Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Expo America 2012: A Reader's Paradise

I love to read.  I remember my mother urging me when I was a kid to take my nose out of my books and go outside and play with the neighborhood children (which explains a lot about why I'm such a clutz when it comes to athletic endeavors!)  My taste then, as now, ran to mysteries and thrillers, with Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins series topping my list of favorites.  So it's no surprise that I eagerly look forward to the Book Expo each year with its promise of galleys of books to be released in the next few months and opportunities to meet many of their authors.

Here's how the Book Expo works.   The Expo is held at the Javits Convention Center in New York.  Historically, only people with a connection to the book industry can register to attend, with bookstore owners being the target audience since the objective of the event is for publishing houses to sell their books.  My involvement with adult literacy programs has qualified me to go the last few years.  This model is changing, though, and this year was the first at which "power readers" (i.e., people who want to go to the Expo just because they love to read) were permitted entry on the last day of the event.  My registration fee for the three+ day event was $100, and I anted up an extra $30 to attend an author tea (more about that in a separate post).    And what did I get for my $100?  I can't give you all the specifics right now, as two boxes of books are en route from the Expo as I write, but suffice it to say that I walked away with over 125 pounds of books!

Wendi, Lee and I in a rare down moment at the Expo
It still sounds pretty mysterious, right?  (I know that I couldn't quite grasp it until I actually experienced it.)   The doors to the Expo open at 9:00, at which point hundreds of people rush through the entry as event officials urge us not to run.  (It's actually quite easy to envision someone being trampled if she fell.  Readers aren't generally thought of as vicious, but if you have your heart set on getting the proof of the latest  Jonathan Tropper or James Patterson novel, it's dog eat dog!)    My friend Wendi introduced me to the Expo, and she always does voluminous research in advance of the event so that we have a plan of attack.  We generally head first to the booths of the big publishing houses--MacMillan, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Hatchette/Little, Brown--where there are hundreds of galleys piled up on the floor.  If you've been to the Expo before, you know to bring bags with you to hold your prizes.  (You can get bags there, but you definitely don't want to waste time looking for a bag at the start of the day.)   You know how when you're in a bookstore, you stand and read the back cover of a book and perhaps look at the first few pages to see if you're interested in buying it?  Well, there's none of that there.  You basically just grab anything that looks potentially of interest and move on.  There's plenty of time for sorting later.  After you have as many books as you can possibly carry, you head down to the attendee shipping area where they give you boxes to store your books for the duration.

Once you've made it through the initial mad dash, you can take a slightly more orderly approach to the rest of your day.  Although there are lots of galleys to grab at the start of the day, some of the publishing houses have a set schedule as to when they put specific books out, and if you're not there within the first few minutes, your chances of getting the galley are pretty slim.  Then there are the author signings, which take place both in publishing house booths and in the autographing section (which has 25+ authors signing at any given time.)   For most of the authors, all you have to do to get the signed book is stand on line until it's your turn (subject to availability).   For a few of the hottest names, though, you have to get a ticket.  This year's ticketed authors included Richard Ford (Canada), who has the most incredible blue eyes, and Dennis Lehane (Live by Night).  Tickets are handed out at 7:00 each morning, so you have to make a decision whether you care enough about the book to get to the Expo that much earlier.  We generally arrived around 8:15 and were able to get tickets for the authors whose books we wanted most.    This year I adopted a new strategy for the authors who were signing in the autograph area.  If a popular author was signing from 10-11, people often start lining up around 9:30 and then stand in line over an hour to get their book.  I decided to take my chances and hit the line at the end of the hour, when I often was able to waltz right up and get their signature.   (I was closed out a couple of times, but no real tragedies.)  This strategy is dicier for the in-booth signings, though, so if there was a book that I really wanted (like Lee Child's latest), I would line up extra early and bond with the other fans.  As I scurried around the floor of the convention center, I would often ask people in long lines who they were waiting to meet, and sometimes they didn't know.  I analogize it to food lines in Russia--I don't know what I'm standing in line for, but if other people are doing it, it must be something good.   And I can understand the temptation to do that if you don't have a schedule setting out what you want to get.  Luckily, Wendi's spreadsheets of galley hand-outs and signings helped keep me focused and on track.

Me with Michael Bolton and Wendi
Then there are celebrity signings, which I generally eschew.   First of all, the lines are ridiculously long.  (The line for HGTV star Mike Holmes--Holmes on Homes--snaked from here to eternity as did the one for Kirstie Alley, who apparently doesn't even like to read.)  Second, you often don't even get the book!  People stand on line for whatever amount of time to be rewarded with the signature of the celeb on a postcard or an excerpt.  Mike Isabella of Top Chef  fame and Ina Garten signed recipe cards; again, not worth the wait.  Let me be clear that there are times that all you get from famous novelists is an excerpt of their work.  Junot Diaz has a new book of short stories coming out, and people who attended the author breakfast where he appeared in hopes of getting his new book were disappointed by only getting one story.  And Michael Connelly, always a favorite for thriller fans, was signing an updated version of the first book in his Harry Bosch series that included an excerpt from his upcoming release.  (I'll admit that I stood in line for that one and left it on the tables in the shipping area.  You have to make some choices!)    Having said all that, when I found Wendi waiting on line to have her picture taken with Michael Bolton, I jumped right in.  I dutifully collected his signature on some postcard but have no idea what he was promoting.  He is quite attractive, though (and I definitely think that losing the pony tail was a good idea!)

The impact of e-reading on publishing was not nearly as evident as I expected it to be.  Some publishing houses were making proofs available on Net Galley (http://www.netgalley.com/), but that was generally in addition to the paper copies that were being given out.   Lee (who joined us for parts of the Expo) made an interesting--and funny--comment about people bemoaning the fact that people are not buying physical books as much as they did previously.  He compared it to when Gutenberg created the printing press.  People at the time might have said, "Hey, Gutenberg, what do you think you're doing?  You are going to ruin the art of story telling with this new fangled invention of yours!"   Of course, that wasn't what happened at all.   So, too, the way that stories are shared is changing with the onslaught of Nooks and iPads and Kindles.  But that doesn't mean that books are going away or that fewer people are reading.    I love the feel of a book in my hands, but even I am beginning to understand the appeal of having lots of reading material at your fingertips in one device.

All in all, it was a fun, exciting, and exhausting few days.  Once the dust has cleared and my boxes have arrived, I'll report back on some of the titles that I'm most looking forward to reading.   In the meantime, though, I still have a backlog of titles from last year's Expo to finish, and with only 355 days until next year's Expo, I'm going to be busy!

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