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What Indie Authors Want From Book Expo America (And Other Big Book Fairs)

What Indie Authors Want From Book Expo America (And Other Big Book Fairs)

Orna Ross Bio HeadshotPublishing conference season is over and before we head into the summer, Orna Ross gives author feedback to the conference that has the most potential but is delivering least for indie authors: Book Expo America (BEA).

BEA is the largest publishing event in North America, where the most developed market for ebooks and self-publishing is found. It has run a dedicated self-publishing event — UPublishU — for some years. And while other international book fairs, like the Frankfurt Book Fair or the London Book Fair, are firstly global marketplaces for foreign rights, BEA grew out of a different background and is dedicated more to bookselling, a words that is close to most indie author's hearts.

In short, BEA should be a vibrant and dynamic fair for self-publishers, a leader in the field.

Alas, no.

Why Should An Author Go To A Book Fair?

Porter Anderson: new post

Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives

At BEA, as at all publishing fairs, trade publishers show off their upcoming publications and publishing programs to booksellers and distributors and rights buyers in individual meetings. PR teams arrange individual author events, readings or signings and distribute promotional material. And publishing professionals, booksellers, librarians, and other industry players convene for educational and information sessions.

So what happens there for indie authors? BEA was held in Chicago this year, and UPublishU came out of its ghetto, in the basement, onto the main floor, a move widely welcomed by authors and author services. UPublishU was given a (modest) stage area and, in another part of the room, the Authors Market (formerly Author Hub) was again set up as “a place where authors could buy a table and chair for a price approaching $2,000,” says publishing consultant and Editor-in-chief at Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson.

He has recently written with Jane Friedman in their publishing news magazine for authors, The Hot Sheet, of how the major trade shows—London Book Fair (LBF), BookExpo America (BEA), and Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) — have “struggled for years to create meaningful engagement with independent authors.

“The trade shows are just that,” he says, “events created by and for the traditional industry with rights-sales at their hearts and not easily adapted to a community of authors who work largely outside the industry's day-to-day operations.”

This arena was set off in a vast, open area on one end, that felt, as one of the authors complained, “sad and isolated”. She thought her investment “worthless, a waste” except for the comaradarie of the other authors. “We could have had that on Facebook,” she said. A number of the other authors agreed though there were those who spoke positively.

Perhaps what's more telling is that for all of them, it was their first time there.

Recommendations From ALLi and Author Services Company Kobo Writing Life


Christine Munroe, Kobo Writing Life

“My dream BEA would involve an engaged discussion about the opportunities available to authors and publishers today, incorporating print and digital strategies for growing book sales globally.,” says Christine Munroe, US Manager at Kobo Writing Life. “UPublishU should offer a line-up of experts — authors and service providers — qualified to provide helpful advice for authors at all paths and points in their careers. There should be a casual networking opportunity (like LBF’s Author Lounge) or 1:1 quick meetings where authors and industry pros could connect.”

Anderson says he hopes a self-publishing day again this year at FBF, on Saturday 22 October, which will be largely service-based. He envisages “a sequence of sessions to create a focus for authors, with a lot of practical introduction to services and — as is important for authors from less-developed indie markets than the UK and US — some outlines as to how the sector is growing.”

(As ALLi's Indie Author Fringe will also run on that day, watch this space).

Munroe would like to see more creative thinking at BEA. “Invite successful indie authors from a few genres, mixing up the lineup from the usual all-stars and pundits. This could be a sponsorship opportunity for the industry side: sponsor a keynote speaker. Announce these keynote speakers well in advance to draw in more author attendees.”


Bryan Cohen, Indie Author

Bryan Cohen, indie author and co-host of The Sell More Books Show, whose session on writing good book descriptions was a big hit at UPubU and the Indie Author Fringe, agrees. “It'd be really interesting to have a big powerhouse speaker come by with some built in buzz… [And] I wonder if some big cohesive theme could help unify all the presentations as well. Like they're all a part of one whole.”

