I have been coming to Book Expo America since 1990, back when it was called the ABA. I was with a small book publisher less than a year out of college when I was treated to seeing the book industry in action in Las Vegas. It was overwhelming, fun, and educational. In 2011, I find it a little less intense, but no less informative. It is still a special gathering place for a unique industry.
BEA is a great meeting spot for all those involved in making a living from the construction of words, the arrangement of photos and illustrations, and the artful packaging of content. Where else do literary agents, book stores, sales reps, marketers, news media, bloggers, publicists, editors, authors, distributors, publishers, photographers, illustrators, cover designers, binders, printers, wholesalers, foreign publishers, and wannabe writers and readers gather but at BEA?
The online world and all of its Facebook groups, chatrooms, and blogging carnivals can be a beautiful thing but nothing beats the synergy you feel when you physically get tens of thousands of people with a bonding interest together to talk shop. The ideas flow, the handshakes and hugs follow, and for a brief respite from the realities and demands of the world we can reimagine and recapture our love for books.
I met with longtime colleagues, friends, and associates. I ran into former co-workers and met new authors. I handed out hundreds of pamphlets about Planned Television Arts and collected about 200 business cards. At a show like this one must network his relationships but I also used the time to learn what’s new and to see where the industry is heading. Truth is, no one knows. Trends are forming but one can’t make any bets about book publishing five years from now. You can take the industry’s temperature today but the pulse rate could change next week.
I have a special place for BEA in my heart. It was at the annual convention in 2000 in Chicago that I met the woman I would marry. She worked in marketing for Random House Audio and I was a senior publicist for PTA at the time. We met at a book launch party for Liz Smith, a well-known gossip columnist at the time for New York Newsday. Liz even wrote about us in her column a little over a year later when we informed her we got engaged because we met at her party.
Some things in publishing remain. Young people are still entering the field. Publishers still can’t keep up with their own publishing schedule and most publishing staff still work long hours doing what they love. More titles are being published than ever before and publishers still want authors with platforms, who will buy books, and who have ideas for developing a book series. But publishing is changing by leaps and bounds: E-readers, self-publishing, social networking, and shrinking news media are driving the industry to the brink of developing new success models.
Only time will tell where the industry heads off to. Wherever it goes, if I can’t lead it, I will surely follow it!
Long live books!
*** Brian Feinblum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org