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Book Expo America 2010 is Writers' Venue for Dream Shopping

By M. D. Caprario

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For me, Book Expo America is always about meeting neat new lit friends- but also about revisiting with ones I might not have seen since the last Expo.  Upon arrival, and while queuing to ask about securing the tickets required for the evening’s Barbra Streisand interview (by Gayle King, no less), I ran into West Coast friend Laura Sheppard, Director of Events for the Mechanic’s  Institute in San Francisco.  Sheppard’s always on the look-out for new and interesting authors to feature and to have take part in various panel events at her great historic downtown SF venue.   “Getting ideas from and working directly with the publicists is so much better than simply reading through (publishers’) catalogues,” she told me.  “I always make discoveries when I’m at Book Expo.”  I'll second that.  One never knows who one might find at the Show...

Johnny Monsarrat invites BEA attendee to participate in his project by posting a question on his "question wheel."

I then ran into- almost literally, since we were both walking fast and in different directions- another West Coast lit friend, San Francisco nonfiction literary agent and co-founder of the San Francisco Writers Conference, Michael Larsen.  He and his wife, literary agent Elizabeth Pomada, have a booth at the Show again this year.  (I ran into Elizabeth later at the Editors’ Buzz event.)  Always good to see them, and, after only a few hours at the Javits Center on the East Coast, it was beginning to feel like I was back in my beloved San Francisco! 

Jacob K. Javits Center took on another festive look for this year's BEA

I then spotted Johnny Monsarrat, sitting at his booth in the “prime real estate” area at the very front of the Javits Center.  His position was next to amiable Sam Morales, an Information Specialist for NYC & Company and an expert in what to do when in New York City.  (Show hint:  They have great maps and discount guides...) It wasn’t Johnny that I’d first noticed, but his kiosk display of extra-large-size index cards upon which he was getting Show attendees to write questions to be included in his “art project,” the subject of his (hopefully) forthcoming book “Ask Anything Under the Sun:  The Wheel Questions Project.” 

Monsarrat's “crazy art project,” as he calls it, is most intriguing.  Over 500,000 people have seen his outdoor kiosk which debuted at Harvard University and subsequently “went on tour” to summer festivals.  He has actually answered over 12,000 questions about “anything and everything”- from the basic to the life-direction-determining- which set a world record for advice-giving.  The book he plans to write touches on fifty themes drawn from the Wheel Questions project.   It’s Monsarrat’s intent to gift readers with inspiration and peace of mind, and he thinks that by seeing the actual index cards in print (and he’s using photos of the actual queries he’s collected) readers will realize that they’re not alone in having problems.  Take a look here:  www.WheelQuestions.org.

Monsarrat's mission at the Book Expo was to find himself a literary agent who could understand him, his project, and also get him a contract to write the story about his life and the project.  As a known champion of intriguing authors who strive to create their own niche, I was, as they say in local parlance, “all over that” concept.  I am throwing my hat into the ring to help this fellow accomplish this goal so he can follow through on his dream of publishing his book.

So, loyal literary constituency, what say?  Any of you out there looking to discover a new author with a very cool- and already tested- conversation piece project?  Let me hear from you.  (***See update below!*** 6/8/10)

After that amazing connection, I then met speaker/author/television personality Wendy Robbins.  Wow… Wendy is involved with the Learning Channel’sHomemade Millionaire,” the show to which television talk show host Kelly Ripa is attached. 

“They found me on UTube,” Robbins told me when I asked how she got started with the show. “Can you imagine?”  Yes, I can, and it’s a good thing the search committee looked there since they wouldn’t have found her any other way:  Robbins lives out in the wilds of New Mexico.  Robbins was, initially skeptical about jumping into “television land.”  “I wanted to know if it was a ‘mean’ show or a nice show,” she told me.  Clearly, it’s a good show, and her job is to coach and help people launch their businesses through the Home Shopping Network.  In short, Robbins gets to do help people become the best they can be just about every day.  Gotta love it!

Writer and installation artist Johnny Monsarrat talks about his "Wheel Questions" project with a BEA attendee

Robbins is also involved in two film projects:  “Awaken Your Riches” and “The Source.”  “The Source is pretty cool since I get to talk about prayer and so forth,” she said.  “I get to be a female Wayne Dyer.”  And speaking of highly motivating individuals, Robbins also had a radio talk show for several years during which time she interviewed folks like Marianne Williamson.  “I got to come up with the most amazing questions,” she told me, “and meet the most amazing minds and hearts.”

