What many said was the best BookExpo America in at least five years got a rousing start with Bill Clinton's keynote speech Thursday evening. The energy, excitement and optimism shared by the 2,700 people in the audience carried over the next three days to the trade show floor and other events at BEA, held June 3—6 in Chicago.

In fact, from Clinton's virtuoso speech to Jon Stewart's masterful performance at Sunday's book and author breakfast—which served as bookends to this BEA—politics and political books, the hottest nonfiction category of the year, were a focus of the show. Somehow even vice-president Dick Cheney's unrelated overnight stay at the Hilton Towers (for a fund-raiser) and President Reagan's death on Saturday added to the sense that politicians are the new celebrities of the book world—and emphasized the growing, mutually rewarding connection between publishing and Washington.

The improving economy and a more positive bookselling environment contributed to the cheerful mood. While there was no big book of the show other than Clinton's My Life, many booksellers raved about a range of solid titles that they expect to do well during the rest of the year. (More on them next week.) Most exhibitors expressed satisfaction with traffic and business.

Marilyn Ducksworth, director of communications for Penguin, said traffic at the booth was brisk for much of the first two days of the convention, noting that the feeling on the floor was "totally different than last year," which was Penguin's first year back at BEA after an extended absence.

Jim Childs, publisher of Taunton Press, found "much more enthusiasm" among attendees than in Los Angeles.

Tom Bielenberg, co-owner of Micawber's Books, St. Paul, Minn., noted that "three or four years ago, people seemed depressed about everything. People seem really upbeat this weekend."

Agent Sally Wecksler called the first day of the show "one of the best Saturdays I've had at a book fair in some time. People were very enthusiastic."

One of the rare negative comments came from first-time attendee Dave Griscom of Clock Tower Press, who said he was disappointed he didn't see more book buyers. Clock Tower was part of the Combined Book Exhibit, whose marketing director, Peter Birch, said that "prearranged meetings" set up by exhibitors "worked very well."

Perhaps Steve Shapiro of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., summed up the mood of this year's BEA when he said, "I think this show is fabulous. Everyone is friendly—I don't think I've ever met a rude bookseller—and on the publishing side, everyone seems excited about the books that are coming out. This is my fifth BEA and, so far, I think this is the best show I've been to. I like the layout of McCormick Place; you can find everything, including the perfect tote bag."

Total attendance was 25,261, down from last year's 27,143 in Los Angeles and 31,726 in New York in 2002, the two cities that traditionally draw the most BEA attendees, but up more than 3,000 from the 21,898 who attended the last BEA in Chicago three years ago. (Attendance might have been even higher this year, but BEA has taken steps to tighten up on badge distribution to non-industry people.) In other good news, attendance by book buyers rose almost 1,000, to 7,492.

As usual, a variety of groups held related events. Pre-show activities included the Publishers Marketing Association University, which drew more than 650 people, a record turnout, according to PMA director Jan Nathan. "It's a good way for small publishers to share challenges and look for solutions," she said.

People praised most programming, from the book and author breakfasts, which served up the strongest menu of authors in a while, to the ABA's education day. Britton Trice, owner of Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans, La., commented: "I think this year BEA has done a pretty good job of figuring out what booksellers are looking for. It's great that they offer these pearls of wisdom that booksellers can take back with them."

Booksellers Browse

Besides independents, chain stores supported the show in a major way. More than 150 employees from Borders attended, many more than usual because the retailer conducted its annual district managers meeting in conjunction with BEA.

Vin Altruda, president of Borders stores worldwide, said, "Our folks are thrilled to be here," and added that "early indications are that we will come back." Some publishers christened the Borders meeting room "Bordersland."

Jenie Dahlmann, Borders public relations manager, said that the company had "integrated BEA with our own strategic sessions this year. Every year our merchants have this opportunity to meet with publishers, but our district managers have never come to get that kind of attention from publishers. This is the first time 40 district managers and seven regional directors have come to the BEA." Most Borders buyers were at the show as well. Tom Dwyer, director of adult trade book merchandising, told PW that the change allowed "more people at different levels of the company to see the whole season at once."

