This year’s BookExpo America (BEA) took place in New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Wednesday, May 27, through Friday, May 29, 2015. As usual, attendees enjoyed a feast of books and authors over the few days, this time with a little twist: the first day also featured LJ’s Day of Dialog (DoD), a sold-out event held off-site at which librarians were treated to author panels and town hall discussions and, best of all, the chance to catch up before the chaos began. Below find highlights from DoD and BEA, including the show’s consumer arm, BookCon.
BookExpo America saw a slight uptick in professional attendance this year: Steve Rosato, show director of BEA, reported on his blog a 5.2 percent growth in the number of industry professionals participating. The growth, however, may have been largely driven by the need for exhibitors to import more staff to wrangle the crowds at BookCon, since total verified professional attendance for BEA 2015 only dropped slightly, by 1.2 percent. BookCon, in contrast, saw a whopping 80 percent increase in attendance in its sophomore go-round—something that was only made possible by the expansion of the event to two days, since to cram 80 percent more attendees into last year’s already packed BookCon at once would undoubtedly have drawn the ire of the Javits Center’s fire marshal.
Rosato also reported that “the Global Market Forum program featuring China was successful beyond all measure and plans.” The Chinese pavilion dominated the show floor with a large, front and center presence of more than 20,000 square feet. “The conference sessions were full, and there was an incredible amount of meaningful interaction between U.S. and Chinese publishers not only in the Javits but also at a multitude of cultural events throughout NYC,” Rosato added.
Not all of those activities’ organizers, however, expressed enthusiasm about the official Chinese publishing presence. During the show, the PEN America Center led a protest of the delegation on the steps of the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) central Schwarzman Building, featuring well-known Chinese and U.S. writers including Jonathan Franzen, Xiaolu Guo, Ha Jin, and Andrew Solomon, calling for an end to Chinese censorship and the release of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and professor Ilham Tohti. Concurrently, PEN published a report focusing on censorship or works by international authors that are censored when translated for the Chinese market.
IDPF Seeks To Establish Accessibility Baseline
HTML 5 and EPUB 3 offer the tools needed to create ebooks that can be used by print-disabled readers, but many publishers and reading system developers remain unclear as to what needs to be done to ensure accessibility. And, unfortunately, groups such as the Association of American Publishers cannot establish and enforce a common accessibility standard for ebooks owing to antitrust rules, noted George Kerscher, president of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), during a presentation at the group’s 2015 show, which is collocated with BEA.
Text-to-speech technology (TTS) has helped improve access to digital content for print-disabled readers, but such tools cannot effectively navigate content that is not structured for accessibility. A TTS reader might slog through an entire table of contents, or fail to describe a crucial illustration, chart, or diagram, for example.
Kerscher and presenter Robin Seaman, chair of the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) Accessibility Working Group, added that while print disabilities such as blindness and dyslexia affect a relatively low percentage of a publisher’s potential audience, accessibility features often prove useful to a much broader consumer base. For example, closed-captioning makes television and movies accessible to people with impaired hearing, but it’s also often used to assist all viewers in noisy public environments.
The big change for next year, of course, is that after many years in New York, BEA will move to Chicago. But while collection development librarians will have to shift sites, East Coast patrons who attend the consumer aspect shouldn’t despair: while BookCon will be held in Chicago again following BEA, Rosato says the show is “also exploring the possibility of a second BookCon in New York City.” BEA will return to New York in 2017, Rosato told LJ.
In the program “Using Big Data To Enhance Collections and Service to Library Patrons,” Above the Treeline and Ingram Content Group demoed Edelweiss Analytics, their new web-based, interactive collection analysis tool. While it’s still in beta, Edelweiss Analytics promises to be a powerful platform for collection assessment and selection, tracking circulation and title data in-house as well as publisher, retail, and peer library numbers. This should be a versatile tool when it rolls out, and the session left LJ eager to hear more about it in practice.
