Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Flotsam's-eye View

We're back. We've mostly recovered, unpacked the inevitable free books and divvied them up with our fellow comma miners, sorted through the rolodex of new contacts, and soaked our sore feet. The Comma Miners have survived BookExpo.

Adjectives like "big," "vast," "busy," and "crazy" apply. We did not find, as Publisher's Lunch did, that B.E.A. was "more personal than corporate, and more about encounters than transactions," but then, we are humble Canadian Comma Miners, not Big (or even Medium-sized) Industry Players. My perspective was that of a small plankton floating in the turbulent stream of publishing mania. For a more fish- or even heron-eyed view, you can, view the photos, read the NYT article, or check out the "I was there" anecdotes on Making Light.

Some flotsam's-eye impressions:

Buzzing and Gushing
The only panel I made was the Buzz Panel, mentioned in the Times article, where trade editors from some of the big publishers "outdid each other with hyperbole."

It may be "business as usual," but I found it refreshing and encouraging to hear editors gushing the books they edit. So often in my corner of the industry, we're so pressed to find books that will sell, that will fill a niche, that will capture some of the fickle book-buying public's grudgingly spent dollars, that it's easy to forget that somewhere people are publishing books that they like, that they admire, and that they want other people to read. So often we hear how few people buy books, that it was refreshing to be surrounded by 30,000 people who undoubtedly buy and read books. So maybe I'm working on how-to books and personal finance books, and science textbooks that students are going to abuse and hate simply because they're textbooks. And yeah, sure, a lot of the books on the floor (the majority of the books on the floor, I think) went through the same profit-and-loss considerations that ours do, before becoming books. Still, some people are publishing books they get all teary describing. It's good to know.

Packaging Doesn't Mean with Cellophane
My tag said "BOOK PACKAGER," which kind of annoyed me. Since we were at B.E.A. to sell packages, I can't complain too much, and the label proved a useful tool for sorting the complete strangers to whom we spoke. If we said "We're book packagers. Some of your books look like the sort of thing we do—do you have a moment?" and our prospective client talked about boxes or shrinkwrap, we could pretty much close the conversation there with a quick explanation, like "No, sorry, I guess we weren't clear. We sell books—the idea, the writing, the design and layout, and the illustration, for a flat fee. So you get the whole package ready for you to stick your imprint on and publish. We're not about cellophane. So I guess you don't buy books that way, huh?"

Those who referred us to their acquiring editor or who seemed to know what book packagers do seemed a more likely target than anyone who thought we meant that we make boxes for books.

Everything's Political
After we walked the trade show floor all day Friday, we found the music emanating from the big Events Hall enticing. I could see a bar. By the time we dumped our samples, though, we arrived back at the hall just in time to sit down and watch the American Booksellers' Association hand out its awards. What the heck—we were sitting down.

A year ago, at the Editors' Association of Canada conference, keynote speaker Lois Hole, the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, gave a speech that was mildly political for an editors' conference, but which was certainly not inappropriate for the audience. She exhorted the assembled editors to support public libraries. Not a difficult sell, really. The ABA's keynote speaker was Congressman Bernie Sanders, who spoke about Provision 115 of the Patriot Act, and the shenanigans surrounding the voting in the U.S. government. Of course booksellers and librarians have protested the very notion of making records of who reads which books available to government spooks. And of course, I've haven't been completely unaware of how important their struggle is, and how very scary the proposed legislation is. Congressman Sanders gave a stirring speech, full of righteous anger and determination, and received a standing ovation, even from the footsore Canadian packagers in the corner. And I thought of Lois Hole's plea, which was also a politcal speech that I could applaud, but was a lot less frightening.

