BEA 2002: small publishers v. bigger publishers


It is interesting that when authors are touting their books for publication, they often look to the big houses first because that’s where the money is. Now of course I’m generalizing, but I think you can see the logic in that. After all, an author who has just toiled for what possibly could have been years, would like to be compensated for those efforts whether they come in the shape of $$ or notoriety.

For those of you who are shopping your own book manuscript, especially a travel one, I hope that you can take away some insight from what happened to us at the BEA this year.

When our book, Stories of World Travel was on the market, we got offers that ranged from small presses to medium size and larger presses. For several reasons we chose Globe Pequot Press, and I don’t think it’s a secret that Travelers’ Tales was one of the offers we turned down.

I was working the booth for Travelers’ Tales at the BEA and the Wild Writing Women met there throughout the day to regroup, say hello, and check in. It felt good and it felt natural for us to be there.

Globe Pequot Press with their big section, (At least 3-4 booths wide on each sides of the aisle) told us repeatedly that they would not have a book signing for us. We understood that they couldn’t get us in to the author coral because of the early registration required. But even with 8 of the 12 authors present at the BEA, they refused to do an scheduled or impromptu signing in their booth. Their excuses ranged from the booth being too small to that it was a waste because people just wanted free books.

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If that wasn’t already frustrating for the Wild Writing Women who were pumped up to be super marketeers, it was an even bigger blow when we got to the booth and didn’t see a poster of our cover. Had a very difficult time finding the book for that matter, and finally found it on a lower shelf behind a podium. Luckily, we had printed our own post cards and placed small stacks of them where booksellers could see them if they walked up to take other GPP info. Every day we replenished the stock.

But it continued to get worse with this bigger publisher that was supposed to be better for our book than the smaller houses. For example, while in a meeting with our publicist, the marketing director came over and told us we had to leave. They needed the table space. She didn’t even introduce herself first. Then our publicist set up a meeting on the second day for us to meet with one of the women who’d worked on our book. When we got there they told us there was no meeting. We sat down at an area where there was no one but a few brochures, and they told us we couldn’t sit there. We ignored them and 20 minutes later the woman finally arrived, shook our hands, and then left immediately. We made the most of this by having a lovely conversation with their sales vp, who did take the time to chat, and didn’t leave right away. Do we smell? I don’t think so. The publishing reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle came by and chatted with us for over a half an hour before the GPP publicist tried to pull her away and meet some of their other offers.

Meanwhile, the Travelers’ Tales booth was buzzing with their authors who were not only chatting about their books and life, but picking up awards to boot! Doug Lansky, editor and author of There’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled:The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure and Last Trout in Venice: The Far-Flung Escapades of an Accidental Adventurer, won Best Humor Book for the 2002 Independent Publishers Book Awards, and a Gold Medal in Humor from ForeWord Magazine for their 2002 Book of the Year Awards. David Elliott Cohen, author of One Year Off Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children was also around and picking up his honorable mention award for Foreword’s Travel Essay category. Kathy Borrus and I sat down together in the booth to catch up on where we’d been and how we could work together to cross promote her backlist book on the web site. It was casual, familiar, freindly and we got some great ideas exchanged while still having a few laughs. That’s when the difference really sunk in.

Is a bigger house really worth the compromise of personal attention? Will their distribution be that much more effective than the smaller houses? Is this a single incident unique to itself? I don’t know…but please share your experiences here, and if you’re sumbitting your treasured work for publication, please try both ends of the scale and see which house really feels right for you…

Good luck!