The panel “Public Libraries, the Publishers’ (Discovery and Revenue) Friend in the Digital Age” featured Nora Rawlinson, founder and editor of EarlyWord.com; Carolyn Anthony, director of Skokie Public Library, IL; Jeff Jankowski, VP and co-owner of hoopla founder Midwest Tape; and Andrew Albanese, senior writer and features editor for Publishers Weekly. Encouraged—and sometimes goaded—by moderator Seth Gershel, the panel made a strong case for libraries as important players within publishing’s ecosystem. It’s all about discovery, the members agreed; every library has at least one person inside whose mission it is to push books. “The battle cry of recent years that libraries limit publisher revenue is no longer viable,” said Rawlinson. Look at the stats, said Anthony—people who use libraries read a lot and buy a lot, too. “Books are public libraries’ brand,” she noted.
Jankowski pointed out that much of the existing discussion with regard to libraries vs. retail revolves around the model of print, a huge area of opportunity for libraries. “With digital,” he said, you need to reimagine the world.” Libraries need to envision what niches they can fill for publishers and why—reaching the YA market, for example, a population without credit cards. Moving on to the subject of ebooks, the panel ran short on time, leaving attendees to mull over Albanese’s parting statement: “Beware of the trope that we’ve made progress on the ebook issue, despite the great work [the American Library Association] has done. Thinking we’ve made progress allows us to settle into a plateau of mediocrity—we need to keep agitating for change.”
At one of the last events of BEA, the fifth annual Shout ’n’ Share, librarians gathered to hear what was hot on the show floor. LJ fiction editor Wilda Williams moderated, and she and librarians Kristi Chadwick (Massachusetts Lib. Syst.), Charlene Rue (BookOps, NYPL and Brooklyn PL), Jamie Watson (Baltimore Cty. PL), Jennifer Dayton (Darien Lib., CT), and Robin Nesbitt (Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH) held aloft their favorite finds. The audience got in on the act, too, with several sharing their prize galley or book scores. See ow.ly/OB2wP for the librarians’ and audience members’ picks in the order in which they were presented.
Bibliocrunch, a company that offers resources and advice for self-published authors, held an off-site forum during BEA called “Startup Book: Launching Your Self-Published Book.” The event, which was part of a series, was moderated by Miral Sattar, founder and CEO of Bibliocrunch, and featured industry professionals Iris Febres, Aptara; Kate Tilton, Kate Tilton’s Author Services; Angela Bole, IBPA; Joshua Unruh, Draft2Digital; Amy Edelman, Indiereader; Kathy Meis, Bublish; and Abigail Carter, then of Writerly but who has now joined Bibliocrunch. Prompted by questions from Sattar, each panelist discussed an aspect of the industry and offered tips to prospective authors.
At “Making the MAKE Book: Success Stories from Publishers,” LJ learned the gossip behind recent best sellers. Interestingly, the original cover of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014) contained elegant feathers and was considered “too beautiful.” Fifth novels aren’t usually blockbusters, but sales of this one steadily increased owing to independent bookstores; print ads appeared only after the book won the Pulitzer.
Publicists had lots of doubts about Helen Macdonald’s surprise hit H Is for Hawk (Grove, 2015), wondering if it was too niche, too British, and even too smart for American audiences. Tour dates in the United States were announced after positive reviews in American media outlets.
It should be no surprise that Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train (Riverside, 2015) has outsold Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl—the publisher shifted two million copies and counting through an unconventional strategy combining social media, placement in big-box stores, and celebrity endorsements to boost sales. The team behind Mike Curato’s Little Elliot, Big City (Holt, 2014) discussed the challenges of catering to two demographics since the reader will be a child, but the purchaser will be a parent. This children’s book has been a word of mouth hit.
The 2015 BookCon, the pop culture counterpart to BEA, spanned two days, easing the crowds somewhat despite its large increase in attendance overall. One of its most rewarding panels was “We Need Diverse Books: In Our World and Beyond,” about diversity within sf and fantasy. All of the panelists—authors Kameron Hurley, Ken Liu, Nnedi Okorafor, and Daniel Jose Older, along with Saga Press editorial director Joe Monti—agreed that diversity is not a trend. Liu, author of the recent The Grace of Kings (Saga, 2015), earned cheers by reminding attendees that the concept of diversity is centric to the United States; people from other countries don’t consider themselves “diverse,” and the diversity movement in general implies that people of color are deviations from the norm.
