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Rambles in the Trade
by:  JCSimonds, Beagle Bay Books
A small publisher's observations on trade and consumer shows
November 5, 2005

Even (Sor)optimists Get the Blues

Usually, Beagle Bay Books only does trade shows. However, every year we do Reno's "Artists, Authors and Autos" show put on by the local Soroptimists Club.

Artists, Authors and Autos is held in the National Automobile Museum (it used to be the Harrah car collection. This is about 1/10th of what's left of that grand auto assemblage (it used to fill a 5 story warehouse)... and I have not yet managed to walk the entire exhibit all at one go). While there are themed exhibit rooms, the broad halls in between are set up like streets (with cobblestones, macadam or concrete for the pavement appropriate to the era), with street lights, store fronts, sidewalks and cars of the era at the curb. Vendors set up in these areas -- in between the cars or on the sidewalk. Lighting is great for a city street, loathsome for a display.

All sales are handled by the organization (you write a receipt, the customer pays at a central location and bring you back the paid receipt). The Soroptimists take 30%. Still better than wholesale to the trade.

As it's held in October or November, people are thinking holidays, so they are looking carefully at the wares. Of special interest are regionally-themed books. A lot of local self-pubbed / subsidy-pubbed authors come out and take a table, which is only $30. The local indy bookstore used to have a double booth, but they don't bother any more. Beagle Bay is the only multiple title booth.

Set-up and the first night
I've yet to be at any event where the table situation wasn't something of a mess. As we had signed up way late (my fault), we were in a terrible spot -- at the back of the museum, up on the sidewalk behind a big car (it was the first customized Chevy). It took me 10 minutes with the map to find it. Once there, I discovered that they had given us an author table -- which is a skinny 6' seminar table, about a foot wide. I made a pleasant pest of myself (consists of following around the organizer and asking politely, but insistently, for a regular table). They ran out of regular tables, so gave me a card table at the end of the seminar table. OK, I said, I can vamp.

Now, usually Robin and I do these gigs together, but as this was in town and his computer consulting biz has really taken off (meaning he leaves in the morning and I don't see him again until evening), I had the "honor" of setting up by myself. The strange configuration forced me to scrap all my usual tricks -- plus, although I'd I only brought a few of our titles, they were all big photography or picture books. So that was an interesting puzzle, and I was just as glad Robin wasn't there to see me take the set-up apart three times until I got it "right." The only thing that did go right is that I'd brought 2 swing arm lamps (I've done this show before and know how dark it is) and there was even electricity nearby. But I decided I needed one more lamp to be well covered.

The first night is a black tie gala for four hours. Wine and hors d'oeuvres are served... even to the vendors. So we look forward to that part of the show. (My theory is, wine makes the wallet come out of the pocket more easily. Wine also makes the vendor more content to sit there and answer really stoopid questions ("Is this a book?" Um, yes. Ever, seen one before?)

But have you ever thrown a party and no one came? That's what happened Friday and it could have been avoided. Every year, one of the casinos sponsors the "Fantasies in Chocolate" (it's sort of an adult prom night with chocolate. They used to have it on Valentine's Day. No clue why it's become a Fall thing). It's a big, popular charity deal and it was held that night. Also, there was a big opening of the Nevada Museum of Art's new exhibit the same evening. Given that there's only a small number of people in Reno who attend events like this and the Soroptimists are part of that number, why they weren't aware of this date clash is a mystery to me. Attendance was minimal.

Fine, my husband sighed, more of those nifty pin-wheel appetizers for me! Exhibitors used the opportunity to buy from each other. I got these really snazzy earrings made of paper (Paper. Publisher. Is there a connection?) And was saved from buying this adorable silk purse when a customer beat me to it.