For its part, Books-A-Million sent a sizable contingent from headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., and hosted a party at its Loop store (one of the old Crown stores it bought in 2001). Impressively, by the 5 p.m. Saturday start of the party, just three hours after the announcement of Ronald Reagan's death, the store had an endcap display of titles about the late president.

Among other companies that had rooms off the convention floor was Google, which wanted to sign publishers up for Google Print, its fledgling search effort that will include book content. According to publishers who heard the Google pitch, the company strove to show that its program is different from Amazon's Search Inside the Book. "I think it reflects the paranoia Google and Amazon feel about each other," one publisher observed, referring to fears at Google that Amazon wants to become more of a search engine, while Amazon is afraid Google will enter the e-tailing business, beginning with books.

Political Potpourri

But politics, in several forms, was the main event.

The audience at Saturday's political books luncheon may have come hoping for a juicy row, but had to be content with dry chicken. It was a subdued affair—as if the seriousness of the country's real-life problems had ruined the sport of political squabbling. Or maybe the panelists just knew that nothing short of fisticuffs could top the Franken-O'Reilly dustup at the same event last year. Conservative standard-bearer Linda Chavez did jokingly suggest that she and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd engage in some hair pulling, but in the end, everyone kept their hands to themselves. The event's best hope for all-out hostility evaporated before the show even started, when actress—turned—hard left radio commentator Janeane Garofalo pulled out of the panel.

In a question that resonated fully only after the event was over, moderator Brian Lamb (whose latest is Booknotes on American Character from Public Affairs) asked how the upcoming presidential election would be affected if Ronald Reagan were to die before November. As expected, Chavez, whose new book is titled Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics (Crown), spoke glowingly of the former president's heart and mind. "He was the most underestimated intellect I've ever seen in public life," she said. Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, author of Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics (S&S), praised Reagan's personal warmth, while angrily denouncing his politics. "The politics of telling poor people they were worthless—it started with the Reagan era and it pissed me off," she said.

As for the Sunday breakfast, the show hadn't seen a crowd worked so expertly since, well, Bill Clinton. From practically the moment Jon Stewart got up—immediately after Tom Wolfe's description of his own novel's frat-boy high jinks and promiscuous sex—with the comment, "I'm here to announce that I'm leaving the show and going back to college," he did the nimble, on-his-feet reactive stuff that makes him so popular.

Stewart started with a little monologue partially lifted from his TV show. "We're in a very unusual situation," he said somberly of the war in Iraq, "when the U.S. is at war and the Germans don't want to join." He paused, then exclaimed, "Germany is the Michael Jordan of war," before comparing the country to a reformed alcoholic who refrains "not because they object but because if they get a whiff...."

Perhaps his most forceful (and, given his performance, not-to-be-heeded) response came when a teenager asked him if he had advice for her generation: "You're 16 and you're at a booksellers convention? Yeah, I have some advice for you: get an Xbox, get cable TV, and forget this ever happened."

Parties in the Spotlight

There were some party gems at this BEA. IPG put on a delightful event in the courtyard of the Art Institute of Chicago. Each evening of the show, publishers hosted parties atop the Allerton, the "booksellers' hotel," all of which provided a great opportunity for booksellers and others to socialize. Unbridled Books introduced itself to the book world at the Palmer House.

Jaded BEA party-hoppers acted like wide-eyed fans during the party Warner Books threw for Jon Stewart Saturday night to celebrate America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. The House of Blues was packed with fans who took turns surrounding Stewart, vying for a handshake and a few words with the comedian who has become one of the biggest forces in American politics.

Even without Charlie Winton at the helm, PGW sponsored its usual blow-out party at the end of the show—at its longtime Chicago venue, the Green Dolphin. In contrast to some years, the music began "early."

Buzz Panel

Though PW editor-in-chief Nora Rawlinson encouraged the six editors on the third annual Editor Bookseller Buzz Forum panel to present their fall sleepers, many talked up major nonfiction "make-books," perhaps operating on Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch's philosophy that "they're all sleepers until they hit."

