The noon opening for BookExpo on Wedesday led to a quiet start for this year’s fair. But as the day progressed, the crowd steadily built and by late afternoon, a palpable buzz began to fill the hall, as people lugged tote bags full of galleys and promotional swag.
Prior to the opening, more than 100 people, many of them book bloggers and independent authors, lined up to get an early start on the galley giveaways and literally dashed into the hall the moment the floor opened. Among those early attendees was Kristin Thorvaldsen of Long Island who runs the Always with a Book blog. “I’ve been publishing my blog for nine-and-a-half years and post three to five times a week,” she said. “I come to BookExpo for the networking, which is important to the work I do.” She added that she had several meetings scheduled with marketing executives and publicists.
Despite the shifting demographics of the fair, it still serves as a barometer of the industry for its traditional audience. "Our customers expect us to know about every book that is published, so it is important for me to take the time to come here," says Jessica Kupillas, assistant manager at Barnes & Noble in Farmingdale, N.Y., who says B&N was happy to approve several days off for her to attend the show. She says she is encouraged to see publishers and the industry embrace more and more graphic novels. "We just added a stand-along section at B&N for middle grade graphic novels and it is extremely popular, so I'm happy to see more and more of that type of work available to readers."
Kupillas was one of several people who said a highlight of the show was the chance to see author Leigh Bardugo, who is publishing her first adult novel, Ninth House (Flatiron, Oct.), after a string of YA bestsellers.
Arsen Kashkashian, buyer for the Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Co., affirmed the ongoing importance of BookExpo in helping booksellers navigate the increasing number of books published each year. "I still get excited coming to Book Expo and get a decent amount out of it. For me, as a buyer, and for our store, which is out West, it is still an important opportunity for us to meet with New York publishers and their marketing departments." While at BookExpo, Kashkashian is interested in tracking down a copy of Pete Townshend's forthcoming novel The Age of Anxiety (Hachette, Nov.). "It should be interesting, Townshend wrote a rock opera and was an editor at Faber & Faber after all," said Kashkashian.
Now his 41st year in publishing, Robert Weil, editor-in-chief and publishing director of Norton/Liveright, continues to work the show floor each year, and was busy touting Audience of One by television critic James Poniewozik (Liveright, Sept.), a book he says is "extremely relevant in this political age" and Pete Buttigieg's recent Shortest Way Home, which now has 177,000 copies in print. That said, he added, "My first Book Expo was in 1981 in Atlanta, when it was called the American Booksellers Association Convention, and I find that [BookExpo] can be just as important for a publisher like us, one has who has a deep backlist, to remind booksellers of what they have to offer, rather than just promoting frontlist titles.
Jim Nichols, vice president of sales at Consortium, said, "It's always a thrill to be here.” Referring to the recent news that Baker & Taylor was exiting the retail wholesale business, "There is a lot of interest in the changes to the business, and the moment and we are at the center of that shift in the ways that books will reach customers." Among the publishers distributed by Consortium is City Lights, which also runs its eponymous bookstore. "We're on both sides of the business," said City Lights publicist Stacey Lewis, "but we only started coming [to BookExpo a few years ago] after our store buyer, Paul Yamazaki, encouraged us to. So far, it's been great." At the show, Lewis is promoting City Lights' first YA book, Troublemaker for Justice by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long (City Lights, Aug.).
Several people attending the show noted the difference between what was being promoted at Book Expo and at what was going to featured at BookCon, the weekend's public-facing show. "I would have loved to see more adult fantasy and science fiction authors pushed at BookExpo," said Nicole Brinkley, a bookseller at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y. "It's interesting to see what BookExpo and publishers thinks booksellers value and to see the disconnect for the booksellers who read and handsell sci-fi and fantasy and the consumers who read and buy it."