Book Expo America Kicks Off Again with Outstanding Writer's Digest Writers Conference

May 27, 2009, New York City,  USA - The seventh annual BEA/Writer’s Digest Writers Conference kicked off Book Expo America again this year, and several hundred attendees enjoyed a day of networking with other writers, informative and entertaining speakers, programs related to both the business and craft of writing, and the chance to pitch their work and attempt to secure representation by way of  “speed dating“ agents.

Jacob K. Javitz Center Exhibit Hall being transformed into a BEA wonderland

Book Expo America, or “BEA” as known in the trade, is the book industry’s annual gathering of publishers, packagers, book distributors, editors, agents, writers, publicists, and everyone and anyone related to books.  Traditionally held in rotating venues in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, New York, it launches this year in New York and will be held there again in 2010.  The familiar Jacob Javitz Center , with its amazing open-air architecture, was a wonder to behold for this Jersey-girl-gone-to LA when permitted on “Day -1 and counting” of the show to sit and work in the cat-bird seat in the press room high above the exhibit hall.  It was exciting to watch workers scampering about, setting up fantastic illuminated booths and otherwise transforming the blank-canvas place to include the amazing installations for which BEA is famous.  Mini-bookstores, scallop-shell lit backdrops placed behind booths and the familiar publisher signage made this BEA-fond journalist swoon.

Sara Nelson entertains Writers Conference luncheon crowd

International- and New York Times- best-selling novelist Karin Slaughter presented the Writer’s Conference morning’s keynote address, and award-winning memoirist Sara Nelson (Publishers Weekly) addressed the group during lunch.  Entitled “How to Succeed in an Ever-Changing Publishing Industry, Nelson’s presentation was a bit different from the normal “go get’em” variety in that, to this writer, it seemed a cautionary tale,  warning authors that they would need to be sure and be prolific.

“Am I being too depressing to anyone?” Nelson asked midpoint, directly after mentioning how difficult it is to sustain a writing career after landing the first (big) book deal.  Her question was answered by way of equal parts of laughter and groaning.  Yes, getting published is daunting.  “Is there more than luck involved (in getting published)?” Nelson asked, adding, “There’s a certain amount of magic to it…”

Jane Friedman, Publisher and Editorial Director, Writer's Digest, poses for Splash after her presention entitled "DIY Publishing: How to Publish Yourself for Greater Exposure & Success"

Jane Friedman, Publisher and Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest, held out much hope in the way of action to be taken vs. waiting for “magic“- and gave tools- to those writers who are done with attempting getting published via the “traditional route.“  During her talk entitled “DIY Publishing: How to Publish Yourself for Greater Exposure & Success,” Friedman emphasized the need for assessing whether or not a book is right for independent publishing and also for using online and community  publishing models in order- very important- secure a market base for the product.  

“Building an audience should be a focus,“ Friedman said, “and it’s something to be worked on every day. “ She shared valuable information about web sites such as “Authonomy” and “Smash Words,” sites that can be used to “test” written material as well as, eventually, market and sell it.  It’s well-known that DIY authors usually have troubles with self-promotion and also distribution.  “Publishers are powerhouses for distribution,” she reminded, thus underscoring the need  for good self-promotion and creating effective “buzz.”

Javitz Center's playful rendition of a "street vendor"

Alice Pope, Editor of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, presented a program that was the perfect addition to Friedman’s.  Entitled “Self-Promotion & Social Networking.,” her talk contained valuable information about  how to go about setting up a blog, how to use Twitter to (properly) promote, and how to sync both with an author’s web site in order to sustain “buzz” once created.

Presentations on other, highly valuable, topics were made available to the attendees, including  those covering fiction, nonfiction, romance, mystery and autobiography writing, the best ways to approach editors and agents,  and even how to fund writing projects.   All programs, I’m sure, were of the same high  calibre, characteristically “Writer’s Digest” quality, and I enthusiastically recommend this event to anyone who aspires to be a published writer. 

While I enjoyed the view and sent this out, the paying attendees at the Writers Conference were warming up to pitch their work during the “Pitch Slam” session.  Author Diana Louise Aylward- a Californian I met “by accident” whilst looking for a place to plug in my laptop since I had previously been too early to use the press room (but we know there are no accidents, right?)- was sitting alone by one of the four-floor-high lobby windows, gazing out onto the Cityscape, meditating and going over her pitch in her mind.  A niche spiritual author published via a division of Red Wheel/Conari, Aylward is working on placing another, broader-reaching, project with a more mainstream publisher.  It was interesting that an established author had chosen this Conference- one normally attended, I’d apparently erroneously thought, by new writers.  Very nice to meet her and I wish her much success.  Another author, Janet Horvath Planitos, from Minnesota, was attending the conference to find a publisher to pick up the reference book for professional musicians she had written and successfully independently published.  "Successfully independently published" is an understatement here; Horvath Planitos sold 7500 copies on her own... no small thing!

Continued success- vs. "initial" success- it seemed, was something sought by many attending the gathering this year.  Local tax attorney by day and “edutainment“ rapper by night Mordy Mandel was there to secure a publisher for his already independently published rhyming educational poems.  Quite clever his work is, even including a very scientific lesson in how a light bulb functions and why a Living Will is important, all in only 36- probably easily-memorized- lines.  Would be very entertaining (but also valuable) for high school  students what with the very high “coolness factor."  

Agents from far and wide were on hand to listen to would-be clients pitch their projects in three minutes’ time or less.  Included among this group were friends Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen, creators of the San Francisco Writers Conference (held around Valentine's Day each year- just a heads-up for writers who would like to visit and leave their hearts in SF as I did...), and Ted Weinstein also from San Francisco,  and Los Angeles-based nonfiction agent to the stars Sharlene Martin.  (Can’t wait to hear if they’ve found their new “latest and greatest” client(s)!)

Entry way of Jacob K. Javitz Center greeting BEA attendees

As already mentioned, the networking, learning, and pitching that takes place at the BEA/Writer’s Digest Conference can only be added value to the perfect complementary BEA gathering.  For four days following the Conference, authors- and would-be authors- can join the ranks of the retail book selling community on the meeting rooms and exhibit hall floors and explore potential publishing venues.  It’s an exciting opportunity for writers, and I hope to hear back from the few I met and got to know to see what developed for them post-Conference.  Stay tuned.

Book Expo America runs May 28 through May 31 this year.  More information can be obtained by visiting the web site at:

More information about conferences and other learning opportunities through Writer's Digest can be obtained by visiting their web site at:

Text and photos copyright 2009 M D Caprario

A HUGE thank you to the Writer’s Digest conference staff for being so gracious and to Roger Bilheim and his team who gave me a quiet spot to work!

M D Caprario is a journalist working in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles covering all good things in the entertainment, publishing and communications industries.  Reach her at:  [email protected]




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