Book Expo 2019: getting books in readers’ hands


Plenty of authors come out to Book Expo to meet and greet, sign books and get booksellers and librarians interested in their work. 

Book Expo, a gigantic marketplace that brings together publishers both big and small, booksellers and librarians, is really designed for the bibliophile. These three groups plot ways to get books into the hands of readers.

I went as a writer, with that same view in mind.

A writer friend—who is also a literary agent—suggested I join her and talk to the publishers. Other writers said it would be an expensive waste of time with little return on my significant investment.

I learned very quickly as I strolled through the gigantic Javits Center in New York City that the big publishers weren’t interested in me. I’m just a novice writer (despite my 40 years as a journalist).

But I still got plenty out of my experience. I found a way to request adding my e-book to the libraries’ collections. Got lots of brochures discussing publicity campaigns. I talked to a PR expert who, after we talked, directed me to a company I never heard of that she thought would be a  good fit for my needs.

I chatted with a start-up book club website, called Read Tribe, that links readers with like-minded people and local independent bookstores. I’ll be following up on this one. I can pick the state, the genre I prefer and even club goals. I liked “complain about the neighbors.” (It would be better if there were clubs in my state–but this is a start-up, after all. C’mon, Maryland readers. Let’s get this going!)

I met with a live representative of Ingram Spark who looked at my book information and gave me some good pointers on things like keywords, meta data and new places to promote my books. (A gold mine, if ever there was one.)

I listened to a panel of hybrid publishers (everyone knows about them right? Don’t call them vanity presses. Instead, they provide the expertise to publish and market your books while you basically invest in yourself to help fund publicity programs. The main take-away for me? Stay on top of things. Uhhh, yeah. Facebook, Instagram’s #instabooks, Twitter Goodreads, your website. One publisher, Lori Perkins of Riverdale Avenue Books, said: “Be aggressive” and noted that every book they publish is available for review on Net Galley.

One other thing I did was pick up all the catalogues from publishers I could find. I figured it might be a good way to see what they’ve been buying for the past year and study the blurbs.

I would have liked to have someone say, “Send me your query. Your book sounds interesting.” Oh, wait. That did happen. But it didn’t happen in the Hachette booth. It happened at a little table at the back of one of the panels. And that, I think, is the reason for going to a big convention like this. For the little things, the connections, the pearls of wisdom.

I skipped the author book signings and I left all the advance copies and samples behind, except two: a book about forgiveness after the shootings at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston—just the title choked me up—and a book about Gertrude Stein from my hometown’s Johns Hopkins Press. I’m sure I’ll read both of those.

Education is expensive. But it’s always worthwhile, isn’t it? I have a lot of homework to do before all of this pays off.

So we’ll see. as I get ready to re-release DIVIDED LOYALTIES, and announce a new novella and plan for the rest of my still unpublished books, I feel better prepared for what comes next.

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