Book Expo America – How to Get the Most Out of the BEA

BookExpo America, the largest annual book trade fair in the United States will take place at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City this year from May 31 to June 2. Major publishing houses will congregate to showcase emerging authors, new titles, and meet with other publishing professionals and colleagues. For students and incoming publishing professionals, BookExpo is an exciting event and provides an opportunity to learn from some of the world’s most influential publishers and to gain significant insight into the publishing industry.

Along with faculty, Pace MS in Publishing students will be attending the BookExpo again this year, trading off passes, supplied by the program, throughout the three-day event.

Program Director, Sherman Raskin says:

“I am delighted that Pace University publishing students will have the opportunity to visit the Book Expo this Spring. They will meet publishing professionals, authors and have opportunities to network. The BEA is in NYC this year and New York is the heart of the publishing industry.”

Prof. Michelle Richter  also shares her experience and provides some tips and advice on how to achieve the most rewarding BookExpo experience:

The first time I went to BookExpo, I was exactly where you find yourselves now: a grad student in the publishing program, wildly enthusiastic about books and the industry and the city. And broke. But somehow I managed to scrounge up enough for a ticket.

The Benefits of Going to BookExpo

Of course the first thing that comes to mind is free loot: ARCs, finished books, tote bags, swag. But there’s much more than that. I can’t stress enough the value of the panels. You can learn so much about the industry. Go to the keynote speech if you can. Try to attend at least one of the Buzz panels.

BookExpo in 2015 at the Javits Center

There’s one for adult, one for young adult, and one for middle grade. 5 or 6 editors talk about books they’ve acquired that are getting a lot of buzz, and everyone who attends the panel can get the ARCs afterward. But there are also panels with the authors of the Buzz books. And breakfasts and teas or lunches (the meals require separate tickets) where you can listen to major authors. And panels that talk about industry trends, technological innovations, promotion, social media, and so much more.

Author signings  are everywhere, some in publisher booths, some in an autograph area in the back. Some are ticketed, some are first come, first serve. Some will have huge lines. Some will have lonely authors waiting. If an author offers to sign their book for you, say “yes, thank you”. If you discard it later, do it out of their sight. You don’t have to have it personalized. If there’s a book you’re dying to get and have signed, line up early. Not all books in a booth are free for the taking. Some publishers only have display copies or books for sale.

  • Tip 1: Check the schedule of signings and panels ahead of time, and have a tentative schedule so you don’t miss the things that are really important to you.
  • Tip 2: Though the lure of free books may intoxicate you, remember you have to carry all of them so be discerning. But if you go hog wild, there’s a post office between the Javits and the A train–you can mail books to yourself.
  • Tip 3: Bring your own tote bag, one that won’t dig into your shoulder. Just in case free ones are hard to find or subpar.

Prof. Jane Denning says:

“I love the BEA! It is such a wonderful opportunity to really get a sense of the size and power of the publishing industry and, it is a great place to network. I also really love getting to meet authors and have them sign their books. My advice is to go with an open mind and soak it all in. Learn about publishers you have not heard about before, talk to people about their work and bring a few copies of your resume to give to people who might help you get a job.” 

Networking

Be pleasant to anyone working in a booth. Don’t be too grabby getting free stuff. Check out people’s badges to see where they work or who they are but keep in mind that some people share a badge and may be incognito.

These people may someday be your colleagues. They’re often from the marketing department, but could also be sales, sub rights, publicists, editors, even authors. They may be taking meetings with foreign publishers or booksellers or librarians or agents. Most people are dressed professionally, as they would in the office.

Every time I go to BookExpo, it’s like a giant reunion. I see editors, publicists, marketing managers I used to work with, agents I know, authors, foreign publishers, and people I’ve only met on Twitter until I run into them on the floor at BookExpo. “Wait, have we ever met in person before?”

  • Tip 4: Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers. It’s often freezing in the Javits center and the floors are cement. I think you can’t go wrong with a dress and a cardigan if that’s your style, ladies. Gentlemen, I would suggest you dress business casual (not in jeans).
  • Tip 5: Bring a water bottle so you don’t have to buy overpriced drinks. You may want to bring snacks.

The Overall Experience

It’s overwhelming, exhausting, exhilarating. I love it still. Some people get jaded by it, but I hope I never do. Try to walk the entire expo. Visit the remainder houses’ booths, the foreign publishers, the packagers, the Big 5s and all the indies. This is your best opportunity to see the wide range of people who participate in the industry, to randomly encounter a rock star author (I once walked by Margaret Atwood and managed not to lose it), to see something like a book being printed in an Espresso Book Machine, to meet awesome librarians and booksellers, and to listen to some terrific speakers.