Some other panels provided much-needed insight into the writing process and even feedback from readers. In “Faraway Lands,” Marie Lu, author of the hit dystopian “Legend” series (Speak: Penguin), noted that her writing process involves creating full character profiles and proceeding to grow other characters around the core group to flesh out what’s missing. When audience members asked authors Cathy Maxwell, Kristan Higgins, Meg Cabot, and Robyn Carr about the challenge of writing love triangles in “Spotlight on Romance: Reader Love,” Carr commiserated that someone always has to lose, while Cabot admitted that readers often like the “wrong” guy. Notably, Cabot concluded by telling the audience that there will not be another book in the beloved “Princess Diaries” series simply because there is no more conflict to resolve.
Meanwhile, at “Reality Bites” with authors Ellen Hopkins, Melissa Kantor, Patrick Ness, Lauren Oliver, and Jason Reynolds, listeners were happy to learn that Oliver enjoys writing about solid relationships between friends and siblings because they are often more powerful than romantic bonds, and Reynolds made a point to create a male character who wasn’t extremely athletic or conventionally attractive. Ness thanked the audience for attending the panel rather than lining up for John Green two hours early.
Together, BEA and BookCon demonstrate a robust present and a promising future for book publishing, albeit a complicated one, grappling with the need for and challenges of international relations; evolving models of selection, distribution, and consumption and the fear and friction they create; and the need to reach a fragmented audience in all the myriad places it reads.
Still, if the runaway success of BookCon with YA audiences proves anything, it is that long-form reading and physical places and events to celebrate them are as compelling to Millennials as they are to other generations of readers. That’s good news for libraries.
Day of Dialog
Held on Wednesday, May 27, at New York University’s Kimmel Center in lower Manhattan, with over 200 librarians, authors, publishers, and vendors in attendance, LJ’s 18th annual Day of Dialog opened with the always popular Editors’ Picks panel, moderated by Prepub Alert editor Barbara Hoffert. From Karin Wieland’s Dietrich & Riefenstahl (Liveright: Norton, Oct.) to Garth Risk Hallberg’s ambitious debut novel, City on Fire (Knopf, Oct.), to two more offerings from Liveright publishing director Robert Weil—leading classicist Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome (Nov.) and The Complete Works of Primo Levi (Sept.)—many of the titles packed intellectual heft.
Others, like The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Knopf, Sept.), fourth in the “Millennium” series and written by David Lagercrantz, who was handpicked by Stieg Larsson’s estate, are sheer fun. (Said Knopf editor Diana Miller, “He has delivered a very exciting book.”) Farrar VP and executive editor Sean McDonald volunteered of Sloane Crosley’s The Clasp (Oct.), “I haven’t been so excited about publishing a first novel in a very long time,” while Dutton senior editor Denise Roy promoted two more debuts: Alexandra Curry’s The Courtesan (Sept.) and Jules Moulin’s Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes (Aug.). HarperCollins vice president and executive editor Jennifer Barth argued that Tessa Hadley’s family drama, The Past, and Alafair Burke’s new stand-alone, The Ex, would bring these authors a wider readership.
At a time when everyone in the book world seemed focused on product, “From Author to Editor to Publicist: A Book Trip with Bill Clegg” focused on process, telling the story of Clegg’s forthcoming debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family (Scout Pr: Gallery, Sept.). The novel, which concerns a propane explosion that leaves several people dead, began with Clegg wondering, “What if I was the one who left the gas on…. How would you move on?” Karen Kosztolnyik, executive editor of Scout Press and Gallery Books, recalled having an overwhelmingly emotional response to the manuscript, which she essentially bought in a preempt. That led to the creation of the Scout Press imprint to provide a place within Gallery for Clegg’s more literary title.
Debuts make an entrance
Moderated by LJ media editor Stephanie Klose, the First Novels panel showcased six very different writers of five very different works. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor’s Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial, Oct.) is based on the popular podcast and Paige McKenzie’s The Haunting of Sunshine Girl: Book One (Weinstein, 2015) on the hit YouTube series, prompting Klose to ask whether their readers needed familiarity with the book’s new media roots. McKenzie replied that it wasn’t necessary, but “there will be Easter eggs in the book” for faithful viewers.
