Book Expo is the annual trade show where booksellers meet publishers to hear about what's coming in the next season. Like every great clash of opposing forces, the hangers-on outnumber the direct combatants and provide most of the low comedy. I am one of the hangers-on. As a literary agent, I'm useless to booksellers, and publishers alike. Doesn't matter. I'm badged, and ready for fun.
And BEA is fun. It's fun because this is the one time of year when I know that I'll learn stuff I didn't know I needed to know. I'll connect with old friends, dodge new enemies, and if I'm lucky, find some great stuff to read. (This is the point when my faithful readers can point to yesterday's blog about the BIO conference and how many books I dragged home and look askance at the idea I need ANY new books for two more years.)
But I digress.
I'd intended to swim over to the Javits Center bright and early but was delayed because a client needed to come over to the office and sign his new contract. Oh yes, I have my priorities in order. Contract FIRST. Then BEA.
I arrived to find the registration lines ...absent! If you're ever attending BEA, the first day is the best day to pick up badges. Tomorrow the lines will be out the door and down 11th Avenue but today, no one. And yet, there were a lot of people there.
The first lucky collision was with an old friend Susannah Greenberg. It was great to catch up with her and hear about some of the interesting things she's doing with Google ads. (Susannah is a terrific publicist just fyi.)
A quick glance at the list of panels turned up "Making Non-Fiction Sexy" and there was no chance I could resist that! Off I swam to the panel.
It became clear from the start that the panel was intended for booksellers. I'd stumbled into new and foreign territory, but the people didn't throw stones, so I huddled inconspicuously and took notes.
The panel moderator was Oren Teicher, head of the ABA. He mentioned that most bookstores sell 1/3 fiction, and 2/3 non-fiction. Nods from the audience confirmed this statement.
It took me a couple minutes to realize that statistic undercut the premise of the panel. Making something "sexy" is jargon for increasing how attractive it is for buyers. It's clear from those sales stats that non-fiction is quite sexy enough, thank you.
And yet, if you ask anyone about hot books, or the what's being buzzed at BEA (as in the Editors Book Buzz to follow) they all talk about fiction.
After the Non-fiction seminar, I dashed across the hall to make sure I got a good seat for the Editors Buzz at 4:30. I know from long experience that the room fills up quickly. My strategy is to attend the panel meeting in the same room and right before the buzz panel thus securing a seat. Second row left side, voila!
In this case,the panel before the Buzz Panel was the opening plenary speech by Margaret Atwood. I've met Margaret Atwood, I've read Margaret Atwood. I've been lectured and reprimanded by Margaret Atwood. I planned to listen, but I was there just to hold the chair.
Boy was I surprised. Margaret Atwood is hilarious. Really REALLY hilarious, and smart funny too. I was shocked to my shoes. Then I was so immersed in what she was saying I forgot to take notes. She told us about the three speeches she started to prepare for this event, and in telling us about why she wanted to talk about the topic, and why she couldn't complete the topic, conveyed more to us than if she'd simply told us her main point. In other words she told us a story, and in doing so let us draw our own conclusions about what she meant. And no surprise: she's brilliant.
Utterly and completely brilliant.
It's amazing what you find at BEA when you're not looking.
When I tell you her new book is about science fiction, and she told us she loved SF: science fiction, fantasy, sword and sorcery, slipstream fiction, you won't be be surprised at all. Such clever and complex minds need more than earthly dimensions!
And when I heard her say "I'm the only person you know who's read all the Conan the Conqueror books" only to have three people in the audience say "hey, me too!" I knew I was at BEA 2011!
And when her closing comments were about the provenance of metallic brassieres, I knew it was going to be a GREAT show.