It's fun to study human nature. In most museums, it's pretty clear that you should keep your hands to your self. But a car museum -- even with signs everywhere saying "Please don't touch the cars" -- has a major problem. I think it has to do with the fact that cars are like furniture. We don't think of them as delicate. So I watched well-dressed, smart-by-day folks put drinks on the hood of Elvis's Lincoln Continental, purses on a Packard's bumper, a plate of unwanted stuffed mushrooms on the running board of an antique fire truck and even try to perch on a Wagonarri's (it's a 1970s Jeep Wagoneer with a Ferrari engine) fender. I thought the museum director was going to have apoplexy. And the night wasn't finished until someone splashed BBQ sauce on one of the signs.

The Second Day
This is the casual part of the event, only 6 hours and open to the public. This way, folks there to look at cars get a chance to see books and art they wouldn't see any where else -- or vice versa. Unfortunately, it was one of those glorious Sierra Fall days when only an idiot stays indoors or goes to a car museum (even if it has big skylights and you feel as if you are outside on a "street"). Hardly anyone came. It didn't help that I got sick and felt like lying down on the table most of the day.

But all was not lost. Besides selling a few copies of our books we might not otherwise have moved, we touched base with local authors who might be able to use some of our services, store owners (not bookstores) "shopping for talent" who might want to carry our books, and general opportunities (like a chance to speak at the Rotary Club about our services). You never know what's going to happen.... Which is one of the reasons we wanted to be in this crazy business anyhoo, right?

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October 15, 2005

Slim Pickin's at NCIBA

I'll throw this out to any of you mystery writers who want to do this (please just mention me in the Ack):

Title: Murder at the Book Show

Summary: Every year, the same publishers and book reps turn up at a certain trade show. And during the show, a lot of the same booksellers attend annually. But each year, there's fewer of them. At first, it's the booksellers who disappear -- all of the tiny stores; then a few big guys and medium shopowners. Then reps, distributors and publishers stop appearing. Eventually, the trade show itself disappears.

Whodunnit: The Consumer. . . . Well, that's the usual suspect.

We've just returned from the NCIBA at the Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, CA. This is our fifth year. Our first year was just 2 weeks after 9/11. The second day of the show, the U.S. started bombing Afghanistan and all the booksellers drove home. For the record, that was the worst show I've ever done (that Sunday, anyway). Since then, the NCIBA has had it's ups and downs (from a Beagle Bay Books perspective). It's an important enough show to us that -- even when we decided to only do two trade shows this year (too expensive to travel), NCIBA was a must.

Sure, it's great to see old friends. I've made a lot of trade show pals over the years (Hey, Bob, Bob, Ora, Duke, Bruce, Danforth, Cynthia, Pete, Peter, Vicky and Sam!). I even know a lot of the booksellers by sight... if not by hairstyle (the dyed-skunk-look was in this year), tattoos and piercings. But there were less of those I know this year.

Could it have been the fact that the Southern California Booksellers' Association decided to field its own show this year? OK, it's only 6 hours long (which is why we aren't going). But this fact seems to have kept the So Cal booksellers at home. I didn't see Latitude 33 or Warwicks or anyone else from down south.

What I can't explain is why so few booksellers showed up at the Friday Night cocktail party (about a 10th of the usual turnout), so that scuzzy ol' publishers like me were free to swill really sorry Merlot and snarf down shrimp and canapes to my flabby heart's content (it's been a long time since that last happened). I didn't hear how the Saturday night party went, as I was down at Jade Villa restaurant to demonstrate -- once again -- my remarkable ability to pick up dim sum with my chop sticks and squirt them clear across the restaurant. What I didn't send flying was terrif, thanks.

Maybe it was the lack of big name authors signing that kept attendance down. Last year, Saturday was dreadful, but Sunday was wonderful due to Lemony Snicket. No such joy this time. The signings seemed well attended, making one wonder if that's what most of the booksellers were after. Not having fielded a book for autographing -- I've just no heart to see my hard work and dollars end up on eBay or Amazon Marketplace or even in their stores, competing with my regular titles -- I can't say this is a big part of my marketing plan. I don't know if this helps or hurts a title.

