that is also an app.

There are always off-shore printers at BEA, but most are from China. This year one of the larger booths was from Turkey. I've never known anyone to ever have their book printed there... which is probably why Turkey came to BEA!

Nice booth... no one in it.

I was surprised that there was so many adult coloring books this year. The folks at KaiserCraft also sells a kit with terrific glitter-ized gel inks. They are from Australia and have a large assortment of craft products. These pens are really cool... try them out if you get a chance.

Tahli Smales of KaiserCraft

Again, another coloring book. These from Stuff2Color were also nice, but I was captivated by the huge sign they brought with them. You could not miss this booth!

Lacey Hornecker showing her books. If you are going to have a sign, have a BIG one!

Just as there were fewer publishers, there were fewer marketing consultants at this show. Digital Natives looks like a one-stop shop for everything related to digital media... branding, social media, apps, etc. They have done some nice work and seemed rather personable. Don't they look like the perfect, young, newlywed couple? I thought so but they are not related. I asked!

Ben Guttmann and Ellie Eckert of Digital Natives Group

Librarians have always been a part of BEA, if for no other reason then to score free stuff for their library. However, this year I saw many more of them than I've seen in NY the past few years and I'm not sure why. BEA was not a big draw for book buyers... but the library folks came out in droves!

A lot of librarians attended BEA this year

There are always a lot of kids books at BEA, but I rarely see books targeted to parents. The Whole Child program covers all aspects of child development: cognitive, social, environmental, creative, health, etc. It's a series of program-books for parents. Looks like a good idea if they can get some press and distribution on it.

Kasey Beinlich, Valeriya Kratsova, Kalya Bachman of Whole Child

There is always an impersonator at the BEA. In past years it was the Pope, Obama and the First Lady, Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc. Well this year we got The Donald.

He's everywhere!

Each year the New York Times comes to BEA with yet another new idea to boost the number of paid subscribers. I always try to help them out because I truly believe that each community needs a local paper to do investigative reporting and that the nation especially needs the NYT. This year they are going into the virtual reality (VR) biz via an app on the iPhone that is placed in a cardboard box you hold up to your eyes. It was a video of a porpoise swimming in a pool. Big deal. Had it been a girl in a bikini maybe they would have had more interest in the offering!

The NYT is going into the VR market... with a porpoise... and good luck with all that!

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. They say their mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain their efforts. They collect all of the books that publishers don't want to ship back and then sell them to raise funds. It's a great idea.

Merril Spec, Bookstore Manager of Housing Works

Each year someone brings their entire store to BEA via a bus or a truck or (one year) a covered wagon! This year we had both a bus and a truck. They got a lot of traffic. I guess that if you exhibit at a lot of shows this is a cost-effective method of doing it.

A company called Quarto.

A children's publisher called Readbrightly owned by Random House

Even the autographing area was often devoid of people. In previous years this area would be packed with book lovers (most often librarians and store owners) seeking to get free books or to have a few words with a favorite author. Where was everyone?

Do you see lots of empty space? Yes you do.

This has to be the year of the adult coloring book! The concept is that coloring will help you relieve stress. Maybe it is true, but for me it increases stress because I become unglued when my pencil strays beyond the lines. We were taught to keep within the lines!  I swear it seemed as if every other booth at this year's BEA was a coloring book? Who has the time for this? Not me, that's for sure. No doubt this is yet another 'flash-in-the-pan' that hits the book biz every so often. Anyway, I loved Blue Star's booth.

You just have to love the backdrop here.

The large publishers usually have large posters if they have their booth along a main aisle. I really liked this graphic and I was not the only one as a lot of people were taking pictures of it. What was strange is that in the booth I could not find a copy of the book! Chronicle is a very good West coast publisher.

I love cats. So sue me!

Sometimes a cover and title just go so well together... but you don't often find it from a first-time author/publisher. "Two small-town Alabama boys, Aleks and Adam, grow up in the midst of Civil War reenactments at the Fort, but when they discover a time window in the backyard of The Griggs House, their real-life 1860s adventure begins." YA's (young adults) love historical fiction and this will be a winner.

Author Sheila Slavich. Great cover, great title

This was the most interesting book I found at the BEA this year. Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. Atlas Obscura revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden, and the mysterious. Every page expands a sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is. And with its compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, surprising charts, maps for every region of the world, it is a book you can open anywhere. But with caution: It’s almost impossible not to turn to the next entry, and the next, and the next. This is a great book from a great publisher

Liz DeBell showing off what I thought was the most interesting book at the show.

According to their web-blurb "BookBub is a free service that helps millions of readers discover great deals on acclaimed ebooks while providing publishers and authors with a way to drive sales and find new fans. Members receive a personalized daily email alerting them to the best free and deeply discounted titles matching their interests as selected by our editorial team. BookBub works with all major ebook retailers and devices, and is the industry’s leading ebook price promotion service." I'd never heard of this but I'm going to check it out.

