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net) The 2011 edition of BookExpo America, or as we call it in the trade “BEA,” has just concluded—the industry’s annual hoedown where booksellers, authors, agents, and publishers gather in the uninspiring setting of New York’s Javits Convention Center to talk shop, promote new books, and of course gossip. I’ve been attending these trade shows for a couple of decades now and I have come to realize that, industry transformations notwithstanding, some things about BEA remain comfortingly the same. Names change, but the cast of characters is familiar. Herewith a field guide to some typical denizens of BookExpo. You might have seen them at BEA2011; I’m sure we will see them at BEA2012. The Very Important Publisher (or Agent) This person is easily spotted because he’s one of a small number of people wearing a well tailored suit. He can usually be observed in one of two modes: striding purposefully down an aisle en route to his next meeting (careful to arrive a few minutes late) or standing in the middle of a busy aisle talking on his cellphone. There are of course also Very Importants who are female. Their suits are even better tailored. They speak more softly on their cellphones but you may hear a discreet rattle of their chunky gold jewelry. The Editor Editors come in all shapes and sizes, and can usually be seen flitting around from booth to booth chatting with their counterparts at other houses. They chat with agents too, but chewing the fat with their colleague/competitors is actually their favorite thing about BEA, because they get to do it so rarely at other times. The Editor will stand around his house’s booth for 10 or 15 minutes to show that he's pitching in, perhaps halfheartedly waving a couple of catalogues at passersby. Sometimes he will be actively chased off by salespeople or publicists who are actually trying to do business in the booth; otherwise he’ll wave the catalogues until he gets bored (this takes 15 to 20 minutes). Then it’s off for “a meeting in the Rights Center,” which lasts 12 minutes (tells Russian publisher reluctantly, “I don’t think the KGB Cookbook would work for us”). The Editor then takes a meandering course back to the booth, stopping to visit comrades at 5 or 6 houses, pause for coffee, maybe grab a hot ARC from Random or Little, Brown. Finally, he’s back at the booth—whoops, time for that lunch meeting. The Schnittman No publishing conference is complete without this person, who looms above the fray peering down on it through his black plastic glasses. He is easy to find, for he will appear on half a dozen panels on The Future of Something, lobbing provocative remarks that will light up Twitter like a pinball machine. If you see an individual lobbing equally provocative remarks but lacking the distinctive
A. some. Each of them grabs handfuls of the ephemera that BEA generates in such enormous quantities: pens. back away very quietly. waiting for a moment to buttonhole someone on the publisher’s staff. The Swagaholics may be booksellers or librarians. The First-Time Author Distinguished from the Wannabe by the key fact this author has a book coming out from an established publishing house. those attendees who don’t remember to watch out in the crowded thoroughfares. You may be looking at a Charkin. looking from side to side with a slightly dazed expression like a newly hatched chick. by the second afternoon of the show they have a look of grim determination. heaviest. it’s the cue for “Can I get anyone a coffee?” Take off for the remotest Starbucks in the hall and don’t hurry coming back. After the excitement of her panel discussion wears off the FTA begins to absorb the chilling fact of just how many other books are being published in the same season. but alas. a warning sign of poor reality testing). pins. shifting from foot to foot. en passant. towing a bulky roller suitcase that kneecaps. hastening toward the exit. where she should go or what she should do.T. floppy hats or other garments that suggest they're on safari. T-shirts. posters--and most prized.T. are are just people who have like Free Stuff.black glasses. jump drives. I can never tell whether these folks actually read or use any of the stuff they collect. after her second afternoon on the floor. someone who has bought a day pass in the hope of pitching his/her manuscript to editors on the show floor (in itself. or more dangerously. I have concluded. which can make it easier to tell—something like this: CHARLES "KIP" KLINGENDORFFER AUTHOR ANGELS IN MY ASPARAGUS PATCH He will lurk near the booth. Often he’ll have the title of his book on the badge as well. This might well be a self-published author. maybe the F. the same month. You may see the F. If you see one of these nearby. but they’re damned if they’ll leave the Javits until the rolly bag is full… The Wannabe Author Important note for younger book business staffers: Watch out for anyone whose badge says AUTHOR but does not feature the name of a publishing house. The Random Peddler . even the same week as hers. The First Time Author will typically blink a lot. or a botanical field trip. keychains. her blinking now replaced by wide-eyed alarm. She is excited to be at this much-touted conference but confused about what is going on. For some reason they often wear khaki shorts.A. is even lucky enough to have a “buzz book” or be on a panel. galleys—and stows it a tote bag (periodically emptied into the rolling suitcase). The whole thing seems rather…chaotic. the whites of his eyes slightly too visible. The Swagaholics These are frequently middle–aged couples who roam the floor together.
Needless to say. I was somewhat dismayed to find our booth—it was a table. there are always a few entrepreneurs who come to BEA to peddle something totally un-booklike—think flashlights. the American Booksellers Association (pause to shout out to my fellow curmudgeons who don’t believe that mashing together a non-word like “Expo” with a perfectly good word like “Book” is an improvement on either one. few likely customers for our wares made it past the carrot. If I went to the Consumer Electronics show. In addition to people peddling books as if they were some other kind of product. whose rolly-bag is full and whose bulging tote bags are now weighing them down like lead. Dummy of the Dummies guides.” I may get to find out. or navigationally challenged attendees were ever likely to tread. molded foot insoles. It seemed completely off the wall. pet supplies. would I bump into people dressed as Intel chips or iPods? I suppose in some dystopian future where “books” have been subsumed by “devices. This year my eye was caught by a booth selling. As a house with little seniority and less clout at the show. I realize I am being figurative—not metaphoric. On the other was the author of a self-published guide to juicing. everyone’s feet are killing them! (Have a thought for the poor Swagaholics. but synecdochic—in saying you can count on meeting a Carrot at BEA2012. There were also several aggressively cheerful youngsters who were dressed as fairy tale characters. really—in the most distant reaches of the exhibit hall. and magic-realist fiction. we weren’t selling a whole lot of our Turkish poetry and essay collections. classic reprints. I think. after 16 hours of marching up and down the concrete floors of the Javits.) The Carrot I’m not being figurative here. or something else of a rustic nature. we had been relegated to the backwaters with other unfavored exhibitors. nor that putting the mashup next to “America” can turn the latter into an adjective. The first time I attended Book Expo was so long ago it was called ABA. Maybe all trade shows are like this.) Newly employed by an incredibly literary small press that published things like poetry in translation. promoting I’m not sure what. for I have never attended a BEA when there wasn’t at least one person in a foam suit or other cartoonlike getup. But I digress. Our neighbor on one side was a guy who sold self-hypnosis tapes—Lose Weight While You Sleep. . or citizens of Dogpatch. where only the most dedicated. until I realized. I went off to the old Washington convention center full of zeal to spread the word about our brilliant list. wiper blades.This person is sort of Yin to the Carrot’s yang (see below). This year I spotted someone who I thought at first was a giant banana. The urge to market books or other “product” by dressing shills in outlandish costumes seems to be a constant of human nature. but turned out to be embodying Mr. desperately bored. etc. who had hired someone to walk up and down the aisles dressed as a carrot.
Copyright 2011 by Peter Ginna .