If the booksellers who showed up to glean books (that is, grab up a bunch of ARCs, galleys and finished books to sell in their stores or eBay or Amazon Marketplace), they must have been disappointed. The pickings were slim. Heck, even the old gleaner-guy left with his elaborate double bag contraption only half full. Heaven knows I've given up giving out freebies. I've gotten tired of getting them back from Ingram and B&T. 'Sides, our new book this year was a coffee table book. And I was repping for folks who don't do freebies.

But really, there were no"must have" books everyone was lusting after. And if booksellers aren't lusting after them....

In past years, booksellers have done all sorts of things not to get near small press tables. This year, they seemed genuinely interested... but not interested enough to write an order. Friends report that MPBA and PNBA were much the same.

So, let's look at the evidence:

Fewer independent booksellers: We can blame that on competition from the big box stores and the Internet (I figure most stores could compete with one or the other, but not both). At the end of the day, consumers aren't going to the indy stores. (Yes, OK, in the BAY AREA, but not so much outside that special region. Cody's Books expanded, opening a new store, and Kepler's reopened )

Fewer small to medium publishers showing up. More medium-sized publishers and distributors relying on reps to do the heavy lifting: So this means there's less product diversity, more tables crammed full of front-list only titles that reps know little about and more of the -- what we called at my high school lunch room -- SOS. This leads to the next observation --

Fewer books: Yawn. What was S&S peddling this year? Random? Even Taschen looked shopworn. Scholastic looked completely uninteresting. Where are the way-cool books? How can booksellers pull people in if they only have the same old stuff... no matter how many Oprah recommends.

It's elementary, Doctor Watson! Filled with despair at losing so many customers to the Internet and big box stores, publishers pumped out less and less exciting titles, relying on what they were pretty sure they could sell. Small bookstores, verging on the edge of collapse, tried to emulate the big box stores (coffee shops and loads of sidelines) while only daring to buy the New York Times best sellers and Oprah picks. Meanwhile, the consumer couldn't care less and actually preferred to buy its books the same place it bought its deodorant. The whole industry committed suicide -- but just before it collapsed into a heap, it shot the regional trade show in the head.

Rather than heading down to Wal-Mart on Lowest Common Denominator Lane to buy my Constitutionally-protected gun (or book about a gun), I'll wrap this up with a few last thoughts:

Signage for the booths didn't arrive until about 12:30 on Saturday... which led to some interesting confusion in the "Islands" (where many table top booths are aggregated) Friday at set-up. We arrived to discover that our spot had been taken by China Books (otherwise lovely people), whose place was taken by another publisher, whose place was... you get the point. I went to talk to Joyce (otherwise known as the Goddess of NCIBA) about straightening it all out. Meanwhile, husband Robin talked it over with Hut, the head of NCIBA, and sorted it out without we power-females getting involved. Cool.

We managed to have one of the more talked about books at the show -- Will Cook for Sex by Stephens Press. It got a lot of giggles. I enjoyed talking about this crazy book -- which despite its sometimes troglodyte view of dating has some great recipes and good advice for guys who want to cook gourmet meals, but don't know how to get started. It also has recipe cheater cards in the back, so a guy can slip the instructions up his sleeve and look like some master chef who knows his stuff... which is supposed to lead to knowing other "stuff..."

You can send postcards, e-mails, BookSense blurbs and dancing bears, but at the end of the day, some books you just have to stuff in a booksellers face. That was the conclusion I came to with our title Women in Shadow and Light: Journeys from Abuse to Healing. I'd made no headway with this title in the area... and for folks for whom advocacy is akin to breathing, it seemed a natural. Once they saw it, we scheduled some events. That was a big plus to our show experience.

Like a lot of exhibitors, we put out some candy to get booksellers to stop long enough to look at our wares. I won't put out chocolate as a) they get it all over their paws and thus all over the books and b) I will EAT said chocolate until it's all gone, despite the fact that my missing gall bladder shall punish me for such behavior. So we offered "Red Vines." I'd seen another person do this a couple of years back and noted the devoted following for these red twists. As expected, we got loads of takers for the candy. At one point, I had a male bookseller browsing titles. He just happened to be standing in front of the Red Vines jar. A group of six women passing by saw the licorice and pounced on it, actually shoving him out of the way. When I pointed out that they had pushed a not un-handsome fella away to get some candy, the elder of the Gang of Six said: "NEVER get in between a woman and her Red Vines!" Confused, the man walked away muttering, "I'd have expected that kind of behavior for chocolate...."

