With the waning of pandemic-related restrictions and increasing vaccinations around the United States and the world, fair and event organizers have begun looking into conducting in-person shows, while publishers are also dipping a toe into participating in live programming.
On the event front, August will see what could be the largest roster of live book fairs since the pandemic struck in early 2020 and the London Book Fair was canceled at the last minute. Notably, many of live U.S. events are focusing on genre work in comics, mystery, and romance. Among the biggest will be Bouchercon, which will be held in New Orleans August 25–29, under the motto, “Blood on the bayou.” Michael Connelly will receive a lifetime achievement award.
Bouchercon, in fact, will be the first event that Kensington Publishing will have a large author presence at since in-person shows gave way to virtual presentations last year. According to Vida Engstrand, Kensington’s director of communications, the publisher will have about 30 authors at the show, with two vaccinated Kensington staff members making the trip, as well. If there are no Covid-19 surprises, the publisher will host a mixer/book signing on August 26 for all of its authors, and anyone attending Bouchercon will be invited.
For the most part, independent publishers seem to be more flexible in thinking about attending domestic fairs and shows than the larger publishers. “Departments are currently making their own plans for limited travel domestically this year,” said Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks.
Kim Anderson, v-p sales and marketing for Chronicle Books, said her teams are planning to attend a mix of regional book fairs and national specialty shows. One key for her is to determine what kind of attendance the various shows are expecting before she commits to sending authors and staff. “Authors will go where it makes sense,” she said.
The two regional bookseller associations that have announced in-person fall shows, PNBA and MPIBA, are both being targeted for attendance by Chronicle, Kensington, and Sourcebooks. Engstrand said Kensington is deciding which vaccinated authors would be a good fit at the different shows, as well as finding out which authors feel comfortable travelling. If authors are accepted to either regional, Kensington will send those authors and a staff member.
Anderson said Chronicle will send only authors and staff to a show if they want to attend, and she expects that anyone going to an event for Chronicle will be vaccinated. Since some areas where shows are being held have low vaccination rates, she will encourage those attending events on Chronicle’s behalf to wear masks.
The larger publishers are generally recommending that employees continue to curtail domestic travel through the end of 2021, but are leaving ultimate decisions on travel and which shows to attend to divisional leaders. There were indications that a limited number of staff will attend a few shows.
No publisher—big or independent—contacted by PW said they had plans to attend an international show for the remainder of 2021. Still, Jon Malinowski, president of Combined Book Exhibit/American Collective Stand, noted that publishers’ interest in attending overseas and domestic fairs has increased. Approximately 25 publishers are going with Malinowski to the Frankfurt Book Fair as part of the USA Pavilion. He said he will also be heading to the Guadalajara Book Fair and Sharjah International Book Fair in late fall, and will be attending in-person shows held by the American Association of School Librarians (October 21–23), the New York Library Association (November 3–6), and the National Council of Teachers of English (November 18–21).
Both Kensington’s Engstrand and Chronicle’s Anderson are keeping their options open for the rest of the year. Anderson said that though there is a great deal of interest in going to live shows, it is still early. “We will be scaling our presence based on attendance projections,” she added.
Engstrand summed up Kensington’s philosophy as, “If there’s a big event or conference taking place in person that we think presents a good opportunity for our author or authors, and if the authors and/or staff are vaccinated and willing, we’ll be there.”