Trade Shows, Authors, and Expectations

Image: Provided by Frankfurt Buchmesse, photographer Bernd Hartung
Image: Provided by Frankfurt Buchmesse (coming 14-18 October 2015), photographer Bernd Hartung

What If We’re Asking Too Much of Our Book Fairs?

Jael McHenry
Jael McHenry

When our good colleague Jael McHenry wrote What You Would Have Learned at BEA earlier this month, she did a fine job of listing some of the common views and assumptions among many writers about the industry’s major trade shows. Excerpting here:

If you’re an aspiring author, there’s pretty much no reason to go…If you’ve ever needed a physical representation of what it’s like to be a reader, this is it — rows and rows, tables and tables, yards and yards (that feel like miles) of books…Publishers place their bets. You can preview half of next year’s bestseller lists by looking at the BEA posters and displays.

I’m going to cordially disagree with McHenry on all this.

Most easily: What writer worth her or his pixels doesn’t need a good representation of what it’s like to be a reader?

In the UK, in 2012, there were more books published than there were in the 18th century, the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century combined. –Samira Ahmed, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row

Let’s put some background into place, and then I will argue the following:

  1. It is important for an aspiring author to see a trade show (if it can be done without too much expense and inconvenience) because our commercialized world of arts and letters is encapsulated at these massive transactional events.
  2. There is a chance for our trade shows to shift their own author-responsive focus from an admirable but perhaps less practical focus on independent writers to something that serves the needs of traditional authors (who come to the shows already) in terms of marketing skills that indies wield more frequently.

Now, let’s look at these events for some background.

BEA proper was followed this year by a two-day BookCon that drew a total 18,000 fans of books (readers!) to the Javits Center. Image: Porter Anderson
BEA proper was followed this year by a two-day BookCon that drew a total 18,000 fans of books (readers!) to the Javits Center. Image: Porter Anderson

Trading in Trade Shows

There are three major trade shows for Western publishing:

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh
Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

I know these operations well. Porter Anderson Media is a Media Partner with LBF and I enjoy my contact with that staff annually. At BEA, I programmed the show’s Author Hub last year, and this year I was program director for the International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF) Digital Book Conference that opened the trade show. At Frankfurt, I’m very pleased to program special events in the Business Club facility. (If you’ll be in Frankfurt this year, do ask me about the Business Club, it’s terrific.)

Each of these three big shows is quite distinctive in its approach to independent authors.

  • About three years ago, London Book Fair, under Jacks Thomas’ direction, led the way in creating activities for independent authors at London Book Fair. Its AuthorLounge, originally programmed by Authoright, was the first of these majors to lay on a complex, busy round of panels and programs for authors. Now called Author HQ, the program is still up and running, quite robust. It stands as primarily a lecture- and meeting-area, busily programmed. It made the move with the rest of the trade show to the Olympia London facility this past April.

I walk the convention floor for impromptu meetings, greeting and bumping into publishing buddies. I snag catalogs of interest and the occasional galley giveaway. I stop at booth signings by our clients. It’s all about face-to-face connections. Nothing will ever completely replace that. — Donald Maass

  • At BookExpo in New York, Reed Exhibitions’ Steve Rosato followed up, working diligently to produce Author Hub. This year called Author Marketplace, the offering for independent authors was again a chance to have a table of  your own for the life of the show (five days this year — it included BookCon) as a place for meetings, a base of operation, and a showcase area of your own on the trade-show floor. The proposition is quite different at BEA from what it is at LBF. At LBF, the author arrives and sees panels and presentations about various aspects of craft and business, all for the price of admission to the floor, about £30 or $47.50. At BEA, the author who wants a place in Author Marketplace pays, and quite substantially, for the table: $1,720, which included a BEA Author Autographing Session. There has been a one-day self-publishing conference at BEA, as well, called uPublishU.
  • Frankfurt’s approach, under the good work of Juergen Boos, Holger Volland, Thomas Minkus and many others, so far has been primarily conference-oriented (this year, the good Michelle Turnbach is working on it), with a line of events for German-speaking authors and, last year, an afternoon’s half-day conference for English-speaking authors put together by Authoright — I assisted in programming and moderating some of that English-language afternoon, which had a fine turnout. There was also a good series of sessions on the Saturday developed by our friends Edward Nawotka, Hannah Johnson and others at Publishing Perspectives’ stage. Plans for this coming October are still in the works.

Each of these major trade shows has, in recent years, tried to accommodate at least some of the interests and needs of independent authors.

I’m stressing independent authors because traditionally published authors, a whole lot of them, have always been at these shows. At BEA alone, more than 600 traditionally published authors were engaged in various activities this year — autographing, speaking, answering questions.

