Saying More Than I Should About the BEA (but saying it briefly)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

At the BEA yesterday, I met with people I love.  People I respect.  People whose integrity teaches me, whose books and blogs instruct me, whose hearts are true.  There are so many people like that.

But I also saw, in my travels, so much that unnerved, worried, further sickened me that I in fact fled the building early, hoping (futilely) to catch an early train home.  Books as commerce.  Self promotion as a form of public humiliation.  Personal needs on flagrant display.

I lost my rudder.  I felt overcome, and sad.

For example:

The man in the skin-tight devil suit, riding that escalator up and down, pimping a book with sheltered eyes, a slightly embarrassed impishness within his reddishness.  And what was it for?  I saw him three times; I still don't know what his skin-tightness advertised.

The long lines of people eager for free copies of books by authors whose on-stage conversations were sparsely attended.  Why should a free book trump an interesting, human conversation?  Why should product—the material thing that can be taken home—always rule?  Have we no time to give to the people who made the things we want?

The bare-chested (utterly bare chested) woman patrolling the streets just outside the Javits Convention Center—a black hat on her blonde head, a thin oily mustache drawn onto her lip.  Was this part of authorial self promotion, too?  Is this what we are coming to?  If it is, I have penned my last book.  (Note:  my dear sister-in-law, Donna, has cleared this one up.  It was not, apparently a BEA stunt.  It says something, though, that I assumed it was:

The surge of aspiring writers toward established authors, the questions, the requests.  The audience members wanting blurbs for their own books, wanting agent representation, wanting introductions to editors.  Please.  So many requests. Such insistence.  Should it be like this?

The perfect strangers who saw, on my badge, that I was at the BEA not as an author but as a reporter for Publishing Perspectives.  Suddenly I, too, was a perceived bridge—a person to be entrusted with self-published novels and raw manuscripts.  Please take my book, review my book, help me with my book, I was asked, more than once—questions that made me feel powerless, and raw.

Books are—or they can be—beautiful things.  They take years, patience, perseverance.  They are born of hope or courage, love or need, faith in stories and storytelling.  Book expos should be celebrations of the book, in the end, and of the people who make them.  I lost sight of that, for long parts of yesterday.  I found myself trapped in something more carnivalesque, more pressing and too bruising.

I'm not naive.  I'm not new to the BEA.  But something happened yesterday.  Some small hollow something went click.


Ann Hite said...

Oh my friend, thank you. You gave voice to many of my frustrations. I am not at BEA this year, but I see it looming next year with the summer release of my next novel. I think that click is taking place in me. Writing and releasing my work to readers is so important to me, but at the price of losing the magic?

Serena said...

BEA was a whirlwind the both times I went, and I can say I don't miss all the hand-selling that goes on...While I want to support new writers and help them, I cannot possibly review everything. It is utterly overwhelming...and there were few pockets of calm when meeting with my blogger friends, like Wendy, and when meeting authors in the signing booths, like you, who were calm (at least on the outside), welcoming, and interested in what I had to say.

I hope you find time to decompress from the crazy of BEA. Those people in costume made me laugh each was hard to take them seriously.

Elizabeth Mosier said...

This is why I love you and your work, Beth. It's always about the writing, not the circus.

Unknown said...

I'm not at BEA this year, but thank you for saying what I've perceived to be true from the blogging end of things. The email requests for reviews have increased tenfold (and then some) to the point where I have practically shut the door. Like Serena said, I want to support new writers and do my part to help them, but it's just becoming overwhelming. Carnivalesque.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds a bit like my reaction to Las Vegas! LOL And yet, you will have that beautiful quilt that you can wrap yourself up in and forget the bad parts and remember the celebration part of books!

Beth Kephart said...

oh, all of you. thank you.

and Rhapsody, so true! I do not forget, ever, the real beauty that exists out here.

in there it grew so murky that it was hard to see.

Liviania said...

I can tell you that I would be in the audience for Kristi Yamaguchi. I grew up an ice skater and she was a real icon in my childhood home.

But I'm kind of sad that's the way things are. I've never been, so BEA has always seemed utterly magical from reports. I still hope to go in order to meet so many people I only know through a computer screen.

kelly said...

Since I'm not giving away free copies of a genre-crossing trilogy and my name is not Madonna (although I'm sure she and I could be friends) I stayed home and wrote all weekend.

patti.mallett_pp said...

Thank you for sharing from your heart, Beth. Thank you ever so much. It is this sensitivity to the human condition that allows you to write as you do.

Plus, it is also a plain and simple word of warning that there be bears out there in the land beyond.

Lilian Nattel said...

It sounds awful. I'm sending big hugs.

Wild About Words said...


This was a beautifully written post. It encapsulated the ugly/greedy/seedy side of this "business."

Your writer's heart clearly wants to live in the art/mind-opening/connecting side of this endeavor.

And I'm with you on that one.

All best,

Michael G-G said...

Unfortunately, there is so much noise out there, so many people trying to be noticed, such a clash between creativity and commerce. Just yesterday I read a blog post by Elana Johnson in which she said that, after all her promotion efforts for her first novel, she lost her way, lost the magic and the love of the story-telling itself. Fortunately, she found it again.

These are cautionary tales for we neophytes, and ones I hope I remember if I ever have the pleasure of standing among authors with my own book in my hand.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Something went "click" for me today, when I read the Armchair BEA topic. I found the words I needed for my post a few minutes ago and thought of you. Though you aren't named in what I wrote, I did link to this post. Thank you for sharing how you felt. Maybe I won't alienate too many book bloggers with what I said, here:

polycotte said...

I'm sorry to hear that your impressions, overall, were saddening. I was there on Wednesday, which might have been more children's-oriented, because of the Children Book Author Breakfast. The talks at the breakfast were stirring and funny and wonderful. (Lois Lowry brought manhy to tears when she spoke of her son ....) I also attended the Middle Grade Author Buzz talk, and in the afternoon, a panel on reaching the Middle Grade audience. There were authors I would have liked to hear, but there were also signed galleys I wanted to stand in line for, and booths I wanted to spend time in, conversations I wanted to have with publishing folks I know. I was quadruple-booked for two-o'clock. Which is to say that I couldn't attend everything I wanted to, which may explain why some events dear to your heart were under-attended. Overall, I left feeling that publishers' lists felt a little smaller but also more focused, and that books looked better than ever -- truly appealing covers, a variety of trim-sizes: things just looked nice. I left exhausted, with two bags of galleys and signed books that I'm really looking forward to reading. Maybe, as an author, I'm just desperate to feel good about the state of the book world, but I was afraid that I'd leave feeling depressed, and was pleasantly surprised to leave feeling energized. (Though utterly exhausted. Oh my feet and shoulders ...)

Thanks for your perspective on BEA and so much else.

Lauren Thompson

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