When you stroll through a bookstore the author is not standing in the aisles waiting to tell you about his or her book and to staunchly defend why you should take their book home with you. The book cover, book jacket copy, and the book itself must do the talking. But at Book Expo America, the largest annual US book convention that was held at the end of May in New York City, imagine what it was like to have had hundreds and thousands of book advocates ready to lobby on behalf of the books that filled the Javits Convention Center.
I’ve been to many BEAs since I first entered book publishing in 1989. It was 25 years ago that I attended my first one, in Las Vegas. Just 15 years ago I met a woman at BEA in Chicago who would become my wife. This year I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and meeting new people who feel as passionate as I do about books, words, and language.
As you walk from booth to booth, exhibitors exhort their wares by selling you on something catchy and inviting. It could be a stunning book cover, a catchy title, a famous author, or simply a book that sounds intriguing, alluring, and significant. Some are better at whispering a book’s appeal than others, but the pattern practiced by the authors and publishers is distinctive. It gets harder and harder to walk by without being solicited – and even harder when a book truly calls out to you. But alas, the weight of carrying all of these free books is crushing.
It is interesting to see how people chat up a book as if trying to sell someone on a vacation package, a gadget, or a household item. Even when a book is free, salesmanship is required. People don’t have enough arms to cart it all away – and they won’t ever have the time to read what they snatched up.
We tend to take free books because we think we’ll like them – and if we don’t, we risked nothing. We also think we’ll gift them to others. But then we wonder if the lugging effort is worth it. We may even grab the freebies thinking we’ll resell them or donate them to a needy library or school. These well-intentioned activities end up filling a cluttered bookcase of books that neither get read nor shared, sold nor donated. We’re collecting paperweights.
BEA used to have a lot more book and galley giveaways. They were cut down due to cost, smaller show traffic, and the ease of using e-galleys. But people still love getting books in their hands, especially a signed copy.
Between the official autographing session – and the authors who signed at booths – at least a thousand authors signed books. Hundreds of thousands of copies left the building and will soon circulate to serve as word-of-mouth tools. From free, the hope and expectation is that sales will come about.
BEA is the honeymoon phase, getting people excited and filling the room with wild optimism and hope. If these free books travel far, the book industry will do very well.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015
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