I had the pleasure of attending BEA in NYC last week, joining the whirlwind round of publishing parties, panel discussions, and of course the author signings. Although everyone I spoke to said the convention was quieter than usual this year, things certainly seemed to be bustling as I got out of my taxi at the entrance to the Jacob Javits Center.
The first thing I saw was a humongous two-sided billboard for Karin Slaughter’s upcoming book. It was stunningly gorgeous and absolutely unmissable by anyone entering the building.
Once inside the building, it took only a glance to see which books are getting big money thrown at them. And judging by all the posters, the big title this year seems to be Justin Cronin’s hefty post-apocalyptic novel, THE PASSAGE. Just in case convention goers missed seeing the posters, the title was plastered across all the plastic badge carriers you had to wear around your neck, turning every participant into a walking mini billboard for THE PASSAGE. I guarantee, there isn’t a single convention goer who didn’t walk out with that title branded in their brains.
Other big names were, of course, getting big promotional splashes. John Grisham. Jon Stewart. Marlo Thomas. Barbra Streisand. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of their presentations because those were hot-ticket events. The one speech I really wish I could have witnessed was the one by Sarah Ferguson, in what had to be an excruciatingly uncomfortable presentation by a celebrity doused in the fresh reek of disgrace. One editor told me, “Thank god I didn’t buy her book! What a nightmare it must be, trying to promote it at this moment in time!”
I had quite a bit of free time to wander the convention floor, and stopped in at the Mystery Writers of America booth, where I got a sweet hug from Margery Flax. The most eye-popping booth was sponsored by Saudi Arabia, a gorgeous mini-Sultan’s palace with artfully displayed books. Workman Publishing also got my vote for a fun display that made you want to sit right down on the floor and play with the merchandise. In what looks like a peek into the future, there were quite a few booths offering services to authors eager to self-publish their e-books. And plenty of booths were devoted to graphic novels.
What astonishes me every time I visit these book shows is the vast range of what’s being published, from books about fly-tying for fisherman to books about — well, everything. If there’s a subject that wasn’t covered by some book, somewhere in that convention, I can’t think of it. As usual, I found myself drawn to the quieter corners of the trade floor. Instead of fighting the crowds at the Hachette and Harper Collins booths, I wandered past booths where authors sat with displays of their self-published novels. It was sobering to see how few convention goers seemed to take any interest in stopping by those booths, or even making eye contact with the authors. The self-published books offered a few interesting possibilities. I lingered over a promising YA advice book about what it takes to become a doctor, and a few woo-woo books about the occult snagged my attention, but there was a wide range in how those self-published books were packaged. Some looked absolutely professional; others were downright pitiful.
On my last day, I took my place at the authors’ signing booths, where we gave away 100 copies of ICE COLD. These signings can be excruciating for a new author who sits and stares at empty space while a line snakes around the corner for the hotshot author sitting next to him. This time, I was happy to see a line waiting for me. But that certainly wasn’t the case in times past. One bookseller who came up to get her book signed reminded me of the first time she’d met me at a book fair years ago. “You didn’t have anyone waiting in your line back then. I felt so sorry for you, sitting there all alone.”
And that’s how it usually igoes for every new author. The days when you just have to grin and bear it as you sit with your stacks of unwanted galleys, waiting for someone — anyone — to take pity on you and ask for your book. (Did I mention these are free books? Oh, the humiliation, when no one wants your book even when it’s free!)
If you’re a new author, it helps to remember that John Grisham went through the same humiliating ritual when he was starting out. So did we all. There’s nothing like being a writer to experience the sting of rejection.
Want to know just how humiliating a book signing can be? Watch this video. It’s a riot.