Idealism survived at BEA 2009

BEA 2009
I’m starting to receive email from writers who pitched their ideas to me at the BEA/Writer’s Digest Books Writers Conference that preceded BookExpo America in New York last week. I realize it’s difficult to wait for a reply. I’ll be able to go through all of the email and begin responding a little later this week. I heard several terrific pitches, and I hope the concepts hold together on the page.

Until I began talking to writers at the conference last Wednesday, I hadn’t thought about the primary benefit to the aspiring authors who participated in the Pitch Slam. Each person can send a query to any of the agents any day, but only at the writers’ conference do they have the perfect opportunity to judge the variety of agents up close. The writers shouldn’t have been worried about the impressions they made. It was actually their turn to assess the literary agents and find out whether they would be compatible as collaborators.

The nonstop networking and events of BEA began the day after the writers’ conference. This year, I was pleased to note there were many more innovators eager to invest their energy in the book publishing industry. Their idealism was refreshing and encouraging. I tend to identify change agents online, so BEA was my opportunity to meet many of them in person and learn who they’re watching for new ideas.

Mike Shatzkin of IdeaLogical gave a brilliant talk on the future of the industry. The full text of his presentation is expected to be posted on his blog. He urged publishers to take the time to search the Web for customers and collaborators in their niches, as well as measuring and tracking financial results by verticals. Shatzkin also admonished book publishers to form alliances that will enable new businesses based on community, by giving the communities something of value. He pointed out that each publisher will find business in multiple niches but needs to address each niche separately. The practice is labor-intensive, which will make it difficult for the largest general trade publishers to adopt. Repeatedly during BookExpo it was emphasized that smaller, more agile publishers will gain an advantage during this period of transition to digital workflow and in the process of learning to engage with the communities that form around a book, an author, or a special interest.

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