2,000 exhibits. 1,200 publishers. 500 authors. An endless sea of books. For those involved in the publishing industry, or for those who simply love to read, BookExpo America resembles a modern-day Utopia. Or so one would think.
This year’s BEA took place over the weekend in New York at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and various literary blogs and publications posted their thoughts on the event this morning. Otto Penzler dons the many hats of writer, editor, publisher, and book store owner. And in an article he penned for The New York Sun about his BEA trip this year, Penzler indulges in a little nostalgia, recounting his first journey to the biggest book event in the United States, and the disappointing realizations that accompanied his visit 30 years ago.
Even in the 1970s, the enormity of BEA was palpable. Penzler describes his initial entrance into the event, a hall littered with thousands of publications, and the thrilling feeling that he had “died and gone to heaven.” But even as a self-proclaimed book aficionado, the bliss of stumbling upon his personal utopia was short-lived.
In his harried fall from grace, Penzler explains, “Then it struck me. I was there as a publisher with maybe a dozen titles on my list. How in the world would anybody notice my books and authors? The Mysterious Press, the company I founded in 1975, was a drop of water in the Pacific. No, it was a grain of sand in the Sahara. It was less than nothing because it wanted to be something.”
Although the author/publisher/book seller’s first encounter with BEA was a humbling one, he continued to make his love of books a way of life, and now runs an imprint at Harcourt Publishing that produces crime fiction. When speaking of the authors he represents, Penzler admits, “I desperately want them to have success, but I recognize the folly of that sad little wish…James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Nora Roberts will sell 100 million books this year, leaving a few table scraps for everyone else to chase after like starving hyenas after the lions have had their fill.”
Wondering if Penzler’s gloomy outlook is an unfortunate side effect of being a small fish in an increasingly gigantic pond? I’m sorry to say that similar to the actual BEA event, the press following the annual conference has reserved a lot of their copy for big (or at least recognizable) names. See New York Magazine’s “Book Expo Sightings,” an article on First Daughter Jenna Bush’s upcoming release, and USA Today’s recap of the weekend’s events.
Despite his pessimistic (and somewhat accurate) depiction of this year’s event, and of BEA in past years, Penzler confesses that worst part of the 2007 convention was that “when it ended, I kind of missed it. And looked forward to next year’s event.”
Seems that even the small fish can’t resist an endless sea of books.