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How To Maximize Book Expo America

May 25, 2008
Each year we get a lot of questions about Book Expo (BEA). Authors and publishers are wondering if they should go, how they will benefit from it and most importantly, how best to maximize BEA. This year I decided to ask AME's Publishing Consultant, Jerry D. Simmons for his take on BEA. Having spent countless hours at this event, I thought he would be a perfect candidate to share some valuable insight on this big publishing event!

1) For those who are reading this who don't know what BEA is, can you explain what it is?

Book Expo America is the annual showcase for the largest publishers in the world. It's a place where companies rent booth space to display their goods and services. The convention hall includes publishers and related businesses, both large and small, which offer products and services to industry professionals directly or indirectly related to the industry.

2) Someone reading this might wonder, why would I attend BEA? Do you think it benefits anyone in publishing to go to an event like this and if so, why?

If you've never attended, it is fun to attend at least once just to get a feel for what the bigger world of publishing is all about. Depending on your particular situation either as an author or business person, it is the one place where all related companies gather to display their offerings so if you want to see what the industry is all about and how you or your business might fit, it's worth the visit. Book Expo can be as much or as little as you want out of it, but if you derive your revenue from books, publishing, or anything related, you should attend at least once.

3) Can you explain the setup of BEA? It seems that the big 6 New York publishers are always taking center stage of this event, is that true? Is it a case of "whoever can throw the most money at this event gets the biggest booth?" Or is BEA generally a primary focus of corporate publishing?

BEA is focused around the six big publishers, no doubt, without them the BEA would hold little relevance to the general public. As it stands today, the media is interested simply because of the celebrity authors and future bestsellers that are on display. Each of these big companies may spend well in excess of $1 million on this show so it is a big deal for them and they spend a lot of time in New York preparing.

Booth placement is key for this show and the sponsors do the best they can to make everyone happy. Size of the booth is indicative of how much money the sponsors are receiving from the big publishers. Having attended more than 20, I would have to say that the BEA as it now stands is as much representative of corporate publishing as anything else.

4) So, let's say I'm a small publisher looking for more exposure for my books. How would I strategize BEA to my best advantage?

For small publishers BEA becomes a necessity to attract the kind of attention it takes to build your business and sell books. If you are small and do not attend, then industry wide you are not seen as a "player" in the publishing business. The best way to strategize if you are a small publisher is to make sure your booth reflects who you are or who you want to be as a publisher. You have to promote your company to the industry, such as agents, authors, and other publishers. It's important for you to put forth the perception that you publish quality product and are serious about your own development as a company. The BEA is the place where you have an opportunity to capture the attention of the bigger players regardless of their area of expertise. This is especially true if your books rarely get reviewed in the traditional media and if you are not based in Manhattan.

5) As a small publisher, what's my best plan of attack? How should I prepare for this event?

The first thing you have to do is make sure you have developed an image you want to portray to the industry. If your focus is quality fiction then you need to have large images of your covers, with free and review copies available, and complete marketing plans, including promotion, publicity and advertising. You have to mimic what the big publishers are doing which gives the impression you can compete even if you are on a smaller scale.

6) I'm a vendor looking to acquire more business. Let's say I'm a publicist or marketing person - why would I want to go to this event and how could it benefit me?

The first thing I would do is walk the halls and get the lay of the land, in other words, determine where the big publishers are located and what all the other booths are about. It's one thing to read the BEA catalog or read Publishers Weekly for the convention layout, it's quite another to walk the hall to see for yourself what each of these businesses are all about. The employees of all the big companies constantly walk the halls looking at their competition, and not just the big publisher booths, but the entire hall.

As a vendor trying to acquire more business, I'd gather as much free information in the form of handouts as you can possible carry, including catalogs from everyone. I would also gather as many business cards as you can and shake hands and speak with as many people as you can meet. Then at night in your hotel pour over all of this information looking for opportunities. I'd pick up as much competitive information as possible and then use this information in acquiring more business.