Some more recommendations:

  • Bring Author Market, good author services, carry-over people from IDPF and UPubU together into one significant and vibrant author space
  • Free the UPubU content from being only sponsored content. Of course some sponsorship is necessary but concentrate on getting the best possible education for authors … new trends, latest services, not pay-to-play.
  • Stream UPubU content into 2 categories of author:
    – Beginning/Considering Self-Publishing
    – Already Published & Want To Sell More Books

Some of these are likely to happen, says Sally Dedecker, Director of Education at BEA.  “Although we are still in the planning stages of BookExpo 2017, back in New York, our goals are to continue to expand efforts to have programs that connect and engage authors and author service providers in a meaningful way.”

What would you add? Do you have ideas for London Book Fair or Frankfurt? Do you think indies should just ignore the publishing world and focus on our own, different, way of doing business? Let us know in the comments below.

And for those who couldn't attend LBF or BEA, do check out the sessions at our Indie Author Fringe event.

Book Expo America Indie Author Fringe Fair here

London Book Fair Indie Author Fringe Fair here.

Of particular relevance is David Gaughran's post, Authors, Don't Waste Your Money: Book Fair Bewares

What #indie #authors want from #BEA & #bookfairs by @OrnaRoss Click To Tweet

Author: Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and inspirational poetry, and a creativity facilitator. As founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, she has been named one of The Bookseller’s Top 100 people in publishing. 


This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. I’ve been a publisher of foreign-language phrasebooks since 2000 (8 print titles, 6 ebooks) and I’ve exhibited some of my books 3 times at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, once through CBE and twice through IBPA. I was able to attend those fairs in person, because I had an aunt and uncle (now both deceased) who lived in nearby Kronberg, where I could stay and not have to pay for an expensive Frankfurt hotel. I’ve never exhibited in BEA or London, but I’ve done some lesser book fairs in Portland, OR, and Seattle. My accumulated opinion is that, for a small publisher or indie author, book fairs are a collosal waste of time and money. Perhaps others see this differently, but I found them to be very cost-ineffective. They only make money for the professional displayers who, to compound your misery, later take your books (2 copies each title) and resell them. (Do the math on that if they’re displaying 300-400 titles.) For me, exhibiting my books at book fairs was like putting Porterhouse steak in the top of a meat grinder and getting bird doo-doo out the bottom. Personally, I find myself relying on painstaking guerilla marketing for most of my sales. That said, I think there ought to be genre exhibits for small publishers and indie authors only. As it is, book fairs lump together ENORMOUS quantities of books in every genre under the sun. What human being on this earth has the mental capacity to evaluate even 1% of the books on display? You can have it. Me, I woke up, smelled the coffee and am drinking it.

  2. I attended BEA, but as a volunteer at the SWFA Booth. There was incredible interest from indie publishers there, but when I had a chance to walk the show myself, I did not find many resources there which pertained to us.

    1. Hi Johathan, indeed. Pity we missed you, we had a table by the UPubU stand (beside Kobo and Smashwords). Next time, we hope the indie presence will be unmissable.

  3. There is something to be said for ALLi piggybacking on major events like these. Some of us are, or want to be, hybrid authors. Only those who work to put on these events three times a year can say if all three are worth the effort, although as a US author I’d hate to see us be the one dropped.

    London seems a given for ALLi, but perhaps Frankfurt and the US could alternate as a secondary – US one year, Frankfurt the next. Or do we need a steady presence to establish ourselves as a player?

    1. Hi Janet, we don’t expect to see BEA dropped, on the contrary, we want to build the indie presence live there, as well as bringing fringe events to those who can’t attend. ALLi ran five lived events on the UpubU stage, for broadcast during our Fringe event. This effort is a key part of our Open Up to Indie Authors campaign. As the largest and most developed market for indies, the US is very important to all indies, everywhere. And we have had a positive response already to this post… so stay tuned! Thanks so much for interest

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