The African American Book Expo comes to Los Angeles County this weekend, importing an indie publishing phenomenon to the West Coast. The Expo, which brings readers of African-American books together with publishers and authors, is set for Saturday, August 18, at the SOL Venue, an event space in Carson, Calif.
Author and publisher Myss Shan launched the first Expo in May 2017 at a recreation center in her hometown of Dallas. The organizers packed 40 entrepreneurial indie publishers and authors into a single gymnasium, and an estimated 1,000 readers attended the free event.
One year later, more than 25 authors signed up to exhibit at the New York edition of the Expo, an event held at The Tillary Hotel in downtown Brooklyn. Shan estimates that around 1,500 people passed through the doors of the April event. “We did it mixer style,” said Shan. “We had author tables set up on the hotel rooftop. We had drinks and food. There were no speeches or anything like that. People were getting to know each other, and then you had the authors pitching their books.”
Brooklyn-based songwriter and author L. Joevon paid to promote his novel, Seeds In The Concrete, at the Brooklyn Expo. He sold around 50 books, and estimates he met at least 1,000 new readers over the course of the afternoon.
“I was kind of shocked,” he said. “I met people from Virginia, Delaware, all throughout the East Coast. It was an intimate setting. It didn’t feel like a book expo, it felt more like a networking event. It was people getting to know us authors, with food and wine. I met a lot of African-American literature and independent authors pitching their projects.”
In all, Shan has hosted four African American Book Expos: one in Texas, one in Maryland, and two in New York. Readers and bloggers get into each event for free, but authors and publishers pay for spaces. An author vendor table costs $175 and a publisher table costs $300.
Before launching her career as a publisher, Shan was an author of urban fiction novels. “I had a really big fan base, and people would ask me for publishing tips,” Shan said. “So I put ‘accepting submissions’ in the back of my books, and all of a sudden I got a flow of manuscripts in my inbox.”
She’s worked as a publisher for four years, building one of the more influential companies in her favorite genres: “African-American Urban Fiction, Romance, and Street Literature Books.” Her indie press, Shan Presents, now counts 80 authors, four editors, and around 500 different titles.
Shan already has plans to host another Expo in Brooklyn next year, and hopes to expand to South Carolina and Philadelphia as well.
After a successful experience in Brooklyn, Joevon has already purchased a spot at the this weekend's Expo. He says the cross-country trip will be worth it. “I make my money on the streets of Brooklyn and New York, but I need to go to California,” he said, explaining why he chose to make his first trek to the West Coast Expo. “Even though I’m making a living off the book, I have to figure out a way to reach the masses. It’s exposure. Getting your book in the right hands means something,” he said.