Some thoughts on #BEA13
, particularly Power Readers Day:
Having attended Book Expo America as an "industry insider" for the past several years, I tried to approach this year's Power Reader Day as a reader, to see what readers would experience if they shelled out the $49 to attend. In fact, I shelled out the $49 to buy a badge for my 14 year old book-blogging daughter.
Overall, kid had a great experience and can't wait to repeat it next year. I, however, feel that Power Reader Day didn't quite live up to its potential. And it has a TON of potential. So take these criticisms in the spirit of wanting it to improve, in order to help connect authors and readers in an even greater way in years to come.
As always, these are my opinions and only my opinions, not related to those of my employer Random House, yada yada...
1. BEA needs to promote this more, and beyond NYC.
I cohost reader/author events around the country through our Books on the Nightstand podcast. I know that rabid book lovers will travel by plane, train and automobile to attend the right type of event. BEA could be that type of event, but people have to know about it. We did talk about Power Readers Day on the BOTNS Podcast, through no coordination with BEA -- it was just something we knew our listeners would want to know about. And we had a few listeners attend, including one who flew up from Florida JUST FOR THE DAY. That's right. See her thoughts on her vlog here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10103029773815905&set=vb.12401123&type=2&theater
2. Someone needs to tell the Power Readers what to do.
As my friend Tracy mentioned in her video, above, she had no idea what to do, how to act, who to talk to, what to expect. Power Readers were told that there were author signings and they probably knew that there were free books to be had, but beyond that ... who knows? Should they engage the staff at the publishers' booths? What should they ask about? They don't want to bother someone having a meeting ... but what should they do?
3. Publishers need to get on board
I know that many publishers hate the idea of "consumers" (let's call them "readers," shall we?) breaching the hallowed doors of Book Expo America. I say "get over it." You can hate the idea, but If BEA declares it to be happening, these publishers should embrace it. Some did, sort of. There were some name-brand authors (Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, Sara Dessen) doing signings. A few publishers had special giveaways. But mostly, it was business as usual. To the readers it was exciting, sure, but most publishers let a huge opportunity slip by. Not a single publisher asked us to sign up for a consumer-oriented mailing list. One publisher had a box for us to put in our business card to receive an email in which we could download some great e-galleys. That box was filled with post-it notes -- Power Readers don't necessarily have business cards. And it was a teeny-tiny box with a teeny-tiny sign. Most staff didn't initiate conversations. And most readers were not sure how or if they should engage staff. Remember, these Power Readers were told repeatedly that they were the "lucky outsiders." They don't know the protocol, and nobody told them. Publishers need to take the lead.
4. Staff the booths with the people that love readers and know how to talk to readers
Publishers, there are people inside your organization who know how to talk with readers. Maybe they work with readers, maybe the moonlight in a bookstore, maybe they (gasp!) identify as readers themselves. I know there are "reader advocates" working for you. Let them out! It doesn't matter what their business card says or what department they work in -- put them to work at Power Readers Day. In many cases, the best person to talk to readers at BEA is not the best person to talk to the press and booksellers on the other BEA days. I had one person tell me the first print and publicity information about a book (they didn't know me -- to them I was a Power Reader). As a reader, I don't care. Ask me what kinds of books I like and then figure out the books I should know about -- it doesn't matter if you don't have a galley. Hand-sell me something, I'll buy it later!
5. What about some programming?
You know what Power Readers would love? Hearing from editors. A buzz session is good, but a "behind the scenes of publishing" is better. Have an author and editor talk about their working process. Bring a few cover designers and have them talk about their work. Want to see a reader geek out? Show them some alternate covers for jackets they love. It doesn't have to be Chip Kidd on stage (though that would be amazing) -- a few publishing experts in one of the dungeon conference rooms will make readers VERY happy. Every "Power Reader" is curious about ebooks and the impact on publishing -- have a conversation. Same with self-publishing. Readers are hearing about the same issues we have been discussing ad nauseum, but they aren't (yet) bored of it. These readers are the future of our business, and the more they feel like part of it, the more they will become reading and publishing ambassadors.
6. Enable real author-reader connections
Readers love meeting authors. They REALLY love having a conversation with authors, even if it's a conversation with 40 other people in the room. Why relegate the author presence at BEA to "get in line, shove a book in front of the author, have them sign it and walk away?" This is the opportunity for readers to become lifelong fans. It's a chance for authors to talk WITH readers rather than AT them. Have some small author/reader sessions (limited capacity, maybe advance ticketed?) where true interaction can happen.
My suggestions/ideas are simply that, and I know that logistics often stand between idea and execution. But let's start thinking differently. If BEA does Power Readers Day again in 2014, what can we as an industry do to truly embrace readers and make them excited to buy and read books? What are the goals of BEA's Power Readers Day? What should they be? I don't think we need to make it a full-on Comic-Con experience in order for it to be valuable for publishers, readers, authors, and BEA.
So what do you think? I'd love to know your thoughts, either left here in comments or on your own blog or post with a link here. Let's start discussing now ... 2014 is not that far off.