If there is ever a better example of how simultaneously big and small the publishing industry can feel than attending Book Expo America, I’m curious to see/attend/experience it. After having spent the last month and a half preparing for this behemoth publishing industry conference and dedicating most of my time from last Wednesday through Saturday working at it, I can’t think of anything that exemplifies these contradictory feelings more than BEA.
Book Expo America is an exhausting feat, to say the least. Most anyone who has an involvement with the publishing industry attends: publishers, booksellers, press, bloggers, and librarians. I spent three days standing at The Overlook Press’s booth, tucked between some university presses and a Chinese printing company. Hovering above me in all directions were giant posters pronouncing the biggies in the industries–Penguin, Macmillan, and HarperCollins, oh my.
Press, librarians, and booksellers roamed the seemingly endless aisles while the exhibitors tried to attract them to check out our wares. At some points I felt like a carnival barker: “Come one come all, young and old, to experience all Overlook has to offer. There’s the amazing pinup girl. The vintage starlet. And many more. Step right up.”
An exchange of goods happens at BEA. Exhibitors want booksellers to buy their books and the press to write about them. Those walking the aisles want free stuff–nothing gets BEA attendees more excited than a free tote bag. Everyone trades business cards. It’s all very businesslike, as you would expect from any industry conference. Occasionally you break away from the usual song-and-dance and make a real connection with a person, endlessly rambling about what books you are reading right now and how excited and overwhelmed you are to be at BEA for the first time. That’s when you realize there is a reason we all came to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center at nine on a Saturday morning when the weather is beautiful outside: we love books. We’re passionate about books. We still believe in books.
While walking through the convention center on our way to The Overlook Press booth, the author of the forthcoming Pinups for Pitbulls, Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin, remarked to me that coming here showed her the industry is still thriving. I hadn’t thought of that until she said it. It’s hard not to feel weighed down by news of publishing companies merging, Amazon bullying Hachette, and print media outlets shuttering. The industry is shrinking. Yet, thousands of people crowded into the convention center for the sole purpose of finding out what the next big book will be. It wasn’t just the industry anymore, with BookCon (like a Comic Con for book nerds) drawing some ten thousand people on Saturday to attend panels and try to catch a glimpse of their favorite authors. There is still a place for books and book lovers. Believe me, I know–I was stuck inside a claustrophobic space with all of them for three days.