The panel's 1,000-pound gorilla was Gen. Tommy Franks's account of the heroism and strategic lapses of the war in Iraq, American Soldier (HarperCollins/Regan Books), which has an announced one million—copy printing. (Later, Harper CEO Jane Friedman grumbled that BEA organizers had turned Franks down as a speaker. See more about the Franks flap below.) Standing in for publisher Judith Regan, editorial director Cal Morgan also grabbed attention with How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, a "warts 'n' all" memoir by blue movie icon Jenna Jamison.

S&S publisher David Rosenthal had the audience clamoring for a galley that was on many lips by the show's end: The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs, whose attempt to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica is well known to NPR listeners (see Bookselling, p. 28). Penguin Press senior editor Scott Moyers, speaking on behalf of publisher Ann Godoff, went for the heartstrings in pitching ABC World News correspondent Jim Wooten's We Are All the Same, about an extraordinarily charismatic South African boy who put a human face on AIDS.

Little, Brown's Michael Pietsch pitched Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, a "book of ideas" about intuition and decisionmaking rooted in examples from business and science. And Random House executive editor-in-chief Dan Menaker highlighted the senselessness of war in describing Joseph Persico's account of how legions of men died unnecessarily on Armistice Day 1918, in Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour.

When it came to literary fiction, dysfunctional families ruled the day. MacAdam/Cage's Anika Streitfeld touted How to Be Lost, a story of mother-daughter turmoil by Amanda Eyre Ward, whose debut, Sleep Toward Heaven, was the San Francisco house's number two seller last year, after The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Pietsch also played up LB's recent string of literary fiction hits when introducing Dave King's debut novel, The Ha-Ha, about a mute Vietnam vet whose relationship with a young boy allows him to see the world with new eyes. And comparisons to John Irving abounded. Random House's Menaker emphasized the "Garp-ishness" of George Hagen's tale of a peripatetic family, The Laments. And Regan Books' Morgan compared Jess Walter—author of Citizen Vince, about a con man in the witness protection program—not just to Irving but also to William Kennedy and Richard Russo. Only Rosenthal departed from those themes, emphasizing how Martin Cruz Smith's first-hand research in Chernobyl allowed him to create a gripping new vision of contemporary Russia in his latest thriller, Wolves Eat Dogs.

Franks Flap

Perhaps the only controversy of the show involved an author who wasn't there: Regan Books author Tommy Franks, whose non-invite to one of the bookseller breakfasts or lunches prompted Harper CEO Jane Friedman to say she was "terrifically disappointed. Do I think it was a mistake? Absolutely. Do I think it was a mistake compounded by the fact that Bill Clinton hired Tommy Franks? Yes, I do." She said Franks was a "wonderful speaker" who "would have made a great point-counterpoint to Bill Clinton." Friedman also said that she had approached a leading bookseller involved in the panel decisions, as well as show manager Greg Topalian, requesting an explanation but said she still had "no idea" why he'd been left off.

"I think it's an exciting book and I personally would have loved to have it," said Topalian. "But the booksellers have a much greater sensibility for what's going to be a hit than I do, and we're very careful not to take into account our laymen personalities" in making a decision. Topalian added that he had the impression that the bookseller panel felt there were already too many celebrity authors, or nonprofessional writers, on the panels.

Asked whether the absence would lead her to rethink the extent of Harper's future participation at the fair, Friedman said only, "I'm not going to speculate either way." As for BEA's take, Topalian said, "I know [Harper is] upset. Certainly I hope it will pass."

International Brigades

The foreign contingent came in many guises to Chicago, with a mix of printers, publishers and trade groups. Along the British publishing row, most exhibitors called the show satisfactory. "Business was steady," said Award Publications' Daniel Garside. Richard Curry of Miles Kelly said his booth was very busy. "We saw the people we expected to see and some we didn't expect to see," he said. Traffic was a bit slow for first-timer Family Doctor Publications, whose publisher, Mark Thornton, was trying to interest American publishers in his health guides. The show was a disappointment to Plexus Publishers' Terry Potter, who said there were not enough rights people. "BEA is too close to London," he said. In fact, the Rights Center appeared to be the one dud of the show, with few crowds and little activity.

