Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

BEA 2014: A Trendsetter Roundtable

Last week was a busy time for all people in the book business as BEA 2014 kicked off its programming on Wednesday, May 28th and culminated in Saturday’s BookCon.  Professionals from all over the industry were represented, including your Trendsetter Editors, BEA pro Kimberly Lew and first timer Samantha Howard. They sat down to talk about their experiences and observations from this year’s Book Expo America.

Kimberly: Last week was a crazy week of BEA goodness. Let’s discuss.

Samantha: Yes. My first time!

Kimberly: Your first time. How does it feel to no longer be a BEA virgin?

Samantha: Really great! I know people get a little grumbly about getting over the the Javits Center and the inevitable exhaustion of enduring such a truly massive event, but I loved it. It’s cheesy, but it was invigorating to see so many people excited about books and authors. And I briefly stood next to Billy Idol, so I have no complaints. What did you think about this year’s event having been a few times before?

Kimberly: Hahaha. By “a lot of people” complaining, do you mean me? Because I definitely have complained about those things before.

Samantha: Well not just you! Lots of people get a little grumbly about it.

Kimberly: I think every year of BEA has been dramatically different for me. My first year, I was really overwhelmed. I got a little structure in my day by attending a few panels (though none of them said anything really new) and otherwise walked the floor in a confused haze.

The second year, it was a lot more business-oriented. I had set up some meetings to talk to some startups for the children’s conference I help plan for Market Partners, so it was a lot of running around for that. I also helped out with the Publishers Launch day-long conference last year, which was a great experience but an all-day affair.

This year was a nice balance between work and play. I made the rounds, saw a panel, said hi to some friends, and also got to do a little geeking out, which I feel was absent from the last times I’ve gone.

Samantha: I’ve heard that this year had a lot more fun elements added to it than years past, does that seem right to you?

Kimberly: It’s hard to say. I think the thing, as someone who attends a lot of publishing events, is that it’s easy to get kind of jaded about these big industry events, especially if things don’t run totally smoothly. BEA seems to have made a lot of moves in the past few years, though, to incorporate authors and readers more into the day-to-day events. This is great because it spices things up a bit. And seeing BEA through a reader’s eyes really makes you realize how cool our industry is. At the same time, sometimes I feel like it creates a divide between the people who are there to see their favorite authors/geek out and those “in the biz.”

Samantha: That’s a fair assessment. There were a few times where I was standing in line to meet an author I admire and then realized I had to get to a panel or meet up with someone. It was a tricky balance, but I guess when you have a space as large as the Javits to fill up with bookish things, there’s bound to be some overlap between panels, events, and meetings. Did you enjoy the panel you went to?

Kimberly: Yeah, I did. I went to the Women’s Media Group panel on gender-specific book packaging “Girl Books, Boy Books, Gender Hooks: Packaging, Position and Reviewing in the Fiction Marketplace.” Firstly, any collection of women talking about gender in business is inherently interesting. But there was also a nice mix of panelists, from the NY Book Review Editor to the outspoken Jennifer Weiner, who has often talked publicly about how there should be less elitism surrounding the way women’s fiction is presented/viewed.

I suppose the panel didn’t present anything we don’t already know– bright covers are always tied to chick lit and being able to sell books for a female audience to a more literary crowd is hard. One book that defies this that they discussed as a good example, however, was Meg Wolitzer‘s The Interestings.

Have you seen that cover?

The Interestings

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Samantha: Yes! The one with the horizontal stripes with warmer tones, and thick black text, right?

Kimberly: Yeah. That was a rare instance where a publishing team really pushed to maintain a more gender-neutral “literary” cover, and it was pretty successful.

How was your Women’s Media Group panel?

Samantha: It was pretty inspiring. I went to four panels throughout the day, and that one was the most useful to me.

It was called “New Success Tracks for Women, Publishing Careers in a Time a Change.” And it had four industry veterans there talking about their climb to the top: Libby McGuire, Janet Goldstein, Jane Friedman, and Tina Weiner. It was a great mix of experiences and perspectives. I really appreciated the varied viewpoints these women shared with the group, from male and female mentorship, moving from one department to another, or in Tina’s case, staying at Yale and loving it, and who to get advice from.

It gave me a lot to consider for the future.

Kimberly: Like what, specifically?

Samantha: Well, toward the end of the panel there was a great question from the audience about what to do if you’ve got a great idea for your department, but there’s just a lot of pushback from your boss. Libby McGuire said to keep talking to other people in your department until someone listens, and Jane Friedman echoed that same sentiment saying that, if no one will actually listen to your idea, you know that that isn’t the place for you to work anymore. Admittedly, that’s a fairly basic idea, but it was very rewarding to hear a bunch of executive level women saying it and agreeing to it. They all said they’re eager to hear new ideas from their colleagues, be they younger or older. Really any time a bunch of accomplished women are together telling the group that it’s all going to be okay, I’m on board. I loved that panel.

