Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BEA 2011 Post

(I'm only "semi" retired)

My trip to the BEA is over. I generally do everything I need to do in one day, the first day of the floor exhibitions. The BEA is really too exhausting to me to go back. Observations this year:

(1) The digital printing booths were slightly more centralized and slightly less deserted, but they were still pretty deserted because they didn't have cool books to look at and most people don't need to talk to them. Also exactly what each company does is confusing, because their posters just have a bunch of buzz words on them, so you have to ask, "Do you publicity?" or whatever you want and they tell you yes or no. They are very polite, though.

(2) Google Books had a funny sign, like "Check us out!" or "Come and join us!" or something like that, as if we're all afraid of them rather than mad at them for massive copyright infringement. Then I could not actually find the Google Books booth.

(3) I still have no idea why self-published authors buy booths to promote their book. It's got to be a ridiculous amount of money (a badge to get in was something like $400 for authors - my publisher paid my way), like thousands of dollars, and it's not as if publishers are wandering around, looking at booths and saying, "I want that. That thing that no publisher picked up if the author even tried." Seriously, if you are a self-published author and you want to promote your book, save your money and buy a publicity package from Lulu or CreateSpace.

(4) As usual, the only Jewish presses had titles I had never heard of or only heard of via Amazon recommendations, and their books had no Hebrew in them. Serious Judaica (not general Jewish books that are published by imprints) is a specialized market sold to Jews by Jews in Judaica stores, syangogue gift shops, or online. Artscroll has no reason to be at the BEA. Either I'm going to buy the new English translation of the Talmud Yerushalmi or not; no serious promotion is needed there, or needs to be done within the general industry.

(5) That guy who likes burning Qur'ans? He has a publisher, and they had an abandoned booth with a manniquin wearing a burqa. The sign on her chest said, "Hello, my name is Zahra. I have to live in this cage in Afghanistan. Can you ban it in America?" Which, you know, has part of a good cause (international women's rights) mixed with a healthy dose of racism.

(6) Chinese presses are always a little creepy because they're government controlled unless they're outside the mainland, and their material basically says, "Everything is awesome in China. There are definitely no problems you've been reading about in other sources." The Beijing Review magazine was especially bad - nothing but positive articles about how amazingly cool everyone is doing, especially those victims of the Sichuan earthquake who are now totally over it and they love their new housing. Also, definitely nobody was arrested for trying to publish the names of child victims, especially not an important artist. I am not really exaggerating here, just using different language than the magazine used. It's a shame, because there are a lot of good books released by these presses in English, but you have to wade through disquieting stuff. I mean, there are definitely a lot of countries with major human rights problems, but very few of them are at the BEA, on a full-scale offensive of promoting how there are no human rights problems in their countries.

(7) I picked up 2 books. One was actually not a giveaway - it was one of the books on display, and I told them it was on my Amazon wishlist for a long time, and they gave me their extra copy, which was very nice. The other was at a press where I'm published and they were doing a signing and I felt compelled to support the author. But my apartment is getting pretty crowded and I really don't need piles of fiction I don't want to read and couldn't sell for serious money even if it's signed.

(8) There's always one Buddhist monk wandering around. This year he was Tibetan (and he was white). Last year, a Japanese nun I think? Or maybe Korean. I don't remember.

(9) Small presses really shine at the BEA. I only say this because from my perspective, the big presses are booths I don't really need to visit, because I know what they do and I know their titles, but the small presses who might actually have decent sales I would never otherwise see. And their representatives have time for you and are as under-dressed as you are.

(10) Did people see that company that reproduces medieval manuscripts using the same materials? That was amazing! I couldn't believe they actually let us flip through their books, which were really creative masterpieces even if they were copies. Must cost a fortune, though. I didn't even ask.

(11) My business card which was a rushed job on ugly paper last night while I was recovering from a sore throat was so bad that people loved it. Someone said, "I think I would end up paying an ad company $200 to come up with this."

(12) If you are going tomorrow, bring a sweater. The exhibition floor is freezing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Retirement Post

A number of people have emailed me to ask me where I've been, which I think is really sweet, especially when they implied something might have happened to me. The truth is the more obvious: I've been really busy. I have two novels coming out over the next 4 months, both of which had major revisions recently, and I'm working on a proposal for a non-fiction book. I also got another job (two wasn't enough) with another agent, and now have two part-time bosses on top of my writing career. I am proud to say that in the years since founding this blog, I've gone from unpublished writer to someone who supports herself mostly by her writing, albeit not very well. There are only so many words in me a day, and since most of the questions I've gotten are repeats, I don't feel the desperate need to post constantly, or at all. So I'm going into a state of semi-retirement. I'll keep this blog open, as your question has probably been answered already, and I may post from time to time, but otherwise, don't expect a lot from me.

I will answer a final question which I get constantly: "How do publishers feel about eBooks?"

I may not be a publisher except for a small press I ran for two years, but I also work for two agents, have an agent, have worked with three different publishers, and attend conferences on eBooks, so I think I can safely answer the question.

Ready? The answer is: We don't know.

The eBook market (and thanks to adjacency, the self-publishing market) is a constantly-evolving new market based on technology and social media which did not previous exist. It's one where the store, not the publisher, determines the retail price that's listed on the back of a real book. Stores are experimenting with how to price and promote books, publishers are demanding higher prices and percentages and getting ignored, and authors and agents are depending the same from their publishers and similarly getting ignored, because no one knows how it's going to pan out, just that at the moment money is being made and it is going disproportionately to the retailer. Except when the retailer sells at a loss, of course, to undercut other retailers, which Amazon constantly does to make sure people buy the Kindle and not the Nook or the Sony eReader. This is why I have about 200 books on my Kindle and have paid for two of them, and one of them was .99c.

What we do know is it does not spell the end of print publishing. I have a Kindle, but I do most of my reading on Shabbos, when I can't use electronics, so it's not as helpful as it could be. I also buy a lot of academic books (which are usually not tremendously marked down in their Kindle version if it's even available) on the used market, where things are tremendously cheaper, or at Salvation Army and other shrift shops, where books are like a dollar. So my buying habits have not changed tremendously as a result of owning a Kindle, but this is not true for a lot of Kindle readers.

What does the future hold for publishing? Self-published authors insist they are the future, and that the big houses will be crushed under the weight of the awesomeness that is their 400,000 word fantasy novel that's the 1st in a trilogy that was rejected last year. I can't imagine this is so. The publishing industry provides an essential service to the book industry: it separates the wheat from the chaff, finds good material, pays authors for it, then edits it and produces it in a neat little package for the consumer. Doing this without the help of the publishing industry is actually tremendously time consuming and generally difficult. Sure, sometimes publishers miss big hits (especially since they're currently so unwilling to buy anything), but most times when they reject something, there's a good reason for it. The same goes for agents.

For all of the doom and gloom, what we're in is a transition period without a clear end in sight, but things will eventually pan out. The industry will look different, and the way money flows will change, but it will be an industry that is at times marginally profitable. The good news is that more people are reading more books, as anyone who drops down enough money for an eReader will tell you. Making books more available at lower prices to people who've dedicated themselves to reading more by plunking down hard-earned cash for a reader can only result in more people reading more in an increasingly literate society, and people will always seek to profit from that. I could imagine a point in the future where the agent/publisher has merged into one stop shop for aspiring authors as software makes it easier and easier to put a book together and promote it, but we're not there yet. Stop holding your breathe. Exhale, and let life resume its natural flow.

And to all my readers, the aspiring authors, the published authors, and the industry insiders: So long, and thanks for all the support. But not the fish. I hate fish. Gross.