The self-published come to BEA

On writers row
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  July 3, 2012

POWER READERS! This year, Book Expo America invited not only self-published authors, but also non-industry fans. 

Kenneth Brown stood in a remote corner of Manhattan's Javits Center floor. His display table, stacked high with copies of his book, faced a makeshift wall. It was the second official day of Book Expo America 2012, and Brown was still smiling.

A dozen yards away at the Random House pavilion, mega-bestseller Lee Child signed galleys of his latest thriller for a crowd that clogged the entirety of one long aisle. Elsewhere, librarians and booksellers stuffed Harlequin-branded tote bags with advance-reading copies of the fall season's offerings. But what's known as Writers Row — the menagerie of self-published writers and very small presses who have rented space for the duration of the conference — felt very much removed from the frantic activity happening around it, and not just because of its relative emptiness.

Most people manning other booths were already showing signs of overstimulation and fatigue. After all, as publicists, editors, and sales representatives for established houses, they had to contend with the questions and the grasping hands of the people with the power to make their titles sink or swim. They had to attend sales meetings with book buyers and lunch meetings with agents. The people at the other booths were not only required to be there, they also got paid for it.

Not so the denizens of Writers Row, at BEA of their own volition and on their own dime. Yet, by the time I met him, Brown was positively perky.

"It's been great!" Brown told me, shaking my hand. "I'm happy to be here."

It's a good thing, too: Brown travelled all the way from Boston with his wife, Ashley, to promote his first book, Inside the Cup: Translating Starbucks into a Drinkable Language. Culled from four years of experience working as a barista, Inside the Cup, according to Brown's Web site, promises to answer "almost any question you might have about ordering at Starbucks. It contains almost one hundred color pages of drink recommendations, popular kids' drinks, in-depth information about coffee, tea, caffeine content, a glossary of terms and much more." His objective in coming to BEA was simple: exposure.

"I've been making a lot of press contacts," he said. "I just wish things weren't so quiet over here."

BEA has made a great effort to court people like Brown. This year, it hosted a daylong series of self-publishing panels under the name uPublishU, billed as "a unique opportunity for aspiring authors to be a part of this gathering of industry professionals." It cost $99.

By all accounts, uPublishU was a smashing success. As Publishers Weekly reported, the vice president of Bowker — the company responsible for publishing Books in Print and issuing ISBN numbers — "proclaim[ed] 2012 to be part of the 'golden age of self-publishing,' and provided statistics to back it up; according to Bowker's newest figures of books produced, last year there were 211,269 self-published titles (based on ISBNs) released, up from 133,036 in 2010." Accordingly, keynote self-publishing seminar "The How, What, Where, and When of Print and EBooks" drew nearly 300 people.

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