Alumni in the Spotlight – February 2012

Michelle Richter left a career in finance and banking to attend Pace’s Publishing program, from which she graduated in 2006. She joined St. Martin’s Press the same year, as an editorial assistant, and just celebrated her sixth anniversary there. In addition to assisting a very busy executive editor with a diverse and large list, she has edited and continues to seek her own book projects. She’s worked with bestselling authors including Gene Wilder and Ian K. Smith, MD; with authors well-known in other media such as Janice Lieberman and the Kardashian sisters; and with experts in their fields on fiction and on nonfiction topics including diet, cookbooks and food writing, relationships, memoir/biography, pop culture, humor, pets, and parenting. She has a particular interest in book club fiction and mysteries, memoir, and economics, business, and sociology. In this interview, Michelle will share her thoughts and insights on the challenges and opportunities for aspiring editors in today’s dynamic and competitive trade book market.

Prof. Denning:  Hi Michelle, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  It has been 6 years since you graduated from the M.S. in Publishing program and you have been at St. Martin’s Press since then.  Can you tell us a bit about St. Martin’s and some of the work you have done there?

MR: You’re very welcome! St. Martin’s Press is part of Macmillan Publishers; while we’re one of the big publishers, we’re privately held by a German family so it’s not as corporate as some. And I’m very lucky to get to work in the historic Flatiron building! People tend to stay here a long time, and we work on a diverse array of projects. I’ve acquired and edited my own projects, and work closely with my boss on her list. She works with a lot of big personalities, and writers with strong points of view. So I’ve worked on fiction, memoir, diet/cooking/food writing, pop culture, relationships, pets, and humor. I worked with the Kardashian sisters on KARDASHIAN KONFIDENTIAL and with Albert Brooks on his first novel 2030, among others. I’ve worked on some books published originally in the UK, a few of them by rock journalist Mick Wall, and on some books with a packager, like ANIMALS WITH HANGOVERS. Two of the books I’ve edited are a book on Springsteen’s music called MAGIC IN THE NIGHT and a dog training book called IMAGINE LIFE WITH A WELL-BEHAVED DOG.

Prof. Denning:  How has the industry changed since you began your career?   You have been at the same company since graduating which can have many benefits.  Can you tell us a bit about the changes you have seen at the company and/or in the industry since starting there?

MR: It’s an invaluable experience to have colleagues—editors, publicity directors, publishers—who’ve been here 10, 20, 30 years. Our editor in chief started his career here. So I’m surrounded by a lot of experienced, smart people who I can learn a lot from, and I try to do that every day. And I have been able to be a resource for some colleagues too. Working with the same editor for so long, we anticipate each other’s thoughts and can be collaborative, but also allows me some autonomy.

The industry has suffered some setbacks, certainly, but also some advances. A lot of companies, including ours, had layoffs a few years back. We were lucky not to be harder hit, but it was a little scary. Borders is gone, HB Fenn in Canada is gone, a lot of independent booksellers have closed. But ebooks and digital marketing have exploded, and that’s definitely something we think about and talk about all the time, even as we all still love the physical book.

Prof. Denning:  Tell us a bit about what your job entails.

MR: I read submissions (both my own and my boss’s), edit, shepherd books through the production process, do photo research, write copy, create P&Ls, submit check requests, make restaurant reservations, order books, send out galleys for blurbs, reach out to agents so they know I’m here and what I’m looking to acquire. I go to writers conferences every so often. I’m on the phone all the time with authors, agents, colleagues in sales, marketing, publicity, design, art, royalties, contracts, and so on.

Prof. Denning:  How do you think technology/social media fit into/impact the role of those on the editorial side of things in trade book publishing?

MR: We all got e-readers, so we no longer have to copy and distribute huge manuscripts when we want reads from colleagues. That’s one of the best things that happened to us. And was also a big part of our CEO’s green initiative. We always ask authors about their social media presence and have guidelines to help them (even dedicated social media staff that we’ll ask to come to meetings with authors sometimes). A lot of the social media boom is more relevant to our marketing process than editorial, but an author’s Facebook or Twitter followers, or high-traffic website or blog, can also be a selling point for us at editorial meeting or launch.

Prof. Denning:  What do you think the future holds for book publishers?  Do you think the launch of designated eBook readers and the iPad (and subsequent tablets) forever changed publishing as we know it?

MR:  They definitely have. Most of us are here because we love books, physical books, but eBooks can’t be ignored. There’s a team at Macmillan who’s creating eBooks of backlist titles, and we always try to secure electronic rights when we acquire. Someone’s always going to want a book printed on paper, particularly art books and gorgeous full-color books. But for romance and genre fiction, where mass markets were huge, eBooks are taking over. It’s immediate gratification for readers who tear through books. I’ve seen a huge uptick in eBook sales for one fiction writer we work with, from his penultimate book to his most recent one. At one point, eBooks surpassed physical books. But he also sold more physical books than ever before, and appeared higher on the bestseller list than ever before, so we think his audience expanded rather than just shifting formats. And that’s fabulous.

