This is a long post because it marks a major milestone for indie authors: gaining a foothold at Book Expo America (BEA), the largest annual book trade fair in the US.
The Show ran for three days last week, from Thursday to Saturday, with many ancillary conferences around it: IDPF Digital Book, Book Bloggers Conference and others. Last year for the first time, headliner top-selling indies took a booth at the fair, a strategy so useful that they have repeated it since at other fairs, like LBF2014.
This year, the buzz was all about was the new dedicated space for indie authors, called The Author Hub, billed by BEA as “a dedicated lounge created exclusively for entrepreneurial authors to have a presence on the BEA trade show floor to enjoy networking and … promotion.”
Orna Ross and ALLi member, Lara Nance, report back.
“They're here!!! They're here!!!”
The speaker (actually, shrieker) was a teenage girl and she and her friends came running over to my table. I was packing boxes and getting ready to go downstairs to speak at the opening session of the UPublishU conference. The Author Hub behind me was empty, as yet. It was only 8:30 AM.
“Is this where the indie authors are going to be?” she asked, gazing up at the sign said The Alliance of Independent Authors as if it said Private Audience with Justin Bieber.
“Yes, they'll be coming in shortly,” I said. The front row of the Author Hub housed five high-sales, headliner author-publishers: Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy (the highest selling author on Amazon Kindle, who had cut the ribbon and declared Author Hub officially open for business on Thursday morning); Hugh Howey, CJ Lyons and Holly Ward.
This girl, and her pals, must be after one of them, I figured. “Was there somebody you particularly wanted to meet?”
She shrugged. “We just want to see (tone of rapt wonder) the indie authors.”
“Any indie author?”
“That's what I, like, want to be when I leave school.”
“Me too,” said her friend.
“All of you?”
Yes, all eleven of them had the same ambition and had come to the Javitts Centre to stake out their self-publishing heroes.
Functions of BEA
BEA now covers two very different, and important, functions for its attendees. On the one hand, it turns its face towards the trade: corporate publishing, literary agents, rights buyers and sellers, author and publishing services, digital innovations. On the other, through what it now calls BookCon, it is aimed at the reader. Which was where my teenage girls came in.
I gave them copies of the book we'd launched at The Hub the previous day, Choosing A Self publishing Service.. “Can you sign it, please,” one said.
I took out a pen and as soon as I did, people began to stream over. Soon there were two lines of readers, one for that book, another for the two-for-the-price-of-one novel I was also promoting at the fair. In what seemed like no time, I'd signed hundreds of books. I had to leave a disappointed crowd behind to go downstairs to speak. If I'd had hundreds more books, I've no doubt that they'd have quickly been taken.
The most interesting thing about this is that almost nobody in that crowd already knew me, or my work. They had seen me signing, come across, picked up the books, examined the cover, maybe dipped in and read a page or two, and decided whether or not it was a book for them. If not, they replaced it and wandered off, if they liked the look of it, they got in line for their signed copy.
“We had purposely placed the Author Hub in the Consumer Wing for the reason that we wanted BookCon-goers to find our authors,” said Porter Anderson, instigator and organiser of the author presence at BEA, whom the authors affectionately dubbed King of The Hub. “You were seeing the Hub operate exactly as planned on Saturday when eager readers found you, and your fellow authors there, and could interact with you”
I'll write in more detail on my author blog about my personal experience. My point here is that I believe the connection with readers afforded by BookCon justifies the investment in an Author Hub presence for any serious author-publisher.
(And I also thought you'd like that glimpse of the future epitomised by those teenage girls. To them, indie authors are cooler than cool. Stigma? Second-best? Not in their book.)
Author Hub: Worth It For Authors?
So BookCon was a total highlight of The Author Hub and fully answered the question I'd brought along to The Author Hub on behalf of ALLi members and other self-publishing authors: was it worth the investment?
For $600, authors could avail of Basic Membership: a BEA badge, listing of a chosen title in BEA’s “New Title Showcase” and online and mobile “Show Planner” app, presence at a shared table within The Hub and access to UPublishU Conference on the Saturday (of which more below). Each of these benefits has a perceived purchase value of its own. Access badge to BEA, for example, costs $360 alone.
For another $600, bringing the total to $1200, you could upgrade to Premium Membership, which include a BEA Autograph Signing spot (something trade publishers fight over for their chosen authors) as well as your own dedicated table in the Hub.
Before attending, we at ALLi had fully discussed the prospect. We knew it would benefit the headliners but would it repay the average author? We had our doubts but my BookCon experience had, for me, answered an overwhelming Yes. This built on already positive soundings from Thursday and Friday — because there was more, much more, going on at the Hub than BookCon day.
From ALLi's perspective, we'd launched the update of our Choosing A Self-Publishing Service; presented an award to Mark Coker of Smashwords for service to the author community; taken part in a UPublishU panel on publishing pathways, with Hugh Howey, Mark Lefvebre of Kobo, and Steven Spatz of BookBay; met up with old and new members, colleagues and friends; and launched or advanced a number of projects for our members.
And this positive experience was enjoyed by most of the authors too. (See Lara Nance's report below).
Of course, as is to be expected first time out, there's room for improvement. The reception desk needs to be smaller, so people know they can come on in. Some of the authors would have appreciated more inclusion in the main BEA program, and better communication about how to access benefits — push notifications, autograph signings. The sound was a problem during some of the education sessions, with the proximity of the Downtown stage making it hard to hear. And at the UPublishU conference, there was a serious clash between the BookCon reader-hordes and the conference-goers and exhibitors.
