Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Book Expo America 2014

Last year around this time I wrote about my first ever visit to Book Expo America (BEA), the huge, international trade fair that has for some time been held annually at the Javits Center in New York City. In addition to all the free books available and the opportunities for literary people-watching and gawking, making it a dream venue for bibliophiles of a particular kind, it also offers a glimpse onto the vast, global, money-laden world of publishing. Publishers, agents, and authors are present in droves, spieling, negotiating, selling, signing contracts, and, once books are published, smiling and signing some more. Also thronging the convention center are every other element in the publishing system, from distributors and book and website brand-makers and packagers to hardware and software companies, pen-makers, branded tchotchke sellers, and so on.

This year's BEA had generated public controversy because of the total absence (total--of course!) of writers who are not white on its consumer-targeted BookCon panels. This was only one of several controversies surrounding lack of ethnic and racial diversity, a problem that continues to plague the publishing world, ironically at a time when in the US and many of the major European countries, demographics are tending towards even greater ethnic and racial diversity. What is clear from this year's visit as was the case last year is that there remains a vast market among readers who are not white that is not being addressed, or which publishers seem to think can be dealt with in the old manner of selecting out a few native agents or engaging in a one-way exchange. But in the long run, this approach probably will go the way of the great auk, and should.

My favorite part of the event is walking down every single aisle and scanning each publisher's booth to see what's forthcoming and what they've published that I may have missed. My experience has been that the smallest publishers are almost always the friendliest, perhaps because of the personal scale of their business and perhaps because they have to be. With size, it seems, though not uniformly, diffidence and indifference increase in scale. The Ivy League university presses' booth reps don't even deign to make eye contact, at least with me, as if the names Harvard or Yale demand this, and they also do not give (m)any free books away, while other university presses' people (Duke, Illinois, etc.) speak, invite you to look at their new and forthcoming publications, and so forth. The countries outside the Western EU countries have quite pleasant booth people while the people at the various tables under España, for example, appear so engaged in their conversations that you could join them at their tables and they wouldn't even glance up. Also, all the Canadian publishers' reps are in general more polite than the US publishers, and these booths often have a wider array of books, including poetry. Lastly, almost every US press that had translations of foreign literature available in more than minimal quantities had someone present who was willing to chat about them.

At the biggest houses, it's a free-for-all, with people queuing up in sometimes astoundingly long lines to get their books signed and reps who bark out commands to get a ticket then join the phalanx. Many of them appear interested in chatting only with each other, famous authors, etc. I made a point of stopping by the University Presses of New England booth to see if the Hilda Hilst translation was there--it wasn't!--but I was told that this was because the publisher, Nightboat Books, was out of copies. Which, the UPNE rep told, me, was "a good thing." I haven't had a chance to check whether this was true or bunkum, but I was disappointed not to see it there. Overall I found far fewer books of interest this year than last, and nothing on the order of Craig Wilder's Ebony and Ivy, one of the most illuminating books I've read in a years. I also was yet struck by the gulf between the kinds of discussions that usually occur in academe, whether in MFA creative writing programs or literature departments, around publishing, and the reality of this world, which is far larger, more diverse and multifarious, and very much a key cog in the global capitalist system. I still had several full bags, so when I finished my 6.5 miles of walking (according my phone's pedometer app) and left the Javits Center, I dragged myself right to the main post office on 8th Avenue and mailed everything straight to campus.

I'll carefully go through this literary cache at some point soon. For now, some photos from the event:

Entering the convention,
David Mitchell's new book on
the giant poster up above 
Happening on the end of one of the discussions 
Baker Dan
Some of the branded goods

A quiet nook amidst a
used bookstores'
Saudi Arabia's booth
Fascinating eBook reader covers 
Kuwait's booth 
Near Saudi Arabia's booth 
Monro, a lively company
creating and packaging
author and publisher websites and more 
Greer McAllister, of many authors
signing books for eager fans
Looking down one of the aisles 
Playwright and actor Tracy Letts 
Signing books 
Books on display 
An illustrator of a book on Walt Whitman
with a friend who looks like Walt Whitman 
The White Van
Italy's booth, a microregion, really 
At one of the megapublishers
Lego TM Chewbacca
Harvard University Press's booth
Soliciting selfies
A young man videotaping the proceedings 
The Nordlit area
Shindig, a special booth where people
could get online, chat, etc. 
Cameras rolling
One of the numerous long lines
Romania's booth
A non-human reader 
A sign for one of those lines 
James Ellroy 
Hachette's booth--they are fighting
the big battle against the behemoth,
Carl Hiaasen 
The display of self-published books 
Leigh Haber of O Magazine (at right),
talking about her experiences
Dick Cavett! 
One of the erotica book tables 
José Ángel N., an undocumented
American, whose memoir is being
published by the University of Illinois Press 
On my way out, Jodi Picoult's
immense poster looming overhead

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