Business at the Thailand exhibit was "better than last year," said Chet Hocharoen, marketing officer for the Department of Export Promotion Ministry, which represents both publishers and printers. Americans expressed more interest in Thailand's printers than publishers, Hocharoen said. Printing was the focus at the Australian Industry Group booth, which represented five printers. Rob McCulloch said he was looking for opportunities for printers to do niche publishing for American titles, as well as to do larger print runs of U.S. books sold in Australia. There was enough interest that McCulloch said that it "won't be the last" show for this first-time exhibitor.

Deborah Shnookal of Ocean Press, an Australian house specializing in Latin American titles that is distributed here by Consortium, called BEA a "terrific show." The press was highlighting an expanded, newly translated edition of Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries, which is the subject of a film to be released in the U.S. later this year.

In a nice twist, a family of British Columbia booksellers from different bookstores traveled together to BEA. Mary Trentadue, owner of 32 Books Co., in North Vancouver, was at the show with her parents, James and Lee Trentadue, who own Galiano Island Books, Galiano Island. This BEA was Mary's second. "Last year I felt like a tiny minnow in a huge pond," she said. "This year I feel like a small fish. This is bigger, louder and grander than our annual BookExpo Canada. It's nice to see bookselling on a much bigger scale. The educational sessions are 300 times better than those in Canada."

Lee Trentadue added, "This is our fifth or sixth BEA. We always feel so welcome when we come. Booksellers in America are very outgoing and supportive to all booksellers." Her only negative comment: "This year it seems that bigger publishers are giving away fewer galleys than medium-sized publishers. Hyperion was wonderful and embracing, but Random feels closed to booksellers. It was hard to get galleys of books I know will sell well back home."

All Things Latino

This year's publishing lineup at the fourth annual Spanish Book Pavilion, sponsored by Críticas magazine, included nearly 160 companies from the U.S., Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Colombia and other countries. The Pavilion's floor was filled with important translations of U.S. bestsellers, including Against AllEnemies and The Da Vinci Code, and books written exclusively for Latino readers.

For the second year in a row, BEA joined forces with Críticas and the Association of American Publishers to promote Latino authors and educate the publishing world about the makeup of the market for Latino writing. Saturday's industry seminars and author events were aimed at booksellers and librarians serving Latino communities.

At the second annual Latin American and Latino Book Buzz Workshop, Scholastic, Public Square, Santillana, Llewellyn, Sphinx and Reed Press enticed booksellers and librarians with their fall titles. The day ended with two author programs, both in their second year: Latino Writers on the Verge and the Latin American and Latino Author Forum. Novelist Ana Castillo introduced the first session, a preview of the future "it list" for English-language Latino authors, which featured readings by first-time writers H.G. Carrillo, Black Artemis, Mary Helen Lagasse, Silvio Sirias and Joe Loya.

The second author panel highlighted the works of Ernesto Quiñonez, Nina Marie Martínez, Ignacio Padilla, Luis Rodríguez and 2003 National Book Award— winner Carlos Eire. The forum, hosted by media guru Chiqui Cartagena, explored the state of Latino publishing. Quiñonez, who was rejected 14 times before publishing his acclaimed debut novel, Bodega Dreams, voiced the frustration of many aspiring Latino authors. "It's not just the publishing world that's hard to crack into," he said. "It's also the MFA programs." The forum got lively toward the end as the authors, who come from both sides of the border and are of diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, responded to Cartagena's question: "How do you identify yourself?" Quiñonez and Rodríguez argued that Hispanics should not be considered a homogenous group merely because they share a common language.

At the "Demystifying the Spanish-Language Media & Influence" seminar, media professionals from Univision and local Spanish-language newspapers discussed ways in which booksellers and librarians can tap into Spanish-language media for effective community outreach. After declaring 2003 the Year for Publishing Latino Voices for America and launching a Get Caught reading campaign for Hispanics, the AAP designated June as Latino Books Month.

News from Children's Books

Attendance was up and energy was high for the Association of Booksellers for Children's Thursday programming. In the words of ABC president Monica Holmes, "There was a very positive atmosphere of business moving upward and onward. I felt [that the children's booksellers] were all really happy to be there and exchanging ideas."

