Having temporarily abandoned the rotating host-city format in 2009 (until 2016, when the annual event will be held in Chicago), once again BookExpo America will take place at the Javits Convention Center in New York from May 29 through June 1. The seven-year stint in what is unarguably the capital of publishing in the US has certainly been welcomed by many in the industry, as it has simplified arrangements regarding travel, shipping and the like, matters which otherwise can often unduly complicate schedules publishing professionals would rather dedicate to the business, networking and socializing at hand.
As to the evolving nature of that business, while it is certainly changing, at BookExpo America the primary atmospheric influence of the trade show remains the brick-and-mortar/paper-and-pulp fundamentals of the book store – no surprise, as the attendees that all the assembled publishers are most solicitous towards are the booksellers, who yet remain the personal ambassadors for all manner of printed words and images to the purchasing public. The most dedicated cohort of that public can be counted to descend en masse upon the Javits Center, where they form long lines daily to meet authors and get their autographs at the signing stages – a scene that has always struck this writer as reminiscent of the multiple queues for rides at an amusement park.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned changes in publishing, most resulting from digital media and electronic commerce, continue to exert an increased influence at BEA, in ways that Thomas Friedman might well characterize as ‘flattening’ the industry. For prospective authors (with or without agents, previously published and not) there are more options to getting ones’ work to consumers, encompassing self-publishing and print-on-demand services (which have functionally made anachronistic the notion of a ‘vanity press’), digital subscription models, and entities such as Amazon – surely the 800-pound gorilla of the Expo – which threaten to permanently alter the traditional nature of the business via vertical integration of publishing and distribution channels. And while we’ve only just begun to see more sophisticated uses of digital and electronic interfaces, given the proliferation of devices one can read things on it seems only a matter of time before a transmedia best-seller list will appear beside those for fiction and non-fiction titles.
Since New York is truly an international city, not only due to the various national delegations and UN consular missions here but also the wide array of immigrant communities within the five boroughs, it is natural that the considerable presence of foreign language publishers at BEA would attract a large audience. Spanish, German, Italian and French publishers have always been well represented, and in recent years the growth of economic globalization has been reflected in an increased presence of Chinese and Arabic publishers at BEA. Perhaps the most noteworthy initiative by any entity focusing on publishing in languages other than English in 2012 was the Read Russia program. Sponsored by Russia’s Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication, and billed as the “largest-ever Russian book & literary arts celebration” ever held in the US, it occupied a prominent 4,000 square-foot pavilion on the Javits Center floor – Russia was the BEA 2012 guest of honor – as well as a diverse series of readings, presentations and receptions both on and off-site throughout the duration of the Expo. These included Natalia Solzhenitsyn presenting for the first time the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Archive at BEA on June 5, a panel discussion on the same day on the new Stalin Digital Archive (from Yale University Press, it’s an online library of documents from the Soviet Union), the publishing of the Read Russia! Anthology (which features 30 writers over 445 pages, and is available on pdf), the launch of a new 100-volume Russian Library of Russian literary classics, and the launch of an Institute of Translation. Not to be forgotten were the late night parties held at the ‘Read Russia Roof’ at the Dream Hotel on June 5 & 6, an art reception and readings at the Read Russia Gallery on Duane street, and an unbelievably lavish reception at the Russian Consulate on June 6. Read Russia events for 2013 have been ongoing, with the book launch party in March for Alexander Vvedensky’s “An Invitation For Me To Think” at (appropriately) Pravda Bar on Lafayette Street, and the reading and talk with Vladimir Kozlov and Alina Simone at (Le) Poisson Rouge in April; during BEA there will be events at Poets House (May 29), NYU’s Kimmel Center (May 30), Strand Bookstore (May 31) and the Brooklyn Public Main Library (June 1) – a full schedule with details can be found here: http://readrussia2013.com/newyork.
Of course, BEA is also the social event of the year for writerly types (or typerly writers), insofar as the plenitude of concentrated networking opportunities it provides. For those looking to schmooze (i.e.: meet editors at publishing houses; meet agents so you can get your manuscript read by editors at major publishing houses; get a new agent because the one you’ve got hasn’t succeeded in either getting your book read or getting a contract by an editor at a major publishing house) there are always a plethora of parties going on throughout the city. These can be broken down into several types. The more ‘corporate’ houses generally host invite-only bashes at restaurants or similar venues, where a collection of their authors are brought in to wow booksellers in a setting more convivial and less hectic – and thus, more likely to enable genuine interaction – than at the booths at Javits. One I attended with great atmosphere was the Little, Brown 175th Anniversary party at the Park (after having just missed the Blue Rider Press party celebrating Neil Young’s memoir “Waging Heavy Peace” at Bar Americano a few blocks north in West Chelsea). In tandem with the Grand Reopening of the Algonquin Hotel the night before, Penguin launched their “Penguin Previews Series at the Round Table”, a salon of readings held at the richly literarily-historic venue on three successive nights during BEA and continued on a quarterly basis thereafter; among guests clinking champagne flutes and feasting on appetizers including gargantuan shrimp at the bash were Penguin authors Rachel Dratch, Junot Diaz, Elizabeth Gilbert, Linda Fairstein, Ron Chernow and Andrew Ross Sorkin. Later that same night I hit the nearby Time Hotel’s INC Lounge for the ‘5th Annual Tantorious Celebration’ by Tantor Audio, where a friendly and unpretentious ambience was to be had.
While these swankier affairs tend to be put on by outfits accentuating Literature with a Capital L, publishing houses oriented more towards niche, trade and genre titles often are just as calorically rich, while being more welcoming and less secretive about their guest lists. Two such parties I went to were the annual Workman bash, held in their offices on Varick Street, and the elegant Harlequin party on the rooftop of the Kimberly Hotel. After leaving the Kimberly I went down to (Le) Poisson Rouge, the club on Bleecker Street specializing in both musical and literary doings of an aesthetic nature, for the PubDate event, where DC, Graywolf Press, Other Press, Pegasus Books, Quirk Books, Seven Stories and Steerforth Press jointly celebrated their output. This was typical of the more no-frills sort of party, generally offering nothing more extravagant than an open-bar for an hour or two, yet these often occasion better conversation (and less overt salesmanship) and/or chances to meet potential romantic partners for the struggling authors and their fellow-travelers in attendance.
A virtual clubhouse for such affairs throughout the BEA was Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street, where on Monday the Bookrageous party was held, on Wednesday the Tumblr reading and party took place, and on Thursday Soho Press held a geographically apposite event. (No word as yet if the now billionific David Karp plans anything to celebrate himself, Tumblr, or BEA in 2013.) Beer was the main caloric offering at the Foundry Literary + Media firm five-year anniversary party, but you had to go quite a distance to get there, as the Shangri-La Studio site in Brooklyn was about a 15-minute walk from the nearest subway; at least when you got there they had some odd entertainment: soft pornographic film loops running continuously as a backdrop to the dance floor. Another dance party was the annual Publishers Guild West party, which instead of supplying free drink or grub always has a great live band performing; I caught Lee Fields’ fine perfromance at Hiro Ballroom in 2011, but missed the Highline Ballroom party featuring Dumpstaphunk (with special unannounced guest Chaka Khan) in favor of several other events.
For more details and information about BookExpo America 2013, check their website: http://www.bookexpoamerica.com