This is the weekend of BookExpo America in New York City, and most of the bookstore owners and key buyers across the country are away from their desks till next week, attending the book convention of the year. I used to go to these events. When I worked for Zebra Books back in the 1980s, the sales force was always required to be on the floor. I thought it was pretty damn exciting.
Before Zebra, I worked for a guy who sent me to the event in New Orleans—back when it was called the ABA or American Booksellers Association. That was just one non-stop party: eating out every night, traveling on a riverboat, revelry at a local plantation, sight-seeing around the French Quarter. Other memorable ABAs took place in Las Vegas, where the Rock & Roll Remainders held court one night. And New York the next, where we stayed at a fantastic Manhattan hotel, with TVs in all the bathrooms. And Los Angeles, where the big outside attraction was Michael Jackson’s new Disney ride, Captain EO, where everyone was headed after the show.
Then there was the time in the 90s when I owned Firebird Distributing LLC, and we met up with our British distributor in Chicago. Nightclubbing every night takes its toll, but you do what you gotta do. One night we visited Jim Belushi’s club when he was holding forth at the microphone, and that was a lot of fun. I have a vague memory of being at the booth at the convention. We might have done some business. We might not. Booth time was recovery time, as I recall.
The last big book convention I attended was in Los Angeles in the late 2000s. It was a zoo. SCB Distributors was taking a crack at distributing Stark House books, and I found myself in their booth with about 30-40 other small press publishers. I think we had two books on the shelf. I was overwhelmed by the cacophony of the place, and underwhelmed by the sales. I mean, does anyone go to these things to get orders? If you’re doing any business at all, it’s purely accidental, near as I can tell.
I’ve schmoozed for Zebra, met a few booksellers who just wanted to touch base at Firebird, and got totally lost at SCB’s booth. But I’ve almost never sold any books at BookExpo. The conventions exist for publishers to present their upcoming titles, to huddle with key buyers who do, in fact, attend to place orders based on the specials being offered (back in the late 80s, the debate at Zebra was whether free freight or extra discount was the better deal—no idea how that came out). But I can do better with a computer, a cellphone and a website.
In fact, just to prove a point, let me offer every one of you out there a chance to get one Stark House book for 50% off when you read this. Just email me at email@example.com, give me the title you want from the website at http://www.starkhousepress.com (new, old, forthcoming, whatever) and I will bill you via paypal and ship the book at half-off, freight-free (tip of the hat to Zebra there), as soon as it’s available. How’s that for a BookExpo Weekend deal?
Because frankly, it is doubtful whether you will ever see Stark House Press at BookExpo America. For one, it isn’t worth the expense. Two, we just get lost in the shuffle. And three, it’s too far away. They used to parade the ABA around the country, giving booksellers and buyers a new location to look forward to each year. That was when the whole thing was fun. Now, they only offer New York and Chicago as venues, and unless you are an East Coast publisher (okay, granted, that would be the majority of the big publishers), you gotta do some serious traveling to get there.
Which appeals to me less and less each year. I love to travel. I just hate airports. They take all the fun out of flying. But that’s another topic. Let those bold booksellers have their fun at BookExpo. I’m going to sit at my desk, drink my coffee, and reminisce about the good old days.