New York skyline with BookExpo America

Reasons to be cheerful

by John Pettigrew

BookExpo America is a big industry event that’s now spawned BookCon. The breadth of the people attending this year gives me real hope for our industry.

In this blog, I’ve generally focused on specific issues that face us as we actually create the content our readers (and our managers) want. But I spent the last week of May in New York, attending BookExpo America. This was me first BEA and I found it inspiring, in an odd way.

Breadth

I was quickly struck by the difference between this US-centred show and the book fairs in London and Frankfurt. The breadth of content at BEA seems at first glance narrower, more focused on trade fiction. The entrance lobby is adorned with huge banners announcing the latest from well-known writers. Although there’s a strong university-press presence and an unsurprising number of devotional and religious stands, it’s hard to get away from the feeling that this is a show devoted to the novel.

However, this is reflected in the much wider range of attendees than the other fairs. London and (to a lesser extent) Frankfurt are open only to those working in the traditional publishing industry. In New York, by contrast, the preponderance of wheeled suitcases being used to haul away the vast number of sample books available spoke of the number of people who weren’t just there to make rights deals or catch up on gossip.

Authors

Even more interesting was the very visible author presence. Long lines snaked around the stands as people waiting for signings by their favourite authors (and getting in the way of those who were trying to walk around the fair!).

A significant proportion of the stands were also occupied by self-published authors and those offering services to the self-publishers. I was particularly gratified to see the Editorial Freelance Association (the US equivalent of the British SFEP) on their stand, reminding everyone passing of the importance of a good editor. (I also spotted at least one editorial supplier’s stand touting for business among the self-publishers.)

Especially for the world of trade fiction, the relationship between author, editor and publisher is changing in important ways. It’s good to see that traditional values around the creation of quality content are not being totally lost.

Readers

On the final day, BEA devotes itself to the readers. This year they rebranded this day as BookCon (in obvious analogy to the phenomenon that is ComicCon). The queues waiting to meet authors and generally talk about and learn about books were huge – winding out of the doors and down through the basement area where the buses stopped. I was told that 10,000 people turned up, and the section of the hall in which BookCon happened was certainly very busy!

More than anything, this should give us heart. For all the ink being spilled about the fate of the publishing industry, there is still a huge audience for what we produce – an enthusiastic audience that will queue for hours for just a few words with the people who entertain and educate them through the written word.

As long as there are people who feel this level of desire for books (whether they’re bought in print or digitally, accessed on an ereader or a mobile phone), there will be an industry creating product for them.

And editors will be at the centre of this. For we are the ones who make books as good as they can be, and who help authors grow into the best writers they can be.

The popularity of this year’s BEA among readers reminded me of why I’m in this business.

About the author

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of We Are Futureproofs, John Pettigrew has over 15 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development.

Join the conversation