During the ABC annual meeting, Anne Irish announced that Holmes will continue as president, Ellen Davis of Dragonwings as vice-president, Becky Anderson of Anderson's Bookshops as secretary and Beth Puffer of Bank Street Bookstore as treasurer.

Illustrator Tomie dePaola is creating original artwork for the 100 posters and 50 buttons shipped to each ABC member store for the 20 Minutes a Day Literacy Program. Isabel Baker of the Book Vine for Children, McHenry, Ill., who once owned a bookstore and now creates a catalogue for preschoolers, won the ABC Spirit Award.

The group also established the E.B. White Read Aloud Award, which will go to the book voted the best book of 2003 to read aloud; this award will replace the ABC's Choices Awards. The award "is not for one genre of a book: it can be a picture book or a chapter book," Irish explained. "The idea is for the bookstore to nominate the book that, when someone comes in and says, 'I want to read something out loud—what's your favorite?' this is the book you'd recommend." Ballots will go out via e-mail, and nominations are due by June 30; a committee will review the nominations, and the award will be announced in mid-July.

In regional reports, booksellers shared "victories" and ideas, one of which was a well-received idea from the Great Lakes Booksellers Association. Anderson's Becky Anderson reported the group set up a Grass Roots Café at its association meeting, where booksellers could send protests concerning the USA Patriot Act and the Internet sales tax via fax.

Lucile Micheels Pannell Award winners Monica Holmes and Valerie Lewis, co-owners of Hicklebee's in San Jose, Calif., shared some innovative ideas for drumming up the enthusiasm of children, parents and teachers, as did last year's winner Cammie Mannino of Halfway Down the Stairs, Rochester, Mich. This year's Pannell winner in the general store category was Suzy Staubach of the UConn Co-op, who was also elected vice-president of the ABA at the conference.

Mo Willems, Caldecott Honor author/artist of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Hyperion), entertained children's booksellers as they ate their lunch. Alluding to a certain duck who tries to take the hero's lunch in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, Willems said, "I'm hoping to create an entire neurotic aviary." He signed copies of his new book, Knuffle Bunny, later in the conference.

Newbery-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, Clarion) kicked off the afternoon of programming co-sponsored by members of the Children's Booksellers and Publishers Committee (comprising representatives from the ABA, ABC and CBC). She described her dream bookstore; a favorite comment, at least judging from the laughter in the audience, was Park's wish that "every book be face out."

The Evening with Children's Booksellers was sold out, and some would-be attendees without tickets were turned away. ABC raised nearly $30,000—a record—at its silent auction. More than 140 items were up for bid, the largest number of items donated to date. After the dinner, Chris Van Allsburg told the audience about how he came to write The Polar Express, which will be released as a feature film on November 19. His publisher, Houghton, has reshot the artwork and printed one million copies, and each attendee received one, along with a copy of Math Curse (Viking) by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, the forerunner to this season's Science Curse; the pair had attendees in stitches with their usual one-liners.

On the floor, ABC had a booth this year for the first time, provided to the organization by the BEA. Irish said that a handful of booksellers signed on as ABC members at the booth, and many more took away information. An autographing at the booth by Valerie Lewis and Walter Mayes, coauthors of Valerie and Walter's Best Books for Children: A Lively and Opinionated Guide (HarperResource), gave ABC board members "a chance to talk with a lot of different booksellers, cataloguers and general bookstores and introduce the ABC idea," said president Holmes.

Irish was encouraged by the passing of the torch for two major children's bookstores: Marilyn Dugan of A Likely Story, Alexandria, Va., retired and sold her store to Diana Paul, and a young former librarian purchased Children's Corner Bookshop in Spokane, Wash., ABC's oldest member bookstore, from Susan Durrie.

Audio Loud and Clear

In what may well be a coming-of-age year for the audio industry, the Audio Publishers Association is forming the Audiobook Foundation, a philanthropic organization whose mission is to promote public education regarding the literacy, learning and entertainment benefits of audiobooks; to collect and distribute relevant industry research and data; and to recognize and celebrate audiobooks as a public benefit. "This will allow us to make more robust fund-raising efforts and do more research," said APA president and Audio Renaissance publisher Mary Beth Roche. She added that data received for the APA's sales survey, currently underway, preliminarily shows good growth for the industry.