But almost everybody was agreed that these were minor drawbacks when weighed against the benefits. Porter Anderson is one of the most clued-in commentators about the power shift towards the author in contemporary publishing. He brought all his knowledge, and an instinctive understanding of what authors need and want to The Hub's set up and running order.
I interviewed every author in the Hub, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with only one saying she would not come again next year. Highlights cited included:
- A home at BEA where they felt comfortable and supported, able to strike out to the trade floor and come back again
- Meeting and networking with other self-publishing authors, especially headliner, super-successful indies
- The education programme
- Other networking and creative conversations
- And the biggest highlight: Book Con Day.
What I'd like to see next year is an integration and consolidation of the indie author presence, so it's all in one space, something the redoubtable Mr Anderson is already thinking about. “My hope is that we can figure out a way to get the Indie Bestsellers properly set in a great booth as they did so well this year, but in some sort of central proximity with the Hub,” he says. “Blue sky: I see a gorgeous Indie Bestseller booth like #1761 at the very front and center of an Author Hub “village” around it, with tables for Hub authors set around the Bestsellers booth like cafe tables in Paris.”
And I'd also love to see integration of the UPublishU conference and Author Hub programming, to have both in proximate space and running across the same time i.e with UPubU also happening on a non-BookCon day.
So it's onwards and upwards for Anderson and the team at BEA. “For all the many things we're all looking at to reconsider, develop, and evaluate with your and other authors' help, we've made a major step this year,” says Anderson, “In the presence and purpose of authors on the floor of the biggest publishing trade show in the United States…[we have] an important turning point in the nature of BEA's programming. We all need to give special credit to BEA Director Steven Rosato for this.”
And to Porter Anderson, King of the Hub, himself.
The most important thing about The Hub is that it happened. And that it happens again, bigger and better, next year.
LARA NANCE: cross-genre author of “chills and thrills”: “I came to BEA this year with low expectations. I wouldn’t have come at all if it hadn’t been for Authors Hub. As a self-published author, I wasn’t sure this mega-publishing event would offer me a lot. So, I settled on being satisfied if I had the chance to simply absorb some literary mojo and meet some interesting people.
I was wrong.
Thanks to Authors Hub, I found a home I could scurry back to when overwhelmed with the crush of stimulation and information outside our little partitioned spot on the vast floor of the Javits Center. There I could bond and interact with other BEA virgins and self-pubbed heroes.
From my table I could meet with select vendors whose services interested me, listen to speakers every half-hour imparting wisdom and insight on every aspect of publishing, or just gulp in a breath and take notes on all I was learning.
On Thursday morning as Authors Hub opened, I was inspired to start the day by Hugh Howey giving an update on his Authors’ Earning reports, which comforts us self-pubs that we made the right decision.
From there, I discovered the incredible BookTrack service and promptly went on-line to add music and sound effects to an excerpt of my first steampunk novel. (Authors, you must check out this cool new tool!) A super way to promote your work. (And it’s FREE.)
Then I chatted with different PR companies, hoping to find the right one for me. After that it was on to foreign rights opportunities, then promo ideas like the super cool Bublish and exploring new startups like Openbooks.com and Publisher’s Weekly’s booklife.com.
Thursday ended on excellent discussions with innovative companies, Where Writers Win and BiblioCrunch. I’ve been a member of WWW’s Winners Circle since its inception, but being able to talk with Shari Stauch in person gave me even more insight into their services. Same with Miral Sattar, who showed me how BiblioCrunch could help me with a myriad of author services. All of this conversation being much better than just going to their websites.
Friday began with a fantastic start when Orna Ross handed me a copy of Choosing a Self Publishing Service, like manna from Heaven.
Honestly, if you’re not a member of ALLi, you’re missing a lot of great information and support like this book, which is chock-full of resources for authors.
I learned more about running Goodreads promotions from Patrick Brown himself. Visited with the folks at KDP to chat about what I like and don’t like about their new dashboard. Got a hint there might be some new promo opportunities coming for Select members, wheeeee! Meanwhile, outside on the street, Oyster is celebrating their grand opening with free iced coffee, bottled water and cookies for everyone, along with special offers.
Friday ended with a cocktail party sponsored by Amazon, KDP and ACX in a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant where we were led to a back room reminiscent of secretive speakeasies during Prohibition. Great networking and conversation ensued along with too many glasses of red wine…
Then my very own BEA autographing session on Saturday at 10:30 where I signed and gave away copies of the first book in my DraculaVille series. People were actually lined up to receive a copy. Wow. Just Wow.
I gave away the remainder of my books at my table in Authors Hub. Readers came looking for my book based on the description in BEA info. I guess I got that blurb right….
I was simply blown away and humbled to have the opportunity to interact with so many readers and fans. So much better than running an impersonal on-line free promotion.
So, YES, as you can see, my first BEA has been amazing and full of information and opportunities even for this lowly self-pubbed author. The reality was way beyond my expectations, and I can’t wait to get home and start working on some of the things I’ve learned. But, I couldn’t have had this rich experience without Author Hub giving me my safe little nest from which to operate. If I am able to attend next year, I’ll be even better prepared to take advantage of everything this show has to offer.
A big smooch to all who had a hand in organizing the Hub for authors and providing such a wonderful venue to learn and spread our wings! Yes, that means you, Porter Anderson!
Hope to see ya’ll there next year!