Back from the Front Lines

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I’ve just come from BEA (Book Expo America) in New York and I’m all energized about books! BEA is the biggest annual event for the publishing industry, attended by industry professionals from all over the U.S. and the world, and an absolute mecca for book lovers. In fact, that’s the overriding feeling you get when walking around BEA: we all love books. It’s not just a job, it’s our passion. What a great feeling.

Attending an event of this magnitude makes it seem just plain silly that people are talking about “the end of reading” and that so many are pessimistic about the future of publishing. I sensed more enthusiasm around books than I have in years.

BEA 2014

The event was high energy and crowded. Long lines for author signings were the norm. Lots of books were being given away—I was excited to pick up a few ARCs (Advance Reader Copies), especially Lila, the latest from Marilynne Robinson, to be released later this year.

A large contingent of the traffic at BEA comes from bookstore owners (there are still over 2,000 independent bookstores in the U.S.), librarians, and reps from larger retailers like Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. It’s fun to see how excited they all are about the newest books and getting authors’ autographs. These are genuine readers and fans.

There were lots of celebrities and celebrity authors—Jodi Picoult, Neil Patrick Harris, John Green, Anjelica Huston, Amy Poehler, Martin Short, R.L. Stine and Carl Hiaasen, to name a few. More than 950 authors were there to sign books.

Books & Such author Tessa Afshar signing books in the Moody Publishers booth.This year, “BookCon”—the consumer book event that took place on Saturday, was a rousing success with over 10,000 fans showing up to meet their favorite authors, get new releases and get autographs. The plan is to make that aspect of the show even bigger next year. It’s clear that reaching out directly to readers is one of the key requirements for the publishing industry to thrive.

While “Amazon vs. Hachette” was a huge topic of discussion (and James Patterson called attention to it in an impassioned speech while accepting an award), I sensed the tide has changed in terms of the fear, pessimism and uncertainty that permeated the industry the last few years. Much of BEA now addresses the “new normal,” with everyone appearing fairly tech-savvy, lots of attention paid to digital, and even a whole series of workshops and resources for those involved in indie publishing. The attitude seems to be, “we’re figuring this out.”

While at BEA, I met with about a dozen of my industry contacts (editors, publishers, other agents) and ran into various friends and colleagues. I participated in an agent panel about the new ways agents are doing business. I also got out and about in NYC and had a terrific time. I felt like BEA was so worthwhile that I’ll probably try to go every year.

Do you think my perception of the durability of books & publishing can possibly be realistic? Or am I just looking at the world through rose-colored glasses?


Agent @RachelleGardner gives a rundown of BEA, says publishing is “figuring it out.” (Click to Tweet.)

Publishing isn’t dying? Who knew? @RachelleGardner takes the industry’s temp at BEA. (Click to Tweet.)

Photos: (1) Banners hanging in the main lobby of the Javits Center. (2) Books & Such author Tessa Afshar signing books in the Moody Publishers booth.

Jacob K. Javits Center, New York City, site of Book Expo America

Jacob K. Javits Center, New York City, site of Book Expo America

25 Responses

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  1. I think you are right to be encouraged when you come across something encouraging. I just discovered something awesome yesterday. I can buy my e-books through Kobo and benefit my local Indy bookstore. I was so stoked, because I almost exclusively buy e-books for myself nowadays and only buy hard copies for my kids. So excited!

  2. I don’t think the optimism is misplaced at all.

    We all want stories; we all want to extend beyond the limits of our lives and perceptions.

    Books are the best way to do that, and always will be, because they integrate our intellect and our imagination in a way that no other media can replicate. (Think of Smaug the Dragon – wasn’t he more fearful in your imagination than he is on film?)

    In our love for stories, look at the tremendous engagement of the followers of this blog on the subject of Amazon and the changing marketplace, from your coverage of “The Everything Store” a few months ago, and Janet’s discussion of Amazon versus Hachette on Monday.

    It’s quite a story, and that narrative aspect, whether we see it as good versus evil or the Shavian ‘life-force’ of the marketplace working change on the world…that’s what caught us, and had us talking.

    And besides, a really bad book still makes a really good doorstop.

  3. Rachelle, only God knows what the future holds, but I believe your enthusiasm is justified.

    A day when you can’t buy or hold a hand-held copy of the Bible is unimaginable. There is no sweeter feeling than walking into a bookstore and browsing books, the multitude of Bibles on the wall. My Bible is separate from every other book in this house and more frayed, making it all the more special … I can’t imagine only having an electronic copy lumped in with every other book purchase.

    However, not knowing the future, I’m reminding myself right now that regardless of the tool (hard copy or electronic), the Word planted into the heart is the One that lasts.

  4. Jim Lupis says:

    Rachelle, I went to the BEA on Thursday and the first thought that came to my mind was: “The report of my death is greatly exaggerated.”

    I was very encouraged not only by the crowd, but by the excitement. There was definitely a buzz in the air. In hindsight, I should’ve prepared better before I arrived. Trying to locate publishers without knowing the floor plan killed much needed time.

