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To BEA, or Not to BEA, That is the Question

When you’re an independent publishing professional, is the time and expense of attending BookExpo America worth it?

Editorial by Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox

In August of 2006, I left the publicity department at HarperCollins for a job as the Book Publishing Director at The New Yorker, where I handled the book advertising. It was not until April the following year that I began to consider what my role would be at that year’s BookExpo America. For the first time in seven years, I was not working the booth, meeting with media, guiding authors to their panels or signings, and pitching (or hugging) those wonderful booksellers who I worked so closely with throughout the year.

Other than the famed New Yorker Spring Books/BEA party, which I only came up with half of the guest list for, I really had no other responsibilities. I already knew the fall titles that were likely to advertise. It was too chaotic a show to try to really drum up new business. And, I was already fairly tapped into the other aspects of publishing through friends and colleagues in the media, international or digital publishing that were speaking on the panels, so I didn’t really feel like I needed to go…but I did anyway and it made all the difference.

This year, I asked a few independent editors their thoughts on BEA, if they would go, and what that might mean for their business. BookExpo America has always been a little more of a networking and marketing show, so would this seem like something they should attend or skip?

Patricia Mulcahy was in publishing for over twenty years and has run an editorial consulting company since 1999. She said, “I have mixed feeling about it. I went in 2000, two years after I was “downsized” in 1998, just to show my face and let people know that I’d set up shop as a freelancer. It was fun to see so many friendly faces but not a single job resulted. And the environment is so overstimulating that I failed to get a ‘read’ on changes that may have taken place in the business since I’d departed from the mainstream. From then on, I decided that BEA was akin to the most information-packed party you failed to enjoy because you were too damn tired of wandering the aisles. Fast forward to 2011: I am going, at least for one day. So many others have now been ‘downsized’ that the freelance editorial and “book doctoring” field has become much more crowded. Why not go to see and be seen, and remind people that you are still in the game? Publishing still is, and always will be, a highly social business. Mixing and mingling is part of the deal. And if I don’t get too many blisters, I may actually enjoy myself.”

Though I think trade publishers tend to think of BEA as the place to share their new fall line-up to booksellers (and each other), Marjorie Braman, former VP and Editorial Director at Henry Holt turned consultant, had an interesting take on how the programming at BEA might be useful to her.

“Though it’s always fun to walk the convention floor and see colleagues that I’ve known for so long, everyone is busy with their own BEA work so it’s not the best way to try and find unscheduled time with people I can see socially,” she said. “What’s interesting to me now at BEA are the panels on self-publishing, the talk of e-books, and meeting new people that are not at the traditional center of publishing but who are becoming important in this volatile landscape. It’s also great to be surrounded by so much energy from people in the book trade.”

When you are building a business and a corporation is not footing the bill for your tickets to conferences and conventions, it might be a matter of picking and choosing which conference makes sense for you. As I look at technology conferences, SXSW, BEA, Comic-Con, Frankfurt, London, and the myriad places I should and could go, I definitely wonder what makes sense for me and my clients. For an editor who straddled the worlds of books and comics/graphic novels, I asked former Vertigo/DC Comics editor Joan Hilty if she had to pick one over another (and the whether or not she would want to wear her Princess Leia gold bikini or not).

“Straddling two worlds means trying NOT to pick, really — there’s just so much going on with graphic novels now. Plus, as a DC Comics editor, I worked book and comic cons solely for projects that were a fit with DC; as an independent editor and packager, I’m free to be a missionary for graphic novel projects that can fit with any publisher’s aims,” said Hilty. “So it’s worth it to hit a lot of both. Still no costumes, though — I wouldn’t carry off full Book of Mormon garb any better than the gold bikini.”

Erin L. Cox is a literary agent with Rob Weisbach Creative Managment and business development director of Publishing Perspectives.

DISCUSS: Come Meet Publishing Perspectives at One of Our Four BEA Panels

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