Prof. Denning:  What do you think the biggest trends in book publishing are today?  The biggest challenges that Publishers face?

MR: Anglophilia is riding high, with remakes of LeCarre and Downton Abbey fever coming on the heels of Prince William’s wedding. Reality TV is here to stay, and so all the “stars” keep trying to sell us books. Vampires and zombies are still kicking, and of course, political books are huge this year. The biggest challenge is not riding a trend past its expiration date, and trying to keep ahead of the curve.

Prof. Denning:  Would you like to speculate on the future eBooks? Books in general?  What areas to you think will be the most impacted (textbooks, children’s, trade, graphic novels, romance etc.)?

MR: I think romance is going to continue to grow in eBooks, and that we’ll see a strong online presence for them, with lots of free or low cost eBooks to entice readers to try a new author. Sci-fi/fantasy and mystery titles (traditionally mass market) will likely grow with them. And we really strive to create eBook editions of every title we acquire, from commercial fiction to diet books to memoir, and so on. We are doing more and more eBooks that are highly illustrated as advances occur with the devices they can be read on (like the iPad and the color Nook); this is something we couldn’t do a couple of years ago. And eBooks will make it even easier to customize textbooks to meet the needs of individual colleges and professors.

Prof. Denning:  Have you always been interested in publishing?  Where did that passion come from? What do you see yourself doing in the next ten years?

MR: Honestly, until right before I applied to Pace, it never even occurred to me as a career. I’d always loved books and reading, and thought about majoring in English. But I didn’t want to teach or be a lawyer, so what would I do with that degree? So I majored in Economics, worked in finance for a number of years and then burnt out. I started trying to figure out what to do next, wanted to do something with books, and then a friend tipped me off to the Publishing program at Pace. So I quit my job, moved to NYC, and enrolled.

I’d like to continue working at a publisher, whether this one or another, for at least a few more years, and want to acquire more titles. Maybe at some point, I’ll want to try to move to the agenting side, but for now, I’m pretty content.

Prof. Denning:  Please tell me a bit about your educational experience at Pace and how it prepared you for your publishing career.

MR: Professors Soares and Carroll (and you!) taught me some practical skills that I was able to put into practice right away, with some adaptations, of course. So did Professor Rabinowitz.  At my interview for the job I have now, I was given homework: I had to write readers reports for a novel and a nonfiction proposal and then send them back to my now boss. Fortunately, we’d done that in your class, so it was a snap. The knowledge I gained in the production class has been a godsend. I learned how all the departments at a publisher work together. Reading PW and the WSJ while at Pace and listening to NPR helped me know what was going on the industry, so I could present myself well at interviews.

Prof. Denning:  What was the topic of your thesis paper?  What advice would you give to students who still have to write their papers?

MR: My topic was literary awards and whether they actually sell books (except for the National Book Award, the answer is usually no, BTW.) I’d suggest that they choose a topic they can be passionate about, and that they do their research early so they can take their time writing it.

Prof. Denning:  What were some of the highlights of your graduate experience?

MR: I had a great internship in the Tor publicity department, and learned so much there. I worked really hard, but it was so valuable for showing me the kind of environment I’d love to work in, what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t. I took a few courses with Professor Soares, and I think she’s such a force, and a wealth of knowledge. She brought in great guest speakers, like Michael Denneny, who’d been an editor at SMP, and a publicist from Abrams, to share their experiences. We created marketing plans and talked about bookstore placement and jackets and publicity. Professor Carroll’s copyediting class still helps me today, and her magazine writing and editing course took me out of my comfort zone and made me a better writer. She introduced me to Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, and I still hear her voice in my head saying “The readiness is all.”

Prof. Denning:  What do you think are the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry today?

MR: Adaptability; ability to read quickly; an ability to write a readers report, launch copy/flap copy/galley letter to entice readers, reviewers and sales reps; public speaking skills and relative ease in speaking to a room full of potentially bored or hostile listeners; knowledge of Excel and Word and no fear of learning new technology; knowledge of the industry.

Prof. Denning:  Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students?

MR:  Choose carefully the first job you take in the industry, as it can be hard to switch departments once you’re hired. It’s not impossible, but it can take a long time. Do your research before your interview if you can, so you know what kind of books they publish and what kind of books the editor acquires. When someone asks who your favorite writers are, try to have at least some who are alive and still writing.

Prof. Denning:  To those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?

MR: Realize that you’re always selling, no matter which department you’re in—selling yourself, your authors, your employer, your work to potential employers, agents, colleagues, booksellers, reviewers. Never stop learning.