Al Franken, author of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, one of the many political books that have come out of the States, unsurprisingly played a variation on the same theme, sharing a lot of unpleasant, frightening truths from his upcoming book (which he said he was considering calling The Truth—with no apologies to Terry Pratchett. I don't think anyone will confuse the two books). None Mr. Franken's speech—not the part about how the scary right wing people use fear to confound the public's view of issues, nor the part about how the U.S. uses its protectorates to enslave women from Asia and forces those who become pregnant to have abortions, nor the part about how the aforementioned scary people use smear tactics to keep the public eye on their opponents' peccadilloes rather than on their own, nor any other part, really—could possibly have been a shock to anyone who pays attention. But still, I came away shaken, not by the content but by the extent to which politics permeates all avenues of public discourse, and moved by the desperate sounding determination with which both the congressman and the author-cum-comedian-cum-radio personality claim that they will fight and win.

As Bossman said "That was inspirational. Those books they're selling [the ones labelled "inspirational," which nobody at the comma mines has any time for], are just lame."

Other Random Impressions
People who bring wheeled luggage onto the tradeshow floor, in defiance of the signs forbidding them, should be stuffed into their own luggage. Pedestrian gridlock is bad enough without someone's luggage trailing behind them and adding a tripping hazard.

My fellow comma miners and I were totally wowed by Candlewick Press's booth. The Dragonology Handbook is one beautiful book, among stacks of gorgeous kids' books. We ogled Robert Sabuda an Matthew Reinhart's beautiful, intricate pop-up dinosaurs, and nabbed samples pop-up spreads, thinking these were just the best thing ever. Greg's kids, aged 9 and 10, who are presumably part of the target market, however, displayed nothing but disdain for Robert Sabuda's and Matthew Reinhart's georgeous pop-up dinos. Oh well—the pop-out dinos can live in the Comma Mines.

The Javits Center needs better soundproofing, more chairs and rest areas, and coffee that doesn't cost $3 a cup (I ask you!).


Anonymous said...

Politics permeate everything because that's the big thing going on, and because we're genuinely alarmed. It's not like past years when (say) Reagan or Bush Sr. were in office, when their policies might be wrongheaded but at least you knew they wouldn't be in office forever.

Since before the first inaugural, Bush & Co. have been acting like they don't expect that they and their buddies will ever go out of power. They're going after long-term control, and they're going after it in a coordinated fashion.

Ballot tampering has been a major multi-year project. Another project has been putting heavy pressure on established lobbying concerns, threatening them with zero cooperation -- which is death to lobbyists -- if they don't get rid of or refuse to hire lobbyists who aren't right-wingers. That'll be a lasting change. And right now they're threatening to do away with the Senate filibuster -- a very startling change -- so that it can't be used to hold up the appointments of a raft of scarily evil-minded ideologue judges.

Go google up "astroturf" plus "social security" or "tort reform" to see how long they've been going after some of their pet issues, how much big-money backing they've had, and how comprehensively they've been lying to their Joe Average supporters.

Basically, these guys don't believe in democracy or the Constitution. I'm not sure they even believe in the social contract. I keep telling my friends who live outside the States that what's happening is nothing they've seen before. I'm telling you the same thing now.

jennie said...

Oh, I believe you. I've heard it before, and I haven't argued. It's one reason I'm working in publishing in Toronto, rather than looking for a job in NYC—I don't see the political situation improving, I don't see people playing by the rules, and I do see a frightening acceptance of what's going on among large numbers of people.

It's been easy to see, from outside, that the U.S. is going through a huge and frightening political shift, one that ignores due process, the rule of law, and all those shining ideals upheld in your constitution in favour of ideology, dark dealings, and a frightening imperialism. Not that the U.S. was ever perfect, or that the shining beacon was untarnished. But, to switch metaphors, the rot has eaten away at the foundations, and that's been apparent.

But it's one thing to know, in one's head, that the political situation is dire and alarming, and to decide not to move based, in part, on that understanding. It's quite another to have that brought home at a booksellers' award ceremony. I'm not saying it shouldn't be that way. I'm not saying that these were inappropriate speakers. But, as I said, it was startling, in the way that seeing a mountain up close for the first time, when you've only ever before seen postcards, is startling.

Greg said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg said...

I wrote up a long reply to this, then decided it would be more polite to post the reply on and simply post this link here.