Briana Duff and Caitlin Ellis of BookBub

So-called 'sidelines' (non-book stuff sold in bookstores) used to be a big thing at BEA... there would be aisle upon aisle of them. But with the demise of retail outlets the vendors have moved over to the gift shows. I was happy to meet the people from Green Toys which are 100% made-in-the-USA out of recycled materials.

Amy Shoemaker of Green Toys

A high-end Chinese printing company named Artron was showing this HUGE and amazing picture book. It was not for sale. If it was you would need a crane to lift it! It was terrific and I enjoyed looking at it. I tried to get more info but the reps had limited command of English and could not figure out why I was taking a pix of the book!

The reps from Artron Printing

You always see great graphics at BEA but I thought The Good Dog was 'best in show' for artwork. An 8-year-old boy named Ricky finds a puppy on the side of the road and decides to adopt him without his parents’ permission. Mom and dad agree to let the puppy, Tako, stay under one condition: he must be a good dog and always follow the rules. Tako wants to stay with the family more than anything; but when a competing businessman sets out to secretly sabotage the family’s bakery, the only way Tako can protect them is to break the rules. Ultimately, Tako and Ricky’s family discover sometimes you have to be a little bit bad to be very good. It's a good story with super graphics.

Jessica Salans of Coralstone Press

I've never figured it out. Every year there are tons of remainder companies who take booth space at BEA and every year their section of the hall is devoid of visitors. It is no secret that used bookstores are doing well... they can buy a book for a quarter and sell it for $2.00... a pretty good markup. So where are all the used bookstore buyers?

Always at BEA... never a crowd

The London Review of Books had a small booth at the show but it had one of the best crowd-draws in the building. It was an old typewriter that had been modified to capture sign-ups on an iPad for their newsletter. Everyone wanted to try it out and if you did you also got a well-made tote bag. It was a hit.

The best sign-up gimmick I've seen in a long time!

As I was getting ready to leave the show I tried to come up with a song-title that summed up this BEA. Then I turned a corner and I saw the Beatles and it came to me...  the movies A Hard Days Night and Help!

Or maybe "The Long and Winding Road?"
I thought it was a good show. There was a good mix of publishers, even if some of the majors decided not to come (like Houghton Mifflin.) But the show really needed some help... perhaps a big-name author or some other personality. Thus, for the vendors that I spoke with it was a "hard day's night."

Reed did one major thing right this year. They made it slam-dunk easy to get a press credential. In the past years they made journalists like me and Mayapriya Long jump through a ton of hoops to be approved.. we had to show tear-sheets of published material that was specifically about the show. You had to be re-vetted each year! It was a PITA and each year some of my media friends basically said "screw it," did not want to deal with Reeds process, dropped out and didn't come.

This year, Reed took the position that anyone who was vetted last year would receive a press credential by just asking for it. Wow. What a difference. I saw a lot more writers covering the show than in the past, so I'm guessing that they have liberalized the credential process for first-time writers. Of course, as I've said many times over the years in this electronic fish-wrap the BEA has become more of a media show than a selling show so it makes sense for Reed to encourage media attendees... and that has not been the practice in the past.

I think Reed worked their buns off to put on a good show and I was sorry to see the attendance so low. Judging by how the aisles were not packed and how there were no lunch lines, my bet is that there were no more than 10,000 attendees. One bright spot for Reed is that they said there were a lot of first-time attendees mostly from the midwest who would not spend the money on the NY show.

Reed Exhibitions is the prima donna of impresarios. I don't think anyone on the planet can plan, organize, staff, and bring off a large trade show better than Reed. I go to a number of them and Reed outdoes them all.

The move from New York to Chicago was a gamble. Reed took the bet that publishers would find Chicago less expensive and would be eager to meet book-buyers who would not travel to costly NYC. Well, they lost that bet because in the first place Chicago is not less expensive and in the second place for New York publishers it was a major hassle. As mentioned there were many first-timers at the show, but I don't know if they were buyers. Anyway...

The best way to judge if a show is successful is to see how much space is bought next year. I hope that with the extra "sales' day of BookCon (which we didn't cover this year because we did not have a media outlet that would pay us to) maybe BEA can return to its former glory. I've always thought that if the show were held in a less expensive convention town like Orlando or Vegas or Atlanta or Dallas, where Reed could charge less per square foot for hall floor space and where lodging was more reasonable perhaps the show would attract more exhibitors and attendees. 

Thanks for reading this... a lot of work went into it and I hope your time was well spent. Below are Diaries of previous shows, should you be interested.

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You MAY (and are encouraged to) share the link to this piece or reprint any part of it without prior permission so long as you use the following attribution:

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner
New Media Create
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA

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Per usual, if you have comments or corrections, please send them to bea-diary at adams-blake dot com