Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Having attended the Book Expo of America (BEA) in New York in May and the International Christian Retailers Show (ICRS) in Denver in July, I’ve been assimilating what I took in as I walked the exhibit floors of these once-giant shows; sat down and talked “book industry” with editors and publishers; and attended workshops on the state of the industry. This week I’d like to unpack my suitcase of observations because it’s important for all of us to note where the industry is headed.
First, both shows were shadows of their former grand selves. While BEA is still quite large, the floor is walkable if you devote a few hours to the task. ICRS experienced smaller exhibits, and a few significant publishers chose not to participate (most notably Thomas Nelson and WaterBrook Multnomah). Fortunately the organizers pulled in the space allotted to the show, creating a smaller venue but one that had a buzz of busyness. Lines to receive autographed copies of books were consistently long. It didn’t seem to matter if the person signing was Karen Kingsbury or a debut novelist.
As a matter of fact, I was standing in the Zondervan booth waiting for Robin Jones Gunn to join me for a meeting, when I saw Joyce Ondersma, the head of Zondervan’s author relations, carry a box of Robin’s newest release, Coming Attractions, over to Robin. As Robin pulled out her pen to sign a few books for some fans who hadn’t gotten copies during Robin’s official signing, I watched a line spontaneously form. Not just a small line, but in the matter of seconds, about 20 people were standing there and more flocking in. No formal announcement was needed to bring in people, no billboards, no scheduling–just Robin with a pen and a box of her books. I’d never seen anything like it.
To what do I attribute this book eagerness? Publishers were giving out fewer galleys (bound, unedited versions of books soon to be published), fewer free trinkets (e.g., bags with a book’s cover imprinted on it to hold the stash of free goodies you collect as you walk the floor), and even catalogs. Yes, publishers had limited numbers of their catalogs to hand out. That added up to books being the main giveaway of the show, which is a good thing since a free book is the best (and least expensive) publicity a publisher can offer. Time after time, during the show, authors told me they signed as fast as they could until the books ran out.
The lack of free items reflects the sober mindset among publishers. General market publishers especially have felt the economic downturn, having to release hundreds of staff, often including the most difficult to replace–editors. Everything about publishing is scaled back–the number of titles being printed (and therefore manuscripts being bought), the size of advances ($50,000 is the new $75,000 in the general market), and marketing dollars.
The first two meetings I had with editors at ICRS were daunting. These were the words spoken: “I’ve overbought for the next few years and don’t know when I’ll buy again”; “We’re cutting back on the number of titles we’re buying”; “Great presentation, but I’ll have to take these book ideas back to the office to see if I can generate any enthusiasm.” If I had gone home after those meetings, I would have sat in a funk for the next year.
Fortunately, all my meetings after that were upbeat, with lots of interest in the projects I was offering and good discussions about what publishers are doing to find their way in our economically challenging times.
What does that mean for a writer/author? We’ll unpack those thoughts in the next few days.
Question: What are your observations from your corner of the world regarding book publishing’s current state?