Robin Whitten, publisher and founder of AudioFile magazine, became the new APA vice-president and Michael Taylor of Audio Partners became secretary. Joining the board of directors for 2004 were Michele Cobb of BBC Audiobooks America, Norma Lilly of Ingram, Theresa Pantazopoulos of Simon & Schuster Audio and Anthony Goff of Time Warner AudioBooks.

A new format for APAC that encouraged conference participants to follow one of three "tracks" for the day (professionals, newcomers or narrators) allowed for more focused panels and q&a sessions for the approximately 240 attendees and speakers. An industry overview covered the latest information on shifts in the purchase and use of various technologies and formats by consumers and library patrons. Narrators, producers and agents spoke candidly about what it takes to break into the audiobook field, and motivational speaker Ed Brodow coached publishers on how to negotiate with the devil (his code word for an agent).

On Friday evening, APA members turned out in black-tie finery to honor the top audio titles of the previous year at the ninth annual Audie Awards gala. Actor and audiobook narrator and aficionado Edward Herrmann was emcee for the evening in the Winter Garden at the Harold Washington Public Library Center. This year's event marked the debut of the Audiobook of the Year award, a new Audies category that went to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale (Listening Library). Future Audies will be an Audiobook Foundation—sponsored event.

Saturday afternoon's Audiobook and Author Tea featured Amy Tan, Augusten Burroughs, Alex Kotlowitz and Scott Turow, who spoke about their latest book projects and described what it was like to record their work. In a series of amusing anecdotes, Tan likened entering the recording studio to stepping into a foam-insulated torture chamber where all of your stomach's gurglings can be monitored loud and clear.

Most publishers were pleased with the amount of foot traffic at the show, whether they were located on one of the major aisles (housed with a print-publishing parent company) or in the audiobook section. "We've been jammed to the gills all day," noted Eileen Hutton, v-p and associate publisher of Brilliance Audio. Brian Downing, publisher of Recorded Books, concurred. "It's been busy as all get-out," he said. "We've been very pleased and have taken lots of orders here at the booth."

African-American Publishing

The eighth annual African American Booksellers Conference offered both optimism and lament about the state of the economy and black bookselling. Organized each year by Clara Villarosa, owner of the Hue-Man Bookstore in New York City, and Emma Rodgers of Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas, Tex., the daylong Thursday conference attracted about 150 for the opening luncheon session. This year the conference was sponsored by Literally Speaking Publishing House, which specializes in Christian fiction and is the conference's first African-American sponsor.

The session highlighted the success of black Christian fiction—"page-turners with God right in the middle," as one of LSPH's author's put it. LSPH supplied several Essence bestseller list authors and praised independent black booksellers for launching the category at a time no one else believed in it. Profane page-turners were also a hot topic of the session, and included the latest version of the black ghetto crime novel made popular by writers like Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, which these days is called urban fiction or street life and has a strong hip-hop, gangsta influence.

Vickie Stringer, founder and publisher of urban fiction specialist Triple Crown Publications, was a hit at the conference. Featured on a panel with Zane's Strebor Books, Tony Rose's Amber Communications, W. Paul Coates of Black Classic Press and Haki Madhubuti's Third World Press, Stringer told the story of starting the crime fiction house after spending seven years in federal prison. Her tale resonated with the audience, who gave her a rousing welcome and mobbed her after the panel, even though some were critical of the books' hard-core crime stories.

Marva Allen, Villarosa's partner at Hue-Man, also mentioned the popularity of urban fiction, saying, "It sells well, but that's not what we want to be known for." She pointed to sales in biography (the Emmett Till book Death of Innocence by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson; Black Titan: A. G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines). She also noted that books on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. BoardofEducation (Charles Ogletree's All Deliberate Speed and Derrick Bells Silent Covenant) are also performing well.

Kassahun Checole, president and publisher of Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, a publisher and distributor of black-oriented titles, said that although business is tough, he is publishing 50% more titles, up to about 124 books a year. He was supportive of urban fiction up to a point: "I'm not against it as long as people read," he commented. "But that's not what we do here." He was particularly enthusiastic about an unusual title on his list, Silent Thunder: Breaking Through Cultural, Racial and Class Barriers in Motorsports by Len W. Miller, a history of black auto racing by a black racing team owner, with a blurb by actor and racing enthusiast Paul Newman.

This year featured the first African-American Publishers Pavilion, which consisted of 17 houses on a corridor on the exhibition floor. One black publisher worried that it might truly become a "ghetto." James Fugate, owner of the EsoWon Bookstore in Los Angeles, complained that the pavilion seemed to attract only black browsers. While Villarosa spoke of "the critical mass" of black booksellers, some attendees cited a lack of black booksellers. Some booksellers told PW that while there seemed to be a number of startup stores, the operations were small, undercapitalized and simply could not sell a significant number of books.

Fugate also complained about the numbers of "real" black booksellers as well as booksellers in general at BEA. He told PW that it was an open secret that a number of the black booksellers in attendance are often self-publishers/booksellers. He also complained bitterly about the overemphasis on sex, in the erotic fiction of Zane, and drugs and crime in the urban fiction offered by Stringer's Triple Crown Publications. "Thugs and drugs," he said, "that's not what black booksellers should be about."

The biggest author this year for black booksellers will clearly be Bill Clinton, a president still wildly popular among African-Americans. Villarosa's Hue-Man Store is the second store on the Clinton tour, and Fugate confirmed that Clinton will also visit EsoWon.

Librarians Check Out BEA

Librarian attendance jumped sharply at BEA: preregistration was 1,800, more than twice the number in New York two years ago. Held on Thursday, Library Journal's "Day of Dialog," with special programming for librarians that also allowed for interaction between librarians and publishers, drew a record crowd of more than 300. Publishers on panels included Gina Centrello, president and publisher of Random House; Barbara Marcus, president, children's book publishing and executive v-p, Scholastic; Andre Bernard, v-p, publisher, Adult and Harvest Books, Harcourt Trade; and Sally Richardson, president and publisher of St. Martin's trade division. In addition, LJ's "Librarians Lounge" was packed for most of the show.

Part of this may be attributed to the increasingly warm welcome librarians are receiving from BookExpo management. This year marked the debut of the Library Hotel, modeled on the successful Booksellers Hotel. According to BEA's Steve Rossato, the hotel nearly sold out.

Carl Lennertz, HarperCollins's v-p of independent retailing, noted the large number of librarians from "two perspectives." For one, Harper was asking people who wanted readers copies to sign up for them so the company could send them later; of the approximately 350 who signed up, 50 were librarians. In addition, when Lennertz did a half-hour signing for his book, Cursed by a Happy Childhood, two-thirds of the people in line were librarians.

Graphic Novel Publishing

The word among graphic novel buyers at this year's BEA was manga.

Sales of English-language editions of Japanese comics are up enormously over last year, with the readership divided almost equally between young men and young women. Manga's multi-volume series bring customers into the stores every 30—60 days as new volumes are delivered—exactly what the book trade can use right now. This was the second year for the graphic novel pavilion (dominated by the DC Comics and Viz booths) and there and elsewhere on the floor, booksellers and librarians couldn't get enough manga. At the panel on graphic novel trends, Milton Griepp, director of ICV2.com, the pop culture trade news Web site, challenged comics publishers' fears that manga's popularity was taking shelf space from other kinds of comics, explaining that manga's popularity was helping to add bookstore space for all graphic novels.

The booths of top manga publishers like Viz and Tokyopop were buzzing, as were smaller publishers like Dark Horse, CPM Manga, ADV Manga, Antarctic Press and the new kid on the block, Del Rey Manga. Japanese publisher Broccoli Books showcased its U.S. line of graphic novels and a lot of very cute merchandise; Viz announced a partnership with Reading Is Fundamental and a new manga series/DVD release from anime master Hayao Miyazaki. Tokyopop announced the new manga title Princess Ai, created by rocker Courtney Love and her mysterious cocreator, DJ Milky; and a 48-page cinemanga about the current hot band Linkin Park that will be exclusively packaged (for July release) with the band's new DVD and will feature manga-style illustrations and images from the video. The manga panel (which included Waldenbooks buyer and confessed manga otaku Kurt Hassler) was packed and lively. Bookstore buyers and librarians reported needing and getting help from publishers with the sometimes-confusing world of manga and the growing numbers of new titles—ICV2.com's free publication, Retailer's Guide to Graphic Novels, was singled out for special praise.

