Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘BookExpo America’

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.

BEA 2012 (Day 1): The Relationship of Speculative Fiction to Mainstream

NOTE: This is a brief write-up of Tuesday, June 5th, the first full day of BEA. You can find my write-up of the pre-BEA Book Bloggers Conference here, and I’ll do a write-up of the second day (Wednesday) tomorrow.

Overall Impressions of BEA 2012 and its Relationship to Speculative Fiction

Last year, speculative fiction was omnipresent at BEA, though subsumed by other genres (see my write-up here). This year, I got the impression that outside of YA, that trend has slowed. Yet that is not all bad: YA strikes me as the most vibrant category here at BEA, and it seems like half of the YA titles at BEA are speculative to some degree (take that, folks who claim YA has no SF!). But outside of YA, adult fiction publishers seem to be focusing on more mainstream titles.

Even the large houses (almost all of which have SF/F imprints) seem to be soft-selling their speculative lines at BEA year, with fewer signings and fewer galley giveaways than I’ve seen in the past. Of course, there are plenty of genre publisher parties and the like, but the official / formal presence at the expo is muted. I’m sure there are many solid economic reasons for this, and I’m also sure that it was carefully discussed and considered by the various publishers. Since I’m not privy to those discussions, I’m curious as to what they might be, and why adult speculative fiction is becoming increasingly sidelined at BEA.

The Tor Panel: Was It Preaching to the Choir?

The highlight of Tuesday’s speculative fiction programming, at least for me, was the panel of Tor authors who spoke to genre’s crossing into the mainstream. The panel featured Walter Mosley, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and John Scalzi and was moderated by Ryan Britt (of The discussion was definitely interesting, and as erudite and thoughtful as anything we could have heard from mainstream authors.

One statement from early in the panel struck me as particularly interesting: Walter Mosely said that “For a hundred and fifty years [weird] fiction has been preparing us for the world [we live in],” which the panelists suggested is why speculative fiction is and will remain relevant for readers and our culture. I cannot agree more.

Yet despite the panelist’s erudition and intelligence, I walked away with a worrying impression: looking around the audience, I saw many faces I recognized from the SF/F community. That’s not a bad thing, of course, since I love that community. But were the panelists preaching to the choir? I fear that in some ways, much of the rhetoric about speculative fiction’s relationship to mainstream fiction is isolated within the confines of the genre. Are we just marinating in our own sauces? Or are we in fact engaging and educating booksellers, librarians, and consumers outside of our existing fanbase?

As I walk the aisles of BEA, the relative invisibility of speculative fiction makes me worry that we have been isolated in our ghetto for so long that we have become acclimated to its confines. Our narrative devices have escaped to live free and exciting lives across all genres. But as a component of the broader publishing industry, perhaps the creators, editors, salespeople, and booksellers who created and popularized those narrative devices in the first place should break out themselves.

Audiences love speculative fiction, which means booksellers and librarians should, too. Speculative fiction is all about powerful stories, and the genre itself has one. So why do we tell it so quietly?

BookExpo America and the Definition of “Press”

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I’m pretty passionate about books. I read many, and every week I write either an in-depth analysis of some book/writing-related issue, or I post a detailed, analytical review of a science fiction, fantasy, or horror title. In the almost two years that I’ve been at this, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the greatest, most professional publicists and authors in the world. It’s been an awesome experience, and one that (judging by the traffic of my blog and by my Technorati ranking) it seems folks appreciate (at least a little!). And yet, this blog no longer meets Book Expo America’s “standards that are required to qualify for a Press Pass”. Which is odd, considering that it qualified last year when my readership was about 10% of what it is now.

Here’s the form e-mail that I, and many other popular book bloggers, received from Reed Exhibitions today:

Thank you for submitting your Press application to attend BEA as a working member of the media. Unfortunately you did not meet the standards that are required to qualify for a Press Pass. The standards have been determined for BEA by our exhibitors as to what are considered benchmarks of a professional “press credential”. We review all applications very carefully due to limits on the number of press passes that are issued. Unfortunately, your application does not meet the guidelines we have been given in order to maintain the expected standard of trade and general media. We greatly appreciate your time and consideration, hoping you can still participate in BEA or follow the coverage through our video and podcast initiatives.

Best regards, -R
Roger Bilheimer
BEA Public Relations Director

Despite the fact that I’ve made lots of productive relationships through BEA in the past and covered the event on this blog, I understand if they’ve established criteria that I now fail to meet. It’s their event, and the guest list is in their purview. And yet, this whole process raises a number of questions. To whit:

1 What are the “standards [that] have been determined for BEA by our exhibitors as to what are considered benchmarks of a professional “press credential”” ?
2 Why are people only getting this notice today, two months before the event and several months after registering, when hotels and flights have already been booked?
3 Are Reed Exhibitions, and their publisher exhibitors intentionally sending a message to book bloggers that we don’t count as press, that our POV on industry events is less worthy?

To be clear, I’m not grousing about the fact that I’m not getting a press pass. At this point in my blogging career, I have enough relationships in the industry that I’ll still have plenty of stuff to cover even if I never set foot on the show floor. Yes, I might miss a lot of interesting developments…but I’ll still have plenty to write about, regardless. But, Reed Exhibitions’ lack of transparency, the lateness of their communication, and its implications are all troubling.

Is this the kind of relationship Book Expo America and its exhibitors want to foster with the book blogger community? Don’t book bloggers count as press? Shouldn’t we be given the professional courtesy of clearly communicated criteria before we’ve booked our flights and hotels, scheduled meetings and interviews? In short, if book bloggers act as professional media, don’t we deserve to be treated as such?

If, like me, if you’ve got a problem with Reed’s approach to this whole process and would appreciate some more transparency, please make Book Expo America aware of it. You can tweet stuff @BookExpoAmerica, as well as e-mail I’ve e-mailed and tweeted at them asking for clarification, and I know a lot of other book bloggers are doing the same.

If you care about books and their coverage on blogs, boost the signal!

%d bloggers like this: