I had the good fortune last week to attend the Great Lakes Booksellers Association Trade Show and work the Sisters in Crime (SinC) booth. Yes, I am a member of that organization--a "Mister Sister" as the group designates its male members. The GLBA is not the largest of bookseller organizations and the GLBA show in Schaumburg, Illinois was not the largest bookseller trade show I've been to. BookExpo America can claim the title of biggest book industry show in the US without even thinking about competition.
GLBA was, however, just right. But not for the reason I had believed going in.
It was a good show: SinC had a professional booth run by Sandy Tooley, the show was of manageable size, and I was able to re-connect with several other authors who I had not seen in many months.
There are a host of reasons why authors attend conferences and trade shows, but I've come to believe that one of the main reasons is to establish and maintain the connections with those who understand the pain and pleasure of writing, have the same kinds of challenges, share common experiences, and have good gossip about people who aren't there. It's the water cooler conversations that we would have if we all shared an office.
But the GLBA show was rewarding to me in another way, in that in the show's commercialism I was reminded that writing and reading are truly personal experiences.
A trade show is by definition a commercial event and so foregrounds that portion of being an author that many of us would like to forget--one has to market the work. And market we did. Passers-by became important or irrelevant by the color of their name tags; someone with a blue stripe was a bookstore owner or librarian and immediately your best friend. Among the authors at the SinC table and with friends at the table sponsored by Echelon Press, there was talk of writing and books and authors, but for everyone else the conversations I "accidentally" overheard revolved around sales figures and shipping costs and discounts.
For someone like me who focuses more on the creative aspect of writing, it would seem that it would have been a painful day.
In fact, the opposite happened. In a trade show hall filled with so many highly merchandised commodities (the books), it was those owners of small bookstores and those librarians from small town libraries who put the business of writing into perspective. Yes, we were all there to do business. The authors and the store owners and librarians did not discuss shipping or discounts or show specials--we left that to the sales men and women who manned almost every other booth. Instead we were able to hold conversations about books, characters, writing styles, reader interests, and those other non-business elements of the book business.
These conversations were a reminder of an essential ,very personal, very human element of writing; just as my fellow authors and I talked about our work one-on-one to each interested bookstore rep or librarian who happened by, so too are our books read by one reader at a time. There may be thousands or tens of thousands of readers of Novelist's Boot Camp, but I know for each of them their reading of the book has been an experience as unique as each individual, just as our trade show booth conversations were each unique.
I imagine some of the salesmen in other booths took good-sized orders that day. I, on the other hand, got to meet and connect with some fascinating human beings.
So who walked away richer?