Picked up a new pr client. I fell in love with their hilarious Bush-bashing calendar (and forthcoming 2006 White House Advent calendar). Blue Funk Productions produces the Official Countdown Calendar for Despondent Democrats and Other Thinking People. It's a hoot. If you need a laugh, want to spend some bucks for a good cause and need some not-too-expensive presents for your Liberal/Progressive friends, go buy a bunch!

We had lots of talks with folks who gave us leads, might work with us on some level and helped us think in some new directions. That's why we go. But it would help to make some money once in a while. Otherwise, the IRS starts to think this is just a hobby.... Next stop, the Soroptimist show in Reno (Oct 21-22) and then on to the California Library Association show (Nov 4-6).

See ya next time!

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A R C H I V E / H I G H L I G H T S

The Memory Lane Trip
originally posted: June 1, 2005

OK, so this won't be about books. Life, as they say, frequently takes other turns.

Last week I went with my folks back to their old hometown, Kansas City, MO -- the reason: my Dad's 60th high school reunion. Originally, I'd volunteered to go with my Dad because my Mom was refusing to. After I bought the tickets, Mom suddenly decided to come -- proving that she can still fake me straight out of my shorts at 75. She didn't want to face Dad's reunion by herself. Wish she'd just come out and asked me.

My Dad told me on the plane that he was calling this "the trip down memory lane." At 77 and having had a bad run of health last year, he really feels his mortality and wanted to get in a last look at a town he hasn't lived in for 50-some years.

I'd been getting itineraries every few days. I presumed they came from my Mom, who is Queen of Micro-Management. Little did I know that all this came from my Dad, who was as excited and nervous as a new bride, circa 1950. I don't think he'd slept for a week before we took off.

Wednesday was spent seeing cousins I'd never seen and houses I had seen in pictures but not in person -- despite the many times I've been to KCMO -- wandering the Nelson Art Gallery (worth way more time exploring), the Veteran's Memorial and the Kansas City Museum (not so much) and dodging tornadoes (of which I am morbidly afraid and went to bed terrified, thankyouverymuch).

Thursday was the all-Grandpa day. My Mom refused to attend any event as it was "dull." First we went to KMBC TV, which my Gramps, Arthur B. Church, started. The station is still in the old Masonic Temple which Gramps bought in 1948 -- an albatross of a building which mystifies me why anyone would bother having a business in it... but I'm guessing the mortgage was paid. (We discovered that KMBC is moving next year into a modern facility.) We were received by the assistant news director who recalled Gramps and was tickled to meet Dad (who is Arthur, Jr.) and wax poetic about the old days. Our tour guide was a nice enough 30-something with pink hair who was trying hard not to be bored by the whole tour... until Dad pointed out some facts that blew her mind, from when he was president of the station, lo these 50 years ago. He made some comment about John Cameron Swayze (who worked with Gramps in the early radio days) and she said: "I'm sorry, I'm new to KC so I don't know the old broadcasters." Dad was blown away to silence. I said, "Well, you know who Walter Cronkite is? He got his start at KMBC radio working with Gramps." "OOOOOOOO," she said. But Dad was too grumped to appreciate the slavish adoration.

After lunch with my godfather and his wife, we trooped down to the campus of University of Missouri, Kansas City, Marr Collection Sound Library (the largest such in the Northern Hemisphere, they bragged). Now, some background: Arthur B. Church started broadcasting on a crystal set in Lamoni, Iowa in 1914 and, according to some sources, is the inventor of ads on broadcasts in 1915 (please send me no brickbats. I'm still trying to figure out if this is, in fact, worse than being related to Jesse James (true)). Gramps started his radio stations KMBC and KRME (not to mention war-time training of radio operators for both WWs) and did very well. He is most remembered for his show "The Brush Creek Follies" which some called "the down market Grand Ol' Oprey." [An interesting side note: Paul Henning, the creator of such shows as The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, honed his characters on Brush Creek.] Gramps was heavily involved in broadcasting, setting up the broadcasters code of ethics and pushing the boundaries of what you could do in broadcasting up until he sold KMBC, bag and baggage, in 1954.