7) As an author, how could BEA impact my career? How could BEA help me?

Depending on where you are in your writing career attending a BEA for the first time should open your eyes to the possibilities. The books you see from the biggest publishers could easily have been written by you, it's all about understanding the market, positioning your manuscript, having knowledge of what the big guys are looking for, how they purchase rights to publish books, and then knowing how to market yourself as an author. As you walk the hall you will get a sense of just how big the industry, how serious you need to approach your writing, and how extremely important it is to know how the business operates. The authors of the books you see in the catalogs of the big publishers are no more talented than you, but they know something about the business and how to market themselves and their writing. If you're serious about a career as a writer, you can learn what you need to know to be successful by keeping your eyes open and developing your plan.

8) As someone who's attended many of these events, what are some insider tips you can share about event networking and attracting new business at an event of this magnitude?

The idea that you can walk into any booth and make a cold call on an editor, publisher or any business and accomplish something is the easiest way to be seen as an amateur. When that happens, no one will take you seriously. The BEA is not the place to try and transact business; it's the place to meet people that will hopefully allow you to transact business in the future. The only way for anything to get accomplished at BEA is to have established some contact prior to the show and then set an appointment to meet during the show. That is the only way. Dropping in on people and sticking your hand out with a business card is the quickest way to ruin what reputation you might have established.

9) Many people say that "deals are made at Book Expo" but is that true, are there deals made on the event floor?

The biggest deals the largest publishers make is international rights transactions. I can't say that deals are never done on the floor, but if there are, then BEA is the end point, not the beginning. Discussions are held that lead to business being conducted, but rarely do agents and authors, service and product vendors initiate contact at BEA that result in business being conducted at that moment. The atmosphere is more festive and most executives hate to have serious discussions on the floor. BEA is the place for introductions, exchanging of information, but not serious business.

10) As a service provider, publisher, or author - what are some things to look for in book placement, catalog placement, or promotional pieces that might clue me into new trends, or vendors one might want to connect with.

First of all depending on the product or service you provide, you need to scope out the competition. Who else is offering the same and how are they presenting themselves to the public? This is very important. If you are looking for opportunities from publishers' catalogs, look for books that are similar to ones you have worked on in the past. Particularly check out the marketing of these titles and make a mental note on those which you have something to offer that is new and exciting for the publisher.

If you are a small publisher again, take note of the competition. Publishing is about perception; compare your presentation to your competitive publishers. Does your catalog compare? What about your marketing plans? Prices? Page counts? What are they doing differently? The goal is to figure out how to compete effectively.

As an author, there are tons of free and review copies available on the floor of the big publishers at all times, these are the titles they are heavily promoting. Pick them up and read them, this is what is selling today, compare the story, not the writing and pay attention to what publishers are doing to promote their books. Regardless of how you publish, there are plenty of marketing ideas floating around, right in front of your eyes, pay attention because chances are you can take those ideas back home and use them.

11) What type of information gathering do you recommend someone does prior to the event? What's the best way to prepare for Book Expo?

Remember, the BEA is not the place to transact business; it's the place to meet people who you can eventually do business with. It's okay to have a plan of how you want to tour the hall, especially if your time is limited. But the best preparation is hunting and gathering as I've discussed before. The BEA has plenty of information to share, take advantage of the free offering in one location, and it happens only once per year.

The best way to prepare for a BEA is REST! Attending a BEA can be exhausting, go in with your eyes open and don't let the show overwhelm you. It can be daunting to walk in and see all the huge displays and walk away feeling like you're lost. This is the place to see what's going on in the world of publishing. I tell my clients that the bookstore is their laboratory, where they can find out what's being published and how books are being marketed. If the bookstore is your lab, the BEA is the PhD program for students of the business. There is a lot to learn and much you can gather at a BEA.

(Originally published on the AME blog and reprinted with permission of the author, Penny Sansevieri).
About the Author
Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a book marketing and media relations expert whose company has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. Visit AME.
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