From left, BEA's Steve Rosato, LBF's Jacks Thomas, FBM's Juergen Boos
From left, BEA’s Steve Rosato, LBF’s Jacks Thomas, FBM’s Juergen Boos

To what purpose? The publishing trade show is an event designed to have publishers advertise their upcoming releases to booksellers and influencers. Like buyers at major outlets, the mom and pop who own that bookshop you loved as a kid in Minnetonka might fly to New York and roam the huge floor at BEA in order to get copies of upcoming books they might order for the bookshop back home. So will the operators of major book clubs and other outfits that move large numbers of books, influence their sales, blog about their excitement. And the industry wants them to see the upcoming wares.

Those influential people like meeting authors, getting their autographs. This is the core mission of the trade show: get the traditionalist publishers and the traditionalist booksellers / book-mongers / book-talkers /  book mavens (to use our friend Bethanne Patrick’s moniker) to come together. Oh, yes, and press people, too: it can be useful to have someone who writes in the press about books to meet an author, grab a copy, get the background, right? Most fundamentally, booksellers are ordering books for their stores. Publishers are taking orders. Business is at hand.

BEA’s categories for attendance include:

  • Bookstores;
  • Retailers;
  • Librarians;
  • Educators;
  • American Bookseller Association members;
  • Digital service providers;
  • Literary and rights agents;
  • Authors;
  • Publishing (house) personnel;
  • Non-editorial media members (cable TV programmers, for example);
  • Publishing consultants (my Porter Anderson Media is such a company);
  • Book-related non-profits;
  • Film and television people;
  • Book club operators;
  • “Friends, family and children” approved to accompany accredited attendees.

A much wider net than you might have imagined, right?

As McHenry put it, “Publishers place their bets. You can preview half of next year’s bestseller lists by looking at the BEA posters and displays.”

That’s exactly the idea and the purpose of the trade show.

[Read more…]


The Dreaded Training Debate: What If It Can’t Be Taught?

Image - iStockphoto: User2547783c_812
Image – iStockphoto: User2547783c_812

No, this is not about talent vs. skill.

Let’s just set that aside for today, shall we? There’s no need to engage the ineffable this time.

“Like toadstools,” one seasoned observer called it in a note to me recently — this sudden proliferation of “author services,” especially the ones there to teach you, instruct you, train you. They’re everywhere, these kitchen-sink companies, and many of them seem to be peddling (or claiming they do) parts of the job we’re not even sure can be taught.

Provocations image by Liam Walsh
Provocations image by Liam Walsh

Today’s provocation is about this booming industry on all sides of us. And about expectations in a tight market. Expectations that it can all be learned.

It’s prompted by a recent column at The Bookseller in London from the literary agent who writes for us there from time to time as “Agent Orange.” As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not fond of this use of a pseudonym. But I have verified that this is a prominent, working agent on the UK scene. We’ve spoken about this. And he or she writes (very well) under that pen name because she or he fears retaliation. The industry might strike back.

In Vanity fair?, Agent Orange is, as usual, supportive of writers. (After all, the job is to advocate, negotiate, and agitate for them, he or she is a literary agent.) But those many, damp-eyed, Kleenex-clutching “never been a better time to be a writer!” people among us — and they do love that exclamation point — might be heard gasping with alarm at Agent Orange’s opener:

On the face of it, it is paradoxical that while it’s never been easier for authors to get their books into print, there has never been a worse time to be an author.

The explanation for what she or he means:

Author earnings are down and the number of writers able to make a living out of their work is at an all-time low. But perhaps that is because there have never been so many people making money off writers.

There has never been a worse time to be an author. — Agent Orange

Granted, there are opposing viewpoints we respect here. Hugh Howey and “Data Guy,” for example, have issued their sixth quarterly Author Earnings report. They’re focused on proving that a career in self-published ebooks is viable, remember. And they again see what they interpret as ample evidence to support their promotion of this route as a worthwhile alternative to traditional publishing, writing:

What does this report show? Higher ebook prices from publishers continue to erode their market share of ebook sales. Drastically. When you read industry reports on the health of ebook sales, keep in mind that these reports are discussing a mere 14% of the ebooks that show up on Amazon’s bestseller lists. That’s it. Indie ebooks account for 26%. Daily unit sales of self-published titles are now greater than the Big 5 publishers, combined. And indie authors are taking home more earnings from readers every day than those same authors, combined.