    Overall, it was a wonderful experience.

  5. Rachelle, I followed a couple of editors’ reports on Twitter as they attended, and the event looks terrific. I would love to be a part of that high energy crowd someday. Thanks so much for the report.

  6. Author Terrance Leon Austin says:

    Sounds like fun Rachelle! Enjoy your trip.

  7. Jenny Leo says:

    I used to love BEA when I worked in publishing. You’re right–the energy of so many booklovers together under one roof is extraordinary. So refreshing to hear positive industry news for a change.

  8. As someone just starting out in the publishing industry, it’s good to hear that it’s still going…and not just going, but thriving. 🙂 Thanks for a recap of the expo!

  9. The excitement of BEA definitely translates to your post. It sounds like a wonderful, exhilarating time for you. I do think your perceptions are realistic. Many, many people read. Hearing your report gives evidence that publishers are working through the transition, which, I imagine, is one of the biggest hurdles needing to be overcome. Just reading this gets me excited. I’m with Meghan, it would be pretty amazing to experience BEA first hand one day.

    And for the record, I’ve read enough of your posts to know you don’t own a pair of rose colored glasses. 😉

  10. Jenn dePaula says:

    Rachelle, great post! I think optimism is certainly needed when any industry is in a season of change or flux. From what you said, it seems like people are embracing a bit of the change and seeing how they can work with the situation and grow from it. I, like you, don’t see publishing going anywhere, but it will certainly look and work differently than it did before. Resisting change and technology isn’t the way to go – and from what you said, they seem to be embracing it. That’s very encouraging 🙂

  11. Jillian Kent says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    Loved hearing about your experience. There were a lot of very well known authors there and the excitement is contagious. Can you share any of your thoughts about how this event will effect the way you and the folks at Books and Such work now for those you represent and those looking for representation?

    The book is not dead and I don’t believe it ever will be but the way our books reach readers is changing all the time. Loved what Jim Lupis said, “The report of my death is greatly exaggerated.” Long live the book.

    Thanks for sharing the excitement.

  12. So encouraging to hear, Rachelle. To imagine 10,000 fans engaging with their favorite authors is mind-blowing and wonderful. I just came back from a Christian book gathering – tiny, tiny in comparison with BEA – but the mood was similarly upbeat, even in the midst of a tough UK market. My blog here:

  13. Tessa Afshar says:

    I had a great time at the BEA too, Rachelle (it was fun to run into you, and thanks for the photo.) What I found most valuable was discovering unusual fans. For example, a librarian from New Jersey told me that my books are very popular with Orthodox Jewish readers. I would never have known that if I hadn’t been at the BEA!

  14. Elaine Manders says:

    The best convention I ever attended was a RT convention. There’s nothing more exhilarating than a large gathering of avid readers and book sellers. Thank you for reminding me they still want good books as much as I want to write them.

  15. Rachelle, I think you are wearing clear glasses that allow you to see a world where there has always been story tellers and those who love to hear/read their stories. Our family of five loves to read. It was one of my greatest privileges to help my children learn to read. Books rock.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  16. Sue Harrison says:

    I love your enthusiasm, and I love reading about your experiences at the BEA. Thank you for sharing. Your enthusiasm is just what writers need! Thank you for the joy!

  17. Davey says:

    Not to mention some rockin’ panels, Rachelle, or so I heard (-:

  18. With every major advancement (and I choose that word “advancement” intentionally)there seems to be a period of fear and adjustment. TV was the end of radio and so on. I still listen to the radio, but yes it did change. Glad you had a good time!

  19. Jack Bybee says:

    OOOOH! Rachel, has your head returned to your shoulders? How envious I am. My first ABA (as it was then called) after I got to the USA in 1982, was May 1983, as the very first two computer books were launched! On the drive back to Atlanta, I was offered chance to develop the Computer Book section at Oxford Bookstore, in Atlanta. It became to largest Computer, Technical, Business and Scientific book section in the South east.
    Ooh, do I remember the energy that came with it!
    Just keep creating,


  20. The industry will, like the movie business, become ever more dependent on mega hits and a small number of A list authors (who, let’s face it, are the ones the 10,000 came to see). It’s a simple matter of survival. That will squeeze out what’s left of the midlist authors, more and more of whom are becoming ownlist writers.

  21. Diane Stortz says:

    I always loved going to BEA when I was working in publishing. All! Those! Books! I’m glad you had a good time and came away so encouraged.

  22. There is nothing wrong looking through rose-colored glasses.

    But since this is the 21st century, I hope they are 3D rose-colored glasses.

  23. BEA sounds thrilling and overwhelming at the same time. Glad to hear this super energetic report from New York, Rachelle. it is nice to be reminded of how much we all love books at a time we’re constantly hearing of big changes coming to publishing. I’ve never been in love with an industry more than I am right now. My affection for publishing grows daily.

  24. Peter DeHaan says:

    Thanks for the overview. I think it’s a great time to be a writer!

  25. When I go into my daughters’ schools I’m definitely encouraged by how many kids I see reading. Thanks for sharing about your time at BEA.