What song was the Titanic band playing? Reflections on BEA

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Okay, I had to give this an attention getting header.  I spent a single day at BEA on Tuesday.  I felt like I’d hit a time warp, going back almost a decade to when I did BEA in Chicago at behest of F&W to promote my Novel Writers Toolkit.

I hadn’t planned on going.  The other half of Cool Gus Publishing, (And yes, Cool Gus is real.  He’s snoring under my desk right now after just finishing our run together) Jen Talty, was going for two days.  But then as appointments started to pile up, I caught a 6 am flight out of Raleigh-Durham into LGA, and a 9 pm flight back home.

It was extremely worthwhile.

I walked the Javits Center and while some things had changed, a lot hadn’t.  I didn’t see anyone giving away digital arcs, which just seems to make sense:  cheaper, no need to stand in line at Fedex to ship those suckers home, and more environmentally friendly.  I’m sure someone had to be doing it????

I remarked to my business partner, Jen, that a lot of these people were going to be looking for jobs.  Not out of meanness, but simply reality.

Yes, there was a digital section, but it mostly seemed boilerplate companies offering to do formatting, covers, upload, yada, yada.  People selling apps.  Come on, readers might get a Harry Potter app, but for 99% of authors, an app is a waste of time.  Even for publishers.  Oh yeah, give me that Random House app.  Ask readers and the vast majority don’t know, nor care, who the publisher is.

The Digital Bookshelf (part of the New Title Showcase), on which we spent some advertising money, was a complete waste because of the way they presented it..  It was placed off in a corner where to see it, you had to go looking for it (we (well Jen) actually had to ask directions)– I’m a guy).  Before we finally found it, I commented to Jen that they they should have had interactive displays set up next to the booksigning corrals?  Where you had a captive audience that would have been interested in scrolling through the books?  Or along the waiting line to get in to see the big name speakers, like Colbert?  Big failure there. The other failure of the Digital Bookshelf was the displays were 3 television screens. And not very large screens. Lucky for us that a few of our books were the main page, so perhaps the handful of people who walked through the display, might have caught a glimpse. Jen suggested that it would have been really cool if they had smart screens, instead of a mouse that you had to use to scroll through the shelves. Also, another thought would have been to have one of the screens scrolling through each book, like a slide show, while others allowed people to pick and choose which books they wanted to read an excerpt. Instead, they had three screens on a table in front of some books labeled New Title Showcase, off to the corner, behind a blue screen.

Elloras Cave had some cavemen at their booth.  Shudder. I’m always reminded that every year at Fort Benning, the guys who win the extraordinarily grueling Best Ranger competition are not bulky, chest-shaved body-builders, but lean, mean (literally) killing machines who average 5’10” and around 170 pounds.

I looked at the schedule for the digital workshops at whatever they were calling their digital track and wasn’t impressed. It was a lot of gurus talking about stuff that didn’t directly relate to the fundamental truth in publishing:  getting the story (which is not the book!) from the author to the reader.

But here’s where things got different.

Amazon had two booths.  One for KDP/Audible and one for their imprints:  Thomas & Mercer, Montlake, 47North, etc.  I spent a lot of time at both.

In 20 years of legacy publishing I was lucky if the assistant to the editor returned my call.  Publicity?  Can you hear every midlist author howling with laughter at the thought of a legacy publicist actually answering your call or returning it?  Never mind actually doing anything.

In one day at BEA I met with:

The Worldwide Director of KDP for Amazon and Createspace.

The General Manager of KDP

Two acquisitions editors for 47North

The Managing Director of Createspace

Kobo (Jen was invited as a feature author at their booth and now has been invited to go visit them in Toronto, tour their offices and be interviewed for the website).

So many people from Audible that they finally rigged their giveaway to get rid of me and I won some free downloads (which is perfect as I just bought my blind father a Kindle and he’s sitting now for hours listening to Audible books.  I lied and told him I get them for free since, well, you know how parents are.  Well, now I got some for free so I’m not a liar).

I didn’t just ‘meet’ these people.  They seemed to really, really want to talk to Jen and I.  They went out of their way to talk to us.  They asked us for feedback and suggestions.  To tell us what they were doing and were planning to do.  The vibe from Amazon, PubIt, 47North, Kobo, etc was excitement and very positive.  Guess they consider themselves on the Carpathia already.  But its actually like they’re on a helicopter while the Titanic founders below.

My acquiring editor at 47North (yes, I will have an 11 December release from them:  Area 51 Nightstalkers) also talked about re-releasing my million copy selling Area 51 series that Random House tossed on the trash heap (and has been selling like crazy since we re-released it at Cool Gus in eBook).  He said Amazon wanted to prove they could take something NY had no longer considered important and show they could sell it.  Hell, I’ve already proved that, but he’s talking a whole ‘nother level with Amazon marketing behind it.  Throw me in the briar patch.  11 December is going to be a big day.

Here’s a scary sign for NY. My editor asked me who I would like to edit my book.  First, he was like, giving me a choice?  Huh?  My author brain was hurting.  Then he listed five names.  I recognized 3 of them.  Who were former major editors from NY houses, some of whom I’d worked with.  Wait, did this mean some people had actually gotten in lifeboats and escaped the Titanic in time?

Jen and I are now writing our After Action Report in Google docs.  Who we have to follow up with.  What we have to do.  And most importantly, how are we going to change Cool Gus’ business plan given all we’ve learned?

I see where Smashwords made one million in profit.  Looking at our books, we’ve officially crossed one million in earnings in 18 months at Cool Gus.  Jen reminded me that our first month, December 2009, we sold 3 eBooks.  How times have changed.

We are not content.  We can do better.  We can do things differently as needed.  We will work with anyone if they have a solid and innovative business plan.

Nothing but good times ahead.

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