After he and my Gram passed, my Dad inherited a bunch of stuff. The papers went to Iowa University -- but the recordings, sheet music, record pressing disks of the Sons of the Pioneers (massive aluminum things, of which there were 500) languished in the garage while my enterprising Mom tried one scheme after another to get rid of them. She never sold more than 5 in one shot. About 6 years ago, someone from UMKC contacted my Dad to ask him about something. In the course of the conversation, Dad mentioned the pile of stuff that had prevented him from parking in his own garage for many years. "Oh, do you suppose we could come out and look at it?" the caller asked. Sure, my Dad said. Bring warm jackets, that garage is freezing, even in summer. A week later, the president of the university, the head of the library and Chuck Haddix, the special collections head showed up. They asked if Dad would donate "all this wonderful stuff" -- if they paid to have it appraised. Dad couldn't say YES! fast enough. A fancy moving van showed up at the end of the month and hauled it all away (Dad and Mom never did park in the garage, though).

A couple of years ago, we got notification that the Arthur B. Church and the Brush Creek Follies collections had been put up on the Web. You can't imagine how tickled we were! We'd all figured that the garage stuff would go into some basement, never to be heard from again -- as the Iowa collection had. Nope, not a bit of it! exclaimed Chuck Haddix. It wasn't until we came to visit that he unveiled the latest and most exciting utilization of the collection: "The Voices of World War II." This special grouping combines actual on-air broadcasts (from KMBC and the NBC network) of key moments in the War's history, such as: the entire network news broadcasts from the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, the announcements to ration and save "used fats" to build ammunition, Hitler's speeches, Charles Lindburg's anti-interventionist speeches and Winston Churchill's remarkable post war speech calling Russia's new attitude "the Iron Curtain" (for which my godfather was present to hear). Included are stirring and/or hilarious songs from the era and posters about the war. I can't tell you how thrilled I am about this. Just think how this will add to WWII scholarship and our understanding of the time. Imagine, Gramps is still useful in the 21st Century. He would be totally happy.

Friday and Saturday were devoted to the reunion of my Dad's Pembroke Hill Day School Class (1944-45) -- a school that has totally changed every single building since my Dad's day, plus added grades pre-K to 7. At one point, I was thinking about a great line from Airplane I where Leslie Nelson said, "I picked a bad week to kick those Quaaludes!" The luncheon was mind-numbingly dull. As was the "entertain the ladies" power shopping at the Plaza, which is beautiful, but has become your standard mall, albeit outside in beautiful architecture. I walked my feet off and bought nothing. However, the classmates who came to the dinners were all pretty interesting and amusing folks -- showing me where Dad had gotten his sense of humor (it certainly wasn't from his parents, who tended to strange jokes). One of the more interesting characters was the slow-talking Arthur (yes, I said to myself, there's someone who talks slower than Dad!) who turned out to have raced Porches in the 50s all over the US, Europe and South America. He lost an ear in a Sebring race -- after which he settled down and sold Volkswagons and Porches (the Volkses because his mechanic said the tools and materials were the same) until 1992. Another alum ran a huge PR firm and retired to a successful career painting -- managed by his wife, since he couldn't force himself to promote his own work. They were mostly amusing folk -- but maybe I think that because they kept telling me how young I was and thought I was in my 30s!

In the end, the folks were happy everything went so well. Another weird bonding experience has been forged... and I flew back to Reno thinking how short a time I actually have left with my parents.

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A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R

JCSimonds is the President of Beagle Bay Books and Distribution, which features books that enlighten and empower.

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