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BEA 2012 (Day 2): Speculative Fiction Programming Rationale and the Death of a Teacher


NOTE: This is a recap post of the second day of BEA 2012 (Wednesday, June 6th). You can find my earlier review of the BEA Blogger Conference here, and my comments on the first day here.

Wednesday was definitely a light day at the expo. The crowds – which had already seemed thinner than in previous years – had thinned further, making it much easier to cross the show floor. I had visited most of the booths I had meant to visit the day before, so Wednesday became the day when I got to focus on programming, even though most of Wednesday’s programming was on topics entirely unrelated to speculative fiction.

Graphic Novels and Speculative Fiction

One of the aspects of BEA that I appreciate every year is that its graphic novel programming consistently focuses on graphic novels outside of the super-hero genre. Don’t get me wrong, I like well-written super hero stories, but I find they are rare and quite difficult to pull off well. The fact that the Graphic Novel Reporter’s panel on the “hottest graphic novels for 2012″ featured only two super hero stories was much appreciated.

Yet, in looking at Wednesday’s programming I was a tad confused. Much as I love graphic novels, their sales across all outlets (let alone bookstores) are dwarfed by sales of speculative fiction. In 2010, graphic novels had sales of only $340 million (according to ICv2, via Publisher Weekly), while science fiction and fantasy had sales of $559 million (according to Simba Information, via the Romance Writers of America). Since 2010, I don’t believe these proportions have really changed. So why, then, does BEA feature three graphic novel events on its program to its one science fiction/fantasy event?

Consider: on Tuesday, BEA featured a Tor panel of speculative fiction authors (see my write up yesterday). And yes, there were a number of speculative fiction signings in-booth and at the signing tables. But that was it in terms of speculative fiction programming. By contrast, graphic novels had three events on Wednesday in addition to their signings: a session on hosting great graphic novel events, a “meet graphic novel authors” session, and an excellent review of the best graphic novels in 2012. Why don’t other genres – like speculative fiction, or romance, or mystery – get this kind of programming love?

Featuring this kind of programming for other genres would, I think, be just plain smart for BEA. It would give speculative fiction publishers (read: potential exhibitors) a chance to get in front of booksellers and librarians to better communicate how to move their titles. Even longstanding genres like speculative fiction have to educate the marketplace. And many of the booksellers and librarians who I spoke to at BEA are looking for exactly that kind of education: they might cite galleys and autographs as their cynical motivation, but everyone is there to learn.

The Death of a Teacher

While Wednesday was a light day in terms of the expo itself, the entire day was clouded by the announcement of Ray Bradbury’s death. I remember very clearly the book that got me into speculative fiction (in fact, I still have it). I was eight years old, and I had walked one and a half miles into town (an intimidating distance for an eight year old even in a small, safe town) to pick up some books with the change I’d gotten out of my piggy bank. I went to the little used bookstore we had in town, and wandered into darkened corners that smelled of cobwebs. And that’s where I found a small battered paperback for seventy five cents, face-out and with an awesome cover:

The Illustrated Man is what got me into speculative fiction. I begged my parents to stay up late so that I could scare myself reading it. It was darker, more serious, more magical than anything I’d read previously, and I was probably too young to really appreciate it. But it showed me what writing could be, showed me how words could open infinite reaches of imagination. Ray Bradbury is the writer who got me into speculative fiction, and his control of language got me into writing. Though I never met him, I feel a deep sense of loss to know that he has died.

Ray Bradbury’s greatest gift to us was to expose the sublime dark side of innocence, and in doing so to show us that the scary grown-up world remains magical. We have lost one of the greatest writers of the past hundred years, and I am sad.

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