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Representing Genres at BookExpoAmerica 2011


So last week was pretty fun, what with BEA 2011 and the Book Bloggers Convention (BBC) both taking place in New York. This was my second year attending BEA, although my first as a blogger. While I did manage to post some brief thoughts last week, I wanted to take a little time to discuss a disconnect I noticed during both events.

Genre, Genre Everywhere…

Everywhere I turned at BEA and at the BBC, genre was plainly visible. Whether it was mystery, thrillers, horror, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, steampunk – every major publisher was promoting the heck out of genre titles. Even those who traditionally keep their toes out of genre waters seemed to dabbling, with “magical realism” or “magical romance” offerings.

Particularly noticeable was the degree to which young adult and middle-grade publishers were aligning their publicity machines with speculative sensibilities. While there are few YA/MG publishers who specialize within science fiction, fantasy, or horror, almost all of the galleys handed out at BEA had some fantastical element – however sleight. Many of these galleys were riding the post-apocalyptic/dystopian wave currently cresting, but nonetheless it was clear that publishers feel that kids read books about monsters, fairies, and ghosts.

…and Not a Home for It

Despite the ubiquity of science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles, there was a noticeable absence of niche booths. The major publishers had consolidated their imprints’ such that niche-market imprints were exhibited under their corporate umbrella. This trend was universal across the major publishers, and I would argue that it failed to serve the niche imprints well. As a general rule, it made it harder (though not impossible) to find people at the booths who could cogently discuss either the galleys being handed out, or the niche imprint’s other speculative titles. Don’t get me wrong – the Javitz floor was full of niche imprint editors, publicists, salespeople, and authors. But they had other things to do there than man their imprints’ booths, and so the folks stuck “back at base” ended up getting mobbed.

There are – of course – notable exceptions. Prometheus Books in particular stands out for how they handled their PYR imprint. Not only was the PYR side of the booth well-supported, but even PYR’s non-fiction cousins were well-prepared to talk about PYR’s list. That ability to cross-promote books across imprint lines was unique on the Javitz floor, at least from what I could see.

A Lack of Genre Programming…

Equally startling – from my perspective – was the lack of science fiction, fantasy, and horror programming. While there were some “author buzz” sessions, outside of the YA and middle-grade segment, there was a startling lack of BEA sessions devoted to discussing trends in SF/F/H. Instead, just about every session focused on one aspect or another of digital publishing.

Are booksellers and librarians no longer interested in learning about trends in particular genres? Or has BEA gone astray by focusing too heavily on promoting individual books and particular authors? I for one suspect the latter: while it’s great to hear about author X and their new genre book Y, there is clearly a place for a discussion of the aisles that by some counts, are the most frequented in any bookstore/library. Is BEA that place? Judged by the conversations on the floor with booksellers and librarians: certainly. Judged by the programming set up by BEA’s organizers? Not so much.

…Especially at the Book Blogger Convention

Even more startling was the paucity of niche programming at the second-annual Book Blogger Convention. Don’t get me wrong, this was an excellent event – and one which I cannot recommend strongly enough to anyone who wishes to attend next year. As a relative newcomer to the world of book blogging, I walked away from the one-day BBC with insights and relationships just as valuable as those I developed during the four-day BEA. But the genres represented at the BBC both within the audience and on the BBC’s programming were surprising.

First, the BBC’s audience struck me as primarily focused on romance and YA. That probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise, considering the size of the romance and kidlit blogospheres respectively. And while my own speculative predilections might bias me, I think the SF/F/H genres generally don’t slouch when it comes to online representation. Heck, just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the awesome list of SF/F review blogs curated by Grasping for the Wind. Were so few speculative bloggers able to attend BBC? For whatever reason, we were thin on the ground in the audience on Friday. Perhaps as a consequence of this skewing of the BBC’s audience, speculative fiction didn’t get much representation in the programming. For example, the “niche blogging” panel had one speculative fiction representative, compared to four YA bloggers. And during the (incredibly valuable) publicist panels, only mainstream or YA publishers were represented.

Representing Speculative Fiction at BEA and the BBC

Despite all of this, both BEA and the BBC were useful for different reasons. BEA remains a great place to get new galleys and chat with industry professionals about books and the industry. Plus, it’s always fun to meet authors and get books signed. The BBC was useful because it allowed me to learn more about book blogging, to share techniques and best practices with other book bloggers who’ve been at it for longer than I have. Would both events have been better for more speculative programming? Overall, yes. Consolidating for cost purposes makes sense, but ultimately it’s a balancing act between being penny wise and pound foolish. Hopefully, they’ll nail the balancing act next year.

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