A BEA Diary – 2004


“I want lunch and I want it NOW,” I heard the familiar voice say.

I’d just walked into the hotel when I saw the lovely, talented, and always hungry Mayapriya Long. It’s a long-standing tradition that I take Maya to lunch at the BEA. And not just once…. but whenever lunch time happens to come around. I’ve yet to figure out where that tradition got started, but there as no way to break it. So I checked in and took my time unpacking hoping she would meet someone else who would spring for lunch. Yeah, well, you know THAT story. She was right there when I came back down to the lobby. And since she is a JAYA123 client, I had to take her someplace nice (read expensive) and so that was how I started my BEA just like each one in the past.

Mayapriya Long of Bookwrights

Each year prior to the big BEA the Publishers Marketing Association holds a Publishing Universtiy which is a three-day session of seminars, meetings, and the Ben Franklin Book Award dinner. On the first day there is an afternoon “how to do BEA” session followed by a kick-off reception.

Before the reception all of the vendors set up their booths. We see the same vendors time after time and strong relationships often result. However, this year was a bit different since a lot of the “old guys” did not come. Dan Poynter did not exhibit this year (but he was a speaker). Marty Gilliland was not manning the United Graphics booth and Becky Pate of Central Plains was not there…. both being replaced by new/different reps. I was looking forward to seeing Becky and Marty but it was not to be.

One surprise was that Vaughn Printing did not exhibit at PMA this year. And their top salesperson had also left the company. Also absent again was Data Repro. I fail to understand how you can be a vendor to this industry and not have some kind of visibility at BEA…. either with PMA or in the “Big Top.”

It’s sort of customary for all of the vendors to visit with each other before the reception and since my booth was simple to set up… all I had was a laptop computer… I walked around and chatted with the others. While I was gone, Maya set up her side of the table (we each pay $500 for the exhibit). This year she came with a beautiful stand-up montage of her covers and everyone was drawn to it. The picture does not give it credit as the flash didn’t work, but you get the idea of what our table looked like. My side was not too impressive… but people come to see ME…. not the table 🙂

Our thousand dollar table. Worth it? Not sure.

PMA-U is not so much a seminar as it is a reunion because a huge number of people come back year after year to take the ever-constantly changing classes. And, of course, most of the vendors are “old hands” as well. So the Tuesday evening reception is always fun. People kick up their heels, there is a lot of hugging and drinking, and it’s just a “good time.”

Claire Kirsh and Pat Bell doing the Frozen Tundra Two-Step

It’s always interesting to see who has gotten older, who has gotten fatter, who has had a boob job, and who has decided to get in shape. I had worked out long and hard this year to make sure that the first words out of Mayapriya Long’s lips was not as it was last year… “There’s Al… someone call Greenpeace!” So I felt pretty good about how I looked. And I was glad to see that most folks looked pretty fit as well and are taking care of themselves. We’re all starting to age a bit!

What’s really interesting is to see people you correspond with but have never met in person and to find out if they match your perception. I had expected Marion to be a beat-up old bat… I mean what IS the definition of an accountant??? 🙂 Well, I about stroked out when I saw this attractive woman who looked all of 28 years old. No she’s not 28, but she can pass.

And there was Virginia Van Vynckt (known as V3) who was sporting a totally new look from the “hippie girl” she was in the past.

Marion Gropen and V3

It was good to see two of the Grande Dames of the Small Press… Tordis Isselhardt, Deborah Robson, Maya, and Pam Fenner ….. although I doubt that’s how they would want to be saluted!

The “girls” and me. From left: Tordis, Deborah, me, Pam, Maya

I thought there would be an awkward moment when I saw Shel Horowitz, but it never came to pass. We had buried the hatchet (not to be confused with hiding the salami !) several months ago and I think we both enjoyed seeing the other again, especially under a more favorable climate.

Shel and the author (I’m the thinner one!)

And no PMA (or BEA) is complete without Dan Poynter, the founder of the small press and to whom we owe all our misery! No one ever has a bad word to say about Dan and it was good to see him looking so fit…. talk about a babe magnet!

Dan with Bo (and her hat!)

After the reception Maya and Peter Goodman of Stone Bridge Press and I went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant that was near the hotel. We discussed the current state of the book industry as well as the health of the small press. Neither are doing all that great, we decided.

With unit sales of books down 23 million from a few years ago, and with more and more books coming out, there is an obvious dysfunction in this industry. Fortunately, it won’t be the small press that is hurt, as we’re not as leveraged as the large corporate entities.

It all comes down to creating demand, but no one seems willing (or able) to make that happen, outside of a few celebrity books. Unless you are publishing to a select niche and you can reach them outside of the retail channel, you are simply going to be in a world of hurt…. or at least that’s how it seemed to us over noodles and bean sprouts.

We all agree that there is a need for new leadership in the small press sector. Maybe it will come from SPAN. Maybe it will come from someone like Fern Reiss. All we know is that it won’t come from PMA.

It had been a long day of travel, eating, and drinking. I knew Wednesday would be an even longer one, so I declined an invitation to go bar hopping and instead went up to my room to read the paper and relax before “Show Time” tomorrow.

Click for Wednesday

  • A BEA Diary – 2004 – Part 6
  • A BEA Diary – 2004 – Part 5
  • A BEA Diary – 2004 – Part 4
  • A BEA Diary – 2004 – Part 3
  • A BEA Diary – 2004 – Part 2