Kimberly: Yeah, I definitely got a good vibe from everyone in the room at my panel. Were there any highlights worth mentioning from the other panels you went to?

Samantha: I went to the YA Buzz Panel which was wonderful. That was one of the things I’d been looking forward to doing, everyone talks about going to the buzz panels so it was finally my turn. It was really interesting to hear each of the 5 editors pitch their favorite upcoming titles, and refreshing to hear that 4 out of the 5 books dealt with some serious social justice issues like overcoming race/class/gender issues. I was only able to grab one of the galleys, but I look forward to reading the rest of them when they come out.

Then I went to the “Self-Publishing and the New Agents” panel which was fascinating. I used to work in literary agencies, so I was curious to hear what some long-time agents had to say about whether or not self-published authors should have agents.

There was an interesting moment when Jason Allen Ashlock said he knew that there was a time and a place to just say to an author, you know, I think you’d better just turn down the advance and go it on your own. It was pretty amazing to hear an agent say that.

Trident Media Group’s Robert Gottlieb was understandably very much for the traditional publishing model, and getting even previously self-published authors signed up with agents to protect themselves from some of the sneaky and unfortunate things that self-published authors don’t know to avoid, which is understandable. This panel proved that there’s clearly a lot to consider on both sides if you’re an author.

Did you grab any good galleys? Or totes?!

Kimberly: The two books I got was Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, published by Dutton; I am excited about this one. It’s actually the only book at a BEA I have ever waiting in the autographing line for. I also got a copy of Jennifer Weiner’s All Fall Down, published by Atria, from the Women’s Media Group panel I went to. And a Chronicle tote, which is always nice. I ADORED the Wonder totes that Random House was apparently handing out but I didn’t get a chance to get one. So… anyone willing to send one my way, holler!

The History of Rock n Roll

The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus

Samantha: Never enough totes! I got galley for The Walled City by Ryan Graudin published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers from the YA Buzz panel, a copy of William Giraldi‘s Hold the Dark from Liveright, and The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus and published by Yale University Press, which I know nothing about but I am very excited to read. Did you see the Quirk Books totes that say “Totes books”? I’m so glad I was able to snag one of those. It’ll be so literal.

Kimberly: Hahahaha. I’m surprised you could keep your affinity for tote bags in check!

Samantha: Well…I got four total.

Kimberly: I also feel like this year was quite glitzy. You had some celebrity sightings, Grumpy Cat was there on Saturday, there was a panel on This Is Where I Leave You with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman.

There was a moment where I was trying to meet up with a friend, so I was messaging him on Facebook and simultaneously, I saw him post a picture from the Random House meeting area with Jason Segel.

Samantha: Yes! I saw Billy Idol, James Frey, and Jane Lynch just from my walking around the exhibition floor. I didn’t go to BookCon on Saturday, but that seemed to be a huge success, and they’re now saying that they might want to stretch that part of it to two days.

Kimberly: That’s interesting. I really feel like the expo is shifting to being a lot more reader-centric.

Samantha: I was wondering if that was the case, or if they were just trying to add treats for those of us who are in the industry.

Kimberly: Did you like anyone’s booth in particular? See any new companies or products that caught your eye?

Samantha: I thought Chronicle’s booth was really sharp looking. It was very brightly lit and cleanly designed. And Norton‘s looked pretty warm and classic, which is pretty standard Norton style.

I didn’t notice too many products, but that’s because as always, my eyes were peeled for books.

Kimberly: You mean free books? And by free books I also mean tote bags?

Samantha: I’m forever looking for totes and books.

Kimberly: So if you could give advice to a BEA attendee in the future, what would you say?

Samantha: Plan ahead more than you think! I tried to, but ended up missing a few publishers booths that I would have loved to see (sorry McSweeneys!), wear comfortable shoes, don’t take every galley you see just because it’s free (I definitely had to calm myself down at first), and the Starbucks line is worth it if you’re feeling sluggish.

Kimberly: Hahaha. I think these are all solid notes!

Samantha: Anything you can add as an experienced BEA-er?

Kimberly: I would say to schedule an appointment with company ahead of time if you want to check them out (there are always cool startups and demos in the digital areas of the exhibition floor). Definitely map stuff out ahead of time, at least panels that you may want to attend. Find out the info for the autographing pass if you want to see a high profile author. Definitely don’t take things you don’t plan to read (books are heavy!). And to everyone who is tasked with working BEA, make sure you take a little time to do one fun thing for yourself, whether it’s getting a book signed by a favorite author or getting a tote bag you will love forever.

Samantha: Or just all of the tote bags!

Kimberly: True that.

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