Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Booking It In New York City

Writers often have parallel lives. Occasionally, a bridge connects those two lives, allowing a synchronistic exchange between worlds. My business life is among highly successful people in the travel and hospitality industry. To the greatest degree, my writing life is solitary. My online writer’s group, Backspace, provides a virtual water cooler where I exchange ideas, swap material for critique, and decompress from the stress of my business life. A bridge formed last week when I was able to attend the Incentive Brand Show at the Sheraton New York Towers on Day 1. Days 2 and 3 were spent at the Backspace conference at a legendary mid-town hotel that shall not be named, and Day 4 concluded in a whirlwind blow through Book Expo America (BEA), the annual mardi-gras of the American publishing industry.

Click here to see my NYC photo album.

The Backspace Conference

I’ve attended several writer’s conferences, but Backspace is by far the best. It’s expensive. Registration for two days of workshops and pitches, and a seated dinner, hit $405. Add accommodations in NYC, taxi fares, meals, and if you’re not within driving or train commute, airfare. This two-day conference could easily cross the $1500 mark. Is it worth it?

Depends on how serious you are about getting published. You won’t get better face time at any other conference I know of. Published authors freely mix with the unpublished, forging relationships that can be crucial in this extremely competitive industry. You’ll find top agents and editors hanging around to hear the sessions. Authors with critically acclaimed books appear on the panels side by side with debut novelists. Discussions in the panels range from technique to marketing, from writing successful query letters, to spit polishing a final edit. There are topics for the branded author and the breakout author.

Keynote speaker, Michael Cader, founder of PublishersMarketplace, woke up the crowd with a sobering look at the publishing industry. He gave startling statistics on book sales and gave enough number crunching elements to make a less-dedicated writer despair. Agent Kristin Nelson, who attended Cader’s session, blogged about it here. If someone can take one idea away from an event like Backspace and succeed with it in life, then the event was worth it. Cader’s insistence that an author must embrace pop culture and technology with blogging, YouTube, animated book trailers, and broadcast face time both inspired and annoyed attendees. He said that in order to succeed, authors must market themselves as if they were self-published, because publishers no longer roll out the marketing dough for anyone expect top list authors. It all comes down to branding. Create yourself as a brand to build a solid reader base.

BEA – Book Expo America

BEA is Disneyland for book lovers. Puff the Magic Dragon was there in the person of Peter Yarrow signing his lovely new children’s book of the same name. I wanted a signed copy and went around to the line, which I thought was only about 30 people deep. The man I stepped behind politely informed me that where I stepped in was only the aisle break to a line that stretched about 300 people down the center aisle of the main floor. Never mind. I snapped a picture of Peter signing. Peter charmed his guests when he paused to speak to each person as if they were the only one in line.

Next, my author pals Jenny Gardiner (SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEVER, Dorchester, Winter 2008), Kim Stagliano and I met with John Robison, author of the memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE (Crown, September 2007). John is a remarkable man whose life story would make a novelist wonder where to begin. Born with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism often linked to savant-like genius and anti-social behavior, John grew up misunderstood, abused, bullied, and outcast. His memoir covers his life from childhood, thorough his years designing smoking guitars and special effects for KISS, to engineering electronic games like Simon for Milton Bradley, and finally to his own entrepreneurial success as a service technician and restorer of Land Rovers, Rolls Royces, and other luxury automobiles. John’s memoir stands on its own merit, but I can’t hide the fact that John is also the brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of RUNNING WITH SCISSORS.

In a carnival atmosphere like Backspace and BEA, I find people seldom listen to others. There are crowds of people, background noise, crazy distractions, and personal agendas. John, however, drew me aside, where we sat and talked about his book, his plans, and how I recognized Asberger in someone dear to me. Then he asked me about my book, THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER. He listened. He showed interest in my book. Then he said, “I’d like to introduce you to the marketing director of St. Martin's; they publish my brother’s books.”

So away we went, little me and big John—he must be in the neighborhood of six-foot, four-inches—winding through the crowd, first to Picador, where he got us copies of his brother’s new book, POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS, and then introduced me to the publisher of Picador. Then on to St. Martin’s. The marketing director was not there at the time, but the sales executive gave me the name of the editor and told me to have my agent send the manuscript to her when it was ready for submission. John is an author with an amazing story, but moreso he’s an amazing gentleman with a heart of gold.

Cover to cover from NY to CA, I read John’s book. LOOK ME IN THE EYE is startling. The more you see into the character of an Aspergian person, the more you may recognize it in people you have known through life. Remember that awkward kid with the wacky glasses? The one who trudged across campus like a robot, a slide rule in his pocket, muttering the periodic table of elements during lunch? I learned in John’s book that Asperger Syndrome was not classified until 1984. The kid I knew in high school was probably Aspergian. I wish I would have been nicer to him.

Summer hasn't yet begun and yet my reading list is full. I picked up several books to give aways throughout the summer. Watch in the coming weeks for contests and you could win.


John Elder Robison said...

I enjoyed meeting you all. And I'm glad you got something out of my book.

Best of luck to you with the sword swallower story.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

John, you are quick on the blog trigger. It was a joy meeting you and I'm looking forward to reading more from you.

Kim Stagliano said...

Wasn't BEA fun! And you had Backspace too you lucky dog. Here's to seeing our own books at BEA next year.


Susan said...

God, Michael Cader is cute. I'm glad you have the feature where you can blow the pictures up bigger.

This whole post is great, and I'll check out John's book.

A.S.King said...

Man, do I wish I went to BEA...but I guess there's always next year.

Wonderful to see you at BKSP 2007, Carolyn! You are one of my favorite people in the whole world.

xoxo Stella/Amy/Stellamy

jenny gardiner said...

enjoyed the coverage of our New York adventure! thanks for the link too!

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Susan~ Michael Cader is more than cute. He's adorable. Smart and successful too.

Stellamy~ He he. Next year BEA is in LA, so I'll be looking to host you in my town.

Jenny~ I'll be counting down the days until your book is released.

TR said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. John and I talked about you the other night. He was pleased to meet you at BEA. Your blog is great!

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

TR~ What a cool surprise to see you here. Thanks for stopping by.

TR is a close friend of John Robison and just started a terrific blog called Healing Bear. TR is a therapist specializing in the needs of "start-up" adults. Drop by his blog and say hi.