BOOKEXPO 2009, NEW YORK CITY: An Alaskan Checks In

I read with some detachment the Publisher’s Weekly updates from Book Expo 2009 that flooded my email box last week. BEA Sunday morning alert! BEA Sunday afternoon alert! I know it’s a big event, but distance and the usual summer distractions kept me detached. Sure, it was great to learn that books sales were actually up last year (a whopping one percent) and that the total verified attendees (12,025) was up 30 percent, but none of it really hit home until Alaska’s vagabond poet Ken Waldman checked in with this personal report.

Usually when I’m at an event out of state, I manage to find other Alaskans, or at least folks who have ties to Alaska, no matter how tenuous. I just finished three days at BookExpo, the big annual gathering of the book trade. And while I can’t report I saw other Alaskans, I can at least pass along a few observations.

This year’s conference was in New York City, and there were three floors of booths, tables, and meeting rooms–all sizes of presses, presses specializing in all manner of books. Thousands of attendees milled around the convention center. My tag read “published author,” and there were plenty of authors in attendance, some signing books either in publisher’s booths, or at more formal “signing” tables. In addition to publishers and writers, there were bookstore employees, librarians, literary agents, book reviewers, and every other category of book-business worker. Each day, Publisher’s Weekly printed a paper that reported conference news.

The one time I stopped at the Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company booth, no one was there. That was the publisher with the most direct Alaska ties. But I did run into Richard Olafson, who for many years has run Ekstasis Editions, a small press on Vancouver Island. One of his new projects is The Pacific Rim Review of Books. He’s not only interested in Alaska titles, but would be interested in hearing from Alaskans interested in writing for the publication.

I also saw Mark Cull and Kate Gale of Red Hen Press. One of their imprints is Boreal Books, which features Alaska books and is edited by Peggy Shumaker. I felt most at home in New York picking up the 2009 title, Double Moon, a collaboration between Fairbanks visual artist Margo Klass and Fairbanks writer Frank Soos.

But mainly I wandered, gathered information about children’s books (after having worked with publishers on all my previous books, I’m about to self-publish a kids’ book), ran into several acquaintances and friends of friends, and made a wide variety of new contacts.

Was it worth it?

I learned Mercer University Press has a series on Sports and Religion, and since they also do the occasional poetry collection, might well be interested in my collection of sports poems. I’m supposed to follow up with a formal query.

By spending time at the New Jersey library booth, I met several library directors. Maybe they’ll order one or more of my books; maybe I’ll someday do a program at one or more of the libraries. Again, I’ll be following up.

Late in the afternoon on the first day of the conference, waiting to talk to a publisher, I glanced at the tag of a someone nearby, also waiting to talk with someone. As we waited, we introduced ourselves. She was curious about the Anchorage address on my tag, so asked what kind of writing I did. I briefly told her. I was curious about her NPR affiliation, so asked about it. Hearing she was involved with a radio show that was a mix of public interest, politics, and the arts, I asked if she might be interested in my recent book of prose, plus the new CD that goes along with it. She nodded yes, so I passed them along. I’ll be following up there, too. If I someday end up on the program she helps produce, I’ll let you know.

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