4 Ways Agents Work for Clients at a Book Trade Show

Mary Keeley

Blogger:  Mary Keeley

The International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) is fast approaching (July 16-18), and those agents who are attending are planning their approach and mapping their course to optimize their time at this annual event. This year the convention takes place in Orlando.

Usually held in July, at this show publishers converge to exhibit their products to retailers, who come to peruse what’s new, get free product, and place orders.

Occasionally, I’ve heard first-time attendees compare this scene to those who were buying and selling in the temple in that it offends the creative sensibilities—the ministerial passion associated with Christian publishing. Admittedly, I was one of them years ago at my first CBA convention. But this is the necessary business side. And the reality is that important transactions do take place here, resulting in quality products with a Christian message.

But the exhibit floor isn’t the only hive of activity. Some of the most productive business takes place in agent-publisher meetings. Almost all the Christian publishing houses—large, mid- and small-size—send publishing executives and editors as well as sales reps. ICRS provides a cost-effective means for agents to have multiple in-person meetings for the cost of one round trip. Another reason to have an agent representing you.

Here are a few of the ways agents work for clients and future clients at this convention.

  • We walk the exhibit floor to take note of new product—and in recent years, new technologies as well. We look for competing titles for our clients’ books, striking new trends in cover and interior design, artwork treatment, use of innovative technology for e-books. We look for what might enhance our own clients’ book marketability with the hope of conveying suggestions to their publisher’s acquisitions and marketing teams.
  • One objective in meetings with editors is to hear their assessment of the industry, how their publishing house plans to respond, and to learn what they are looking to acquire in the next year or two. The information we bring back from those meetings gives insight into the direction of the industry in the near future and helps us to know which publishers are the best fit to shop clients’ proposals.
  • We also offer feedback to editors from authors’ perspectives. In the new age of publishing options for authors, we feel this is an important contribution we can offer to publishers in an attitude of partnership to safeguard the vitality of Christian publishing.
  • Our agency always hosts a brunch for any of our clients attending the show; this gives us a chance to talk about industry trends and to have face-to-face time with “our” authors.
  • And of course, we present clients’ projects and make deals. The air is filled with hopeful electricity because one-to-one time with editors is always helpful to this end. Several agents (four from Books & Such) from most literary agencies serving Christian publishing will be at ICRS to shop their clients’ projects. I can’t begin to estimate the total number that will be presented during the four days of the convention.

Scheduling appointments with editors is well underway. We’ll be investing many hours in the next weeks preparing presentations for each of the editors we meet with and preparing points of discussion for publishing executive meetings. Understand that if we’re extra slow to respond to emails, queries, and proposal submissions, this is the reason.

Here are a couple ways you can help us:

  • If you’re already agented and your agent has been shopping your proposal, send an email with updates on new social media, marketing, and promotion efforts you are undertaking. Put “Marketing Updates” in the subject line so your agent will promptly check that email. Agents can use this information in follow-ups with editors. If you aren’t agented yet, thanks for being patient as you wait for a response to your query. We aren’t ignoring you; we know your proposal is important.
  • Pray for the industry as a whole and for agents, publishing executives, editors, and sales reps—all who will be working long, busy hours there. It’s an exhilarating time of connection, relationship building, and sales opportunity. But it’s also exhausting. Walking miles a day, we’re on the go from early morning until late night meetings after evening events. Prayers for endurance and health would be appreciated.

What didn’t you know about ICRS and the ways agents work there? If you’ve attended this convention in the past, in what ways did you participate?

18 Responses

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  1. Michelle Lim says:

    Thanks for this post, Mary! This is a side of the publishing industry I haven’t heard as much about and the information was extremely helpful.

    It makes a huge difference to understand how important certain marketing increases might be to an agent before ICRS. If I get the opportunity I will share these changes in any communication opportunities.


  2. Mary, I always enjoy the business aspects of this blog. To me, having worked in retail, I know that there is SO much going on behind the scenes, even down to where to order the Veggie Tale pencils with Bible verses stamped on them. I’ll pray for endurance and good health. Get yourself a good pair of Merrells and a big water bottle!

  3. Thank you, Mary. I always enjoy learning more about what agents do. I think it’s good for writers to know that agents don’t just sit around for eight hours a day, reading queries. That way, after we’ve sent out queries and submissions and feel that it has been AGES without any reply (when in reality, it’s only been a week or so, we can calm down, put it in God’s hands, and remember that patience is a virtue.

    My prayers will be with you and all attending the conference.

    By the way, as a Native Floridian, I want to welcome you in advance to the state. I’ll also pray that the weather is good while you’re here.


  4. Kate says:

    You’ll be in my prayers Mary! Whew…what a schedule!

    I’ve heard of the show, but didn’t know about the intimate details. Fascinating information…thanks for sharing.

    How precious to host a brunch for your clients. Everyone gets to connect and be refreshed!

    Take care of yourself and looking forward to hearing great news from this event…try to stay cool!

  5. Amanda Dykes says:

    Thanks for the inside peek, Mary! I love that you posted ways for us to be praying for you and all in attendance; count me in for that!

  6. Mary, what you are showing here is just one mentally and physically exhausting aspect of your job. Probably emotionally, too in some cases.

    I must admit, I never thought about it. Now that I know, I’ll add you and the B&S team to my prayer list as well as a blanket of prayer for the conference as a whole and everyone attending. Will pray that God’s will is sought and acted on, and that cool heads prevail.

    Just thinking of Orlando reminds me of my glasses fogging up every time I stepped outside my hotel at the end of July at RWA 2010 Orlando. Usually they only fog up when I come in from the winter cold.

  7. Mary Keeley says:

    . . . ah yes, the humidity is a factor as well. Thanks for your prayers, Anita.

  8. Michelle, thanks for these insights! It’s interesting to see this perspective of the ICRS.

    When you share feedback to editors from authors’ perspectives, what kind of information do you usually share? Dealing with relationships between editors, authors, and readers? Or marketing and physical book-building topics?

    Do you feel it’s good for clients/authors to be present, or mainly just editors and agents?

    • So sorry I said Michelle at the beginning of this comment! I had typed my response and had it all ready to submit, but then my browser bonked. When I retyped my comment from memory, I typed in the wrong name. (Ugh.) I knew it was your post, Mary; I just typed the wrong name! Forgive me.

  9. Darby Kern says:

    I appreciate you giving us some insight into how much work you do. I’m excited about the possibilities. In my life some great things have happened in Orlando.

    (You know, I have some friends I could stay with if my presence would be useful. Then again, I have a better face for radio.)

  10. Sue Harrison says:

    Thank you, Mary for letting us know how to help our agents market for us. What a privilege to have someone who markets our work!

    I haven’t ever attended the ICRS Convention, but I was privileged to attend the ABA National Convention (That name has probably been changed by now!) as an author to sign for books for my publisher. It was a wonderful time and I learned so much. I love the “buzz” that permeates conventions like that. I will be praying for you and the other Books & Such agents who attend!

  11. Mary Keeley says:

    Sue, you’re right; nothing stays the same. The ABA convention is now called BookExpo America (BEA). And I agree it’s exhilarating when there is a buzz of activity and excellent new books and products on display. For some years after the height of the economic downturn in 2008, followed by the entrance of e-book technology, the buzz was diminished. But it’s coming back as we all adjust to the new world of publishing.