Some of us, however, are detecting a tonal shift in the independent sector’s palaver overall. [Read more…]


‘Take Charge of Your Own Book': Writing a Personal God

Image from the book trailer for Amish Tripathi's The Shiva Trilogy
Image from the book trailer for Amish Tripathi’s The Shiva Trilogy

‘One of those guys who refused to enter temples’

Bear with me, I want to quote an author to you at a little length:

My books are historicals. They’re set in the India of 4,000 years ago…My books are based on a premise that Lord Shiva was a real historical man, who lived 4,000 years ago, and his grand adventures gave rise to the myth of the god. So I’ve written on a Hindu god. But I was an atheist, eight or nine years ago. Today, I’m a very devoted Shiva worshipper. But eight or nine years ago, I was a committed atheist. I was one of those guys who refused to enter temples. It’s been a really long and strange journey.

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh
Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

On Wednesday, the London Book Fair’s opening conference — called Publishing for Digital Minds (#PDMC15) — held an advance event. Conference Director Orna O’Brien and her staff in London, supported by Midas PR’s Chris McCrudden, staged an eight-hour series of events, a “Virtual  Stream” that included events via Google Hangout, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. Here’s the full list of events. The day started at 5 a.m. Eastern and was finished by 1 p.m.

I was asked to handle the 90-minute India segment on Twitter. We started with a 45-minute interview with Hachette India’s Managing Director Thomas Abraham and with Penguin Random House India’s Children’s Publisher Hemali Sodhi. These were terrific interviewees, beautifully prepared, firing off tantalizing details of one of the most vast and complex books markets on Earth.

  • Sodhi, for example, knew precisely how to tell me the reach of the young readers’ market in India: “More than half our population,” she said, “is under 25 years old.”
  • And Abraham nailed the promise of mobile reading on smartphones in India: “Look at the potential, Porter: The number of telephone subscribers in India rose to 970.97 million at the end of December 2014.”

I would interview Sodhi and Abraham again in a heartbeat. They were efficient, personable, fascinating, and they were all that in what is actually a difficult format, the live Twitter interview with two simultaneous guests and a host.

But it was yet another of those nearly-one-billion Indian phone subscribers whose chat with me was even more compelling. And for a very different reason. At its heart — maybe in his heart — lies my provocation for you today.

‘An earthy and frankly rather cool God’

Amish Tripathi
Amish Tripathi

The second 45-minute segment of my India section was a Twitter interview with an Indian author named Amish Tripathi. If you’re Indian, you know him simply as Amish. On Twitter, he is @AuthorAmish with more than 90,000 followers and not even 5,000 tweets on record. I probably made him tweet more than he’s ever done in 45 minutes.

I want to bullet out for you the technical facts of this man’s writerly success quickly, so you have the context.

  • Amish Tripathi is 40, based in Mumbai, married and a father.
  • He has three books to his name: The Immortals of MeluhaThe Secret of the NagasThe Oath of the Vayuputras.
  • These three books form his Shiva Trilogy. The first book in his new Ram Chandra series is to be out later this year, The Scion of Ikshvaku.
  • The Shiva Trilogy has sold more than 2.2 million copies, bringing in more than US$9.4 million to date.
  • Film projects are in the works on The Shiva Trilogy both in India and in Hollywood.

Tripathi and his agent self-published his first book, The Immortals of Meluha. Reports say it was rejected as many as 40 times by publishers. “I stopped counting after 20,” he tells me in our interview. With a lot of inventive presentational marketing — high-end physical publication of a sample chapter given away free in bookstores, etc. — Tripathi and his agent leveraged the 5,000 self-published copies enough to draw the eye of the publisher Westland, which now has bragging rights on a very smart move.

For the record, Tripathi isn’t really a self-publishing story, by which I mean he’s not about self-publishing and doesn’t want to be. Self-publishing 5,000 copies to draw the attention he needed to Book 1 with some aggressive, smart marketing was the way to what he wanted, a contract: the means, not the end. This is something I wish more of our authors today could consider instead of falling into the distraction of self-publishing as some sort of crusade. But that’s for another provocation. Suffice it to say that when I referred to his self-publishing phase, he made it clear that it was just that: a phase: [Read more…]


If the ‘Elastic Mind’ Snaps: A Lenten Lullaby


Image - IStockphoto: nastco
Image – IStockphoto: nastco


This will be my last post until Monday, April 13,2015.

No, not me.  (You wish.)

Kathy Pooler
Kathy Pooler

No, that’s a colleague, the memoirist Kathy Pooler. She’s a good, cold-weather Catholic, mind you, so Lent means a lot more to her than it does to troppo Protestants like me.