It was a good show for literary graphic novel imprints, too. A year ago, Fantagraphics was in deep financial trouble; this year the house was riding high on the success of the first volume of its complete Peanuts series, a New York Times bestseller, and previewing the much-anticipated collection of Jaime Hernandez's complete Locas collection. The single most anticipated graphic novel title of the Expo was Maus creator Art Spiegelman's 9/11 fantasia, In the Shadow of No Towers, due in September from Pantheon (and promoted by Spiegelman at the show).

DC Comics introduced the initial titles from CMX, its forthcoming manga line—it includes Gals, Musashi #9 and Madoro—and also touted Watchmen cocreator Dave Gibbons's new graphic novel The Originals, as well as titles from its new deals with French and British publishers Humanoids and Rebellion. Nearby, Dark Horse showed off the Michael Chabon—inspired series The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, along with its manga titles (Trigun) and Tony Millionaire's (who seemed to be everywhere that weekend) eccentric Sock Monkey series.

Getting Religion

This year's BEA featured the first-ever Religion & Spirituality Day, held on Friday. Well-attended panels covered books on Islam; religion titles for children and teens; how to buy and shelve Christian fiction; merchandising the Torah, the Qur'an and the Christian Bible; and stocking and selling Eastern and alternative religions. An afternoon author event featured Jerry Jenkins, Naomi Rosenblatt, Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Jonathan Kirsch and Andrew Greeley.

Michelle Rapkin, head of religion publishing for Doubleday, said, "Religion Day was the only reason I came to the show this year." Most of the publishers who spoke with PW said it was long overdue recognition of the continuing strength of the category, which confounded BISG's predictions of diminished growth in 2003 to post double-digit gains for the year. (Prior to the show, AAP released figures showing a 54.9% growth in April for religion and a YTD increase of 34.2%.)

At an SRO press conference, PW unveiled preliminary top-line results from a groundbreaking study of religion book purchasing behavior by consumers. PW partnered with several major religion/ spirituality and general trade houses—including Doubleday, WaterBrook, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Llewellyn, Loyola Press, Harper San Francisco, NavPress, Baker Publishing Group and Tyndale House—to conduct the research. From a broad-based online panel of 10,000 consumers, a total of 1,825 completed a detailed survey in May. Questions broadened the definition of the category to include books that might not be associated with a traditional religion but that come from a religious point of view or treat religious or spiritual themes, including diet and fitness books, business titles and fiction bestsellers such as The Da Vinci Code. This definition provided a truer picture of the breadth of the category today and resulted in a higher response rate (18% vs. the usual 7%—9%) and a strong showing of male buyers (41%, vs. 59% for females).

Among the findings was a younger age skew of religion/ spirituality book purchasers than the conventional wisdom—the largest group of purchasers (28%) was 25 to 34 years old, followed by 35- to 44-year-olds (24%) and 45- to 54-year-olds (20%). Evangelical Christians constituted the largest faith group (40%), with mainline Protestants weighing in at 14%, for a total of 54% Protestant Christians, reflecting the country's demographics. Catholic buyers came in at 17%, somewhat less than the 24% of the population they constitute. The next largest group was the 10% who declared themselves "spiritual but not religious." Two-thirds of the sample reported buying religion- or spirituality-themed fiction—including bestsellers, Christian fiction and children's fiction—in the past 12 months; of those purchasers, 57% were female and 43% male.

More than eight out of 10 bought religion nonfiction, with the gender breakdown being similar to that for fiction (55% female; 44% male). Practical Life Guides led the subcategories at 35% (can you say The Purpose-Driven Life?), followed by Bibles at 28%. The full report on the study's findings—available exclusively to sponsors—will be released in August.

Next year's show will be held in New York City June 3—5, and in 2006, BEA makes the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., earlier than usual, May 19—21.