Robbins was at the Show because she has an idea for a book: “Why Marry a Millionaire When You Can Be One.”  She couldn’t find the right publisher, and she wanted to be in charge of her “own power.”  So she was here to see who she might meet, to find partners who might work with her on her project, perhaps while also working on their own.  She’s passionate about her mission, too, and I have no doubt I will get a phone call soon telling me a deal has been struck.

“I want women to start believing in themselves,” Robbins told me, adding that “it doesn’t matter what our backgrounds are.”  On her own since the age of 14, she has had a less than “cushy” life.  She claims that life experience “hardened her heart.”  But, somehow, as she explains it, something “blossomed.”  “It’s finding your core despite your stories,” she told me.  “When I learned to tenderize my heart, it helped me share my message.”  This helps her speak to people- something which comes easily to her.  Robbins begins a motivational speaking tour shortly, with first stop in one of my hometown neighborhoods, Los Angeles.  She’ll be reaching some 250,000 people during the tour- 250,000 very lucky people… 

Robbins confirms the need for sharing what she has learned.  Her book is what she calls “a million dollar coach in a $20 book," reiterating that it's "all about changing your beliefs."  Robbins talks about the smartest ways to save, grow your money, and also to be in service to people around you, your community, the world at large- just like her subtitle that reads, “…and while you’re at it, save the world.” 

“I wanted the book to be like a mom speaking to a teenager,” she confided.  “I’d love to have teenagers pick up this book since young women seem to be looking for a prince.” 

Yes, times have changed- or, at least we’d thought they had.  Time for women to get fully educated and empowered about their finances.  “Can you believe that most Baby Boomers have less than $10,000 in savings?” Robbins said.  “And women weren’t allowed to get a credit card in their own name without a man co-signing up until something like 1975,” she added.  “I want women to have permission to be rich.”  She’s passionate about this, quite passionate.  In fact, there were tears in both of our eyes when we chatted.

Robbins would also like to find “big buyers” to buy 100,000 copies, plus.  She’d like to find a bank or financial organization that might want to pick up the title to use for promotion.  TD Bank, are you listening?  The publishing industry is tough, sure, but Robbins believes women might come together and market in a different way.  “I’d like to see 'co-opetition',” she told me (we coined a phrase today, seems), “versus 'competition'.  We’re more evolved.  Let’s just get people reading more, and getting them motivated so we can save the world, so to speak.”

I’d agree, wholeheartedly, with the difficulties a first-time author might have with the current traditional publishing model.   Let’s see if we can’t find Robbins a publishing partner.  Anybody out there interested in taking on a title with an established speaker/television personality with a great platform attached?  I’m guessing that’s a no-brainer; I’m also guessing that I’ll be hearing back from her soon to tell me how many “commas” are in her book deal advance figure… or be hearing about the gazillions of copies she'll be printing up to supply the demand created from her upcoming speaking engagements... Stay tuned.

Jacob K. Javits Center welcomes BEA attendees with striking moving sign

As you know from my prior reports, lives can be changed at Book Expo.  Last year I met author Janet Horvath, a professional cellist in the Minnesota Orchestra, who penned “Playing (Less) Hurt,” a “first” book for musicians about occupational injuries and performing while injured. (www.playinglesshurt.com)

Horvath had published the title independently, selling an impressive 7,500 copies on her own.  I was so taken by her independent publishing success story that I insisted she stay in touch.  She called me earlier in the year to let me know that “that next big thing” for her had happened- just as I’d told her, based on the industrious and professional way she worked the publishing and promotional aspects of her project, that it would.  After making a contact at last year's BEA with someone who saw the value in her book and also understood her vision, she was connected to renowned Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group.  She got herself an impressive book deal that has now not only moved her title into its second printing but also provided the “wind beneath the wings” needed to distribute and promote it in the best possible way.   Persistence pays off! Another Cinderella story at Book Expo.  Stay tuned for more…  I think I'll be hearing from Johnny Monsarrat next!

Update on 6/08/10:  I'm happy to report that Johnny Monsarrat got himself agented today.  He had several choices and decided to go with Mitchell Waters at the Curtis Brown LTD in NYC.   Great choice!  Congrats!  And much success to you, Mitchell, in promotion and sale of the manuscript~!

Text and photos ©2010 M. D. Caprario

M. D. Caprario is an author, editor, and journalist covering in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco all things good in the book, film and entertainment industries.  Reach her at [email protected].


Published on Dec 31, 1969

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