Interestingly, the remaining authors—Ron Childress, And West Is West (Algonquin, Oct.), Sloane Crosley, The Clasp (Farrar, Oct.), and Claire Vaye Watkins, Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead, Sept.)—all had previous writing experience. Watkins, author of the multi-award-winning story collection Battleborn, described the psychological difference between writing a short story and a novel: novels are an endurance test, but “you finish a short story and think ‘I made a piece of art!’ ” Crosley, author of two New York Times best-selling essay collections and a former publicist, said that nonfiction felt like the equivalent of adopting a child and fiction like having one. And while Childress volunteered that “corporate writing is not fun,” it did give him the opportunity to focus on aspects such as clarity and flow.
Librarians Speak Out
After lunch with speaker Gretchen Rubin, Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, branch manager, LibraryReads cofounder, and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker, stepped in to lead the town hall meeting, giving attendees a chance to talk shop. This year’s discussion focused on advisory and outreach. From New York Public Library’s new reader services department and Baltimore County Public Library’s Between the Covers blog to the Massachusetts Library System’s “5 in 15” book talks, featuring 15-minute themed talks that include three backlist titles to help inspire staff, the ideas flew. How do you make advisory sexy? Make it personal. How many attendees had a dedicated reader services department? Not many. Finally, Nesbitt said, “What we’ve been circling around is the giant question, How do we stay relevant to our communities?” Rather than broad philosophical treatises, the audience had small answers that added up to a bigger picture of community engagement in unexpected places.
Newcomers & History Lessons
Moderated by LJ Book Review associate editor Stephanie Sendaula and featuring Vanessa Diffenbaugh (We Never Asked for Wings, Random, Aug.), Nadia Hashimi (When the Moon Is Low, Morrow, Jul.), Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, Penguin Pr., Jul.), and Patricia Park (Re Jane, Pamela Dorman: Viking, 2015), “The Immigrant Experience” focused on setting. Park noted that the New York City borough of Queens “might be the place you’re from, but it’s not the place you stay,” while Diffenbaugh imagined a neighborhood in a steep decline and “the last family who would stay there.” Hashimi, whose novel travels through Afghanistan, Iran, and Greece, said she wanted to portray changes in culture rather than merely scenery. Peralta summed up what is best about these books on immigrants: a Dominican American reader, he explained, told him that his book “spoke to her lived experience.”
“Historical Fiction” began with panelist Gregory Maguire, best-selling author of Wicked, exclaiming, “I’m a fantasist, not a historical novelist,” to which moderator Hoffert replied that she stretched the term historical fiction a bit to include the titles that most intrigued her. Using After Alice (Morrow, Oct.) to tell the parallel story of Alice’s friend Ada in Wonderland, Maguire drew inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s phrase “arresting strangeness,” aiming for the language and culture of childhood without undermining the original story.
“I was bored in synagogue,” explained Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks of The Secret Chord (Viking, Oct.), a retelling of the life of King David. Regarding Balm (Amistad: HarperCollins, 2015), about three people in post–Civil War Chicago, Dolen Perkins-Valdez said she found that her aha moment struck after a day spent in the archives perusing an 1866 diary. Charles Belfoure, author of the Gilded Age New York–set House of Thieves (Sourcebooks Landmark, Sept.), proclaimed himself a stick-to-the-facts guy. But Adriana Trigiani, whose All the Stars in the Heavens (Morrow, Oct.) is loosely based on the affair between Clark Gable and Loretta Young, concluded, “What wasn’t between the pages was conjured from the wells of my imagination.”
A thrilling conclusion
At the “Top Thrills” panel, moderator Jeff Ayers, an LJ reviewer with Seattle PL, asked each author for a quick book summary. “A blast,” exclaimed Charles Todd, with Caroline Todd part of the mother-son writing team Charles Todd, whose A Pattern of Lies: A Bess Crawford Mystery (Morrow, Aug.) concerns an explosion that sends Bess to war-torn France for answers. “Monsters and murder,” quipped Jennifer McMahon, explaining that The Night Sister (Doubleday, Aug.) centers on a crime in a Vermont hotel.
“Disturbing activities in bright lights and web sleuthing,” said Kathy Reichs of Speaking in Bones (Bantam, Jul.), next in the series starring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Lori Roy explained that Let Me Die in His Footsteps (Dutton, 2015) was “inspired by the last public hanging” in this country, while Kate White, former editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, said the main character’s experience in The Wrong Man (Harper Paperbacks, 2015) was akin to falling down a rabbit hole. Caroline Todd’s advice to “keep it exciting” brought the panel and the day to a gratifying close.