Following a retreat with some author-colleagues, Pooler has decided to cut her exposure to social media way back for Lent. She writes:

Being away with these treasured friends got me in touch with my own need to step back—rest, refresh, renew. After five-plus years of nonstop weekly blogging and intense social media involvement, I have decided to…go on my own Lenten sabbatical.

She’ll have a few guest posts going up, and she’ll check email. But, she writes, “I will limit my time on Facebook and Twitter to automated sharing of guest posts. This will mean turning off my social media notifications on my iPhone.”

So now we can talk about her all we want. Just kidding. Pooler goes on:

I know that limiting my social media presence will be a supreme challenge as I so love connecting with others. But I also know I need to take care of myself; to step back and reflect before I can come back and be all I need and want to be. And it fits in with my mantra to “simplify.” Until we meet again, I wish you all peace and quiet moments of reflection during this Lenten season. I look forward to returning in April refreshed and renewed. I plan to share the lessons learned when I return.

Therese Walsh
Therese Walsh

Aside from the fact that Pooler turns out to be really good at benedictions (who knew?), this has reminded me of the February 3 post here from Therese Walsh, author and Writer Unboxed’s co-founder. She wrote about a search for “mono-tasking,” meaning, in essence, the ability to hunker down on one sustained project or task without feeling pulled apart by competing thoughts and stimuli.  So many of us know what she’s talking about, all too well.

Walsh and I have been in touch a bit since that post ran, comparing notes. I’ve offered a few technical responses that I find helpful to the relentless blitz — RescueTime (which I find invaluable — you’re welcome to explore it free with my link); “frequency following” sound recordings, which I find helpful while focusing on work; meditation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what she wrote, her distress at feeling her concentration is challenged — I can relate; that bad feeling (this is my characterization, not hers) of having our livers pecked out by data transmissions.

And I’ve been thinking about what Pooler’s doing, heading off the social grid to get a grip.

In keeping with the Lenten theme, it has to do with temptation, somehow. I think this is part of what we’re talking about.

[Read more…]


So Shall You Reap? Success and ‘Investment’ at #DBW15

Image - iStockphoto: PazzoPhoto
Image – iStockphoto: PazzoPhoto

Shot Out of a Cannon

I’m told that there are people who find the holidays restful. I have yet to meet one of these extraordinary creatures, but I think they would find holding the publishing industry’s first grand-slam conference of the year in the second week of January to be a dandy thing. Bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, they’d dash out, we must assume, tinsel still in their hair, ready to take on the rigors of Digital Book World’s (DBW) day-and-night glad-handing and info-processing with “Happy New Year!” energy.

Those of us who find the holidays something less than restful are cheering the news that Digital Book World next year moves to March 7 to 9.

What do we expect in return for heavy investment in our work? What do we expect a publisher to invest?

For now, the sixth annual doing of Digital Book World in New York City — the 2015 edition — has just closed, with the Avenue of the Americas’ face-freezing winds to slap us out of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Expertly mounted and run like clockwork at the Hilton Midtown by David Nussbaum’s F+W Media staff — led by David Blansfield, Gary Lynch, Beth Dean, Taylor Jacobs Sferra — Digital Book World drew more than 1,200 attendees this year, plus a lot of industry folks who needed to meet those attendees. I can’t remember a conference with so many requests for private chats with start-up personnel and key services outfits. Many of them “surround the conference,” as one observer put it, meeting harried attendees for coffee and a deal on West 53rd, 54th, 56th. We gave nearby cafes, restaurants, and lounges a lot of business.

Mike Shatzkin once again programmed the event, somehow achieving 12 keynote events, a DBW record, I believe, including an impressive conversation with Amazon’s Russ Grandinetti and a rare sighting of an Apple exec, the iBooks chief Keith Moerer.

Is it possible that we assign a causal effect — “the more I invest, the more I’ll get back” — to this kind of work, more as a common way of thinking than as an accurate view of market conditions?

#DBW15 to its Twitter friends is an industry conference, not a writers’ conference. That distinction may not be the one everyone would prefer, but the event — focused on business movements, trends, and perspectives — throws off all kinds of energies and implications for writers, of course.

One annual element that directly involves writerly talent is the delivery of the Digital Book World author survey. This year it has a small novella of a title: Authors Facing the Industry: Data and Insights from Authors on the Publishing Business, Author-Publisher Relations, and Marketing. It’s for sale, as you can see, but I’ve talked with DBW editorial director Rich Bellis, and he’s going to be making available some insight articles about its details soon, from the survey’s author, the sociologist Dana Beth Weinberg.

My close colleague and WU icon Jane Friedman — also known as Porter’s Brain — was with us this year at DBW, looking good in her cannon helmet and ably moderating a panel discussion that was prompted by the new survey.

[Read more…]