Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Annick Goes to BEC

Melanie Little, author of The Apprentice's Masterpiece

The number of exhibitors was noticeably down from previous years, and there were fewer independent booksellers than everyone had hoped for, but even so, Book Expo Canada 2008 was a successful show for Annick. Thanks to the presence of a number of teachers and librarians, the booth was busy with people stopping to ask about our upcoming books. The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Susan McClelland drew a lot of attention as did The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little. Long line-ups awaited all our authors who signed books: Loris Lesynski, Melanie Little, Elizabeth MacLeod, Ruth Ohi, Charis Cotter, and Kathy Stinson.

Loris Lesynski, author of Shoe Shakes

Most of the publishers, association representatives and some booksellers attended a meeting on Monday to discuss the future of BEC. While everyone agreed that something had to be done to increase attendance, there was no consensus as to what that should be. There seems to be a movement afoot to move the show from June to September. As a publisher of children's books, we would be concerned that teachers and librarians who now attend BEC will not come to a fall show.
Elizabeth MacLeod, author of Royal Murder

The idea of opening BEC up to the public is a good one, but not unless a way can be found of allowing them to purchase books. Why else would they want to spend money to get in? For those who want to see and hear big name authors, there is the International Festival of Authors held later in the fall, and for those wanting bargains, there's The Word On The Street. Perhaps the appeal to the public would be being able to purchase the new Fall titles before they actually hit the stores. As for The Word On The Street, those publishers interested in selling could partner with an independent bookseller of their choice. Whatever the case, it looks as if BEC as it stands now is not viable for either its owners, Reed Exhibits, or for the publishers who attend. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Expo America

Photo from Book Expo America Website

Traditionally, getting together with booksellers is one of the highlights of the year. It's an opportunity for publishers to crawl out from behind their desks and actually speak with people on the front lines. The exchange of information and ideas flow both ways, as booksellers learn about publishing projects while we publishers get the lowdown on how our work has been received (or not).

Book Expo America is the place where it all happens; the book fair that's got it all. This year in LA, it did have it all - except for the booksellers. I exaggerate - there were some wonderful, inspiring conversations, an exchange of ideas and worldviews, or at least views on the state of bookselling. But I think the conversations that began, "I used to be a bookseller before I was a... teacher, librarian, literary worker, film maker, etc., outnumbered those with actual booksellers. What's happened?

Independent booksellers are under siege in a market that is dominated by large chains and internet sites that can obtain, and in turn, offer discounts that render competition virtually impossible. More and more, if you wish to browse, seek out that title or titles that capture the imagination, and have someone who is knowledgeable make a recommendation, you can’t count on finding a bookstore that provides those opportunities.

While customers certainly appreciate a good discount off retail, this is costing us all. The community store that knows its customers and deeply cares about selection is an increasingly unviable economic proposition. This is in spite of the creative solutions that independents do embrace, such as specializing in a particular genre or holding events in their store.

Environmentalists remind us that diversity is the key to healthy systems. So while a good price looks attractive on the surface, we're left with less and less choice. And on the publishing side, there is more and more pressure to get on that bestseller list, or the project is not worth the investment. In fact, our bank manager once asked, "Why not just publish bestsellers?" We would love to, but there's a lot more to reading and the love of literature and telling stories than "bestseller or bust.” So hats off to those booksellers whose vision and commitment allow them to carry on. We value them deeply.

Rick Wilks

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Best Author In the Room

Recently, I had the privilege of being nominated for a Silver Birch Award and, being the earnest children’s author that I am, I decided to cash in on my 15 minutes of fame and fly to Toronto for the big event–the announcement of the winner followed by the author signing where I was promised I would be "treated like a rock star." And who can pass up an invitation like that? Especially when you’ve never won an award!

Okay, I still haven’t actually won an award. That honor went to Linda DeMeulemeester for her book, The Secret of Grim Hill. And it was almost worth losing just to see the look on her face when she won. Her hands flew to her face and she sort of swivelled around as if her knees had gone a little weak. She looked like one of those beauty pageant winners! You could tell she was genuinely thrilled. It was great to see such a deserving writer rewarded.

But then came the signing–and you know what? They really do treat you like a rock star–except your fans are smaller. If you don’t have a table in front of you, you’re mobbed! They come at you mostly with scraps of paper, but also notebooks, official forms with the names of all the nominees, running shoes, and even, occasionally, a copy of your book.

There was a cold wind blowing off lake Ontario at the Harbourfront Centre and we were in a tent, so a lot of the young autograph hounds were shivering by the time they stepped up to my table, having waited for a good 90 minutes for the lineups to die down. To these hardy young souls, I apologize. I have a slow pen. It’s an honour to have somebody wait around in a howling wind just to have you sign your name.

The very next day, I attended Durham County school district’s own celebration of the Forest of Reading at the Iroquois Park Sports Centre. After a delicious lunch of pizza and ice cream, where I got to mingle with the kids, more autographs!

Once again, thanks to my slow hand, I spent about an hour signing. They brought me everything from shoes to notebooks to copies of books by some of the other nominees. David Poulsen was the favorite, the logic usually going something like this: "Well, he isn’t here and you have the same first name so . . . could you sign it?"

At last I looked up and saw that I was actually making a dent in the crowd. My line had dwindled to only about four or five students. It was a good thing, too, because I had to drive to the airport soon to fly back home.

And then the highlight of my Silver Birch experience: A young man who had been waiting for a long time finally reached the head of the line. He put a copy of Baboon down on the table and said, "Mr. Jones, you’re the best author here!" I tried to muster all the modesty I could while savoring my moment in the limelight and muttered something like, "Well, thank you for saying that, son. You’re very– "

But before I could get the rest of the sentence out of my mouth, some wag at the back of the line leaned over and said, "You’re the only author here."

I stood up and looked over the line blocking my view of the arena. Everyone else had left, except for two guys stacking chairs and carting the folding tables away. I’m assuming that neither of them was a children’s author, so I’m taking that first kid at his word.

What’s that saying? "All glory is fleeting."

Four seconds, though. That’s got to be some kind of record.

David Jones
author of Baboon and Mighty Robots

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why did the Möbius strip cross the road?

Image by David Benbennick taken on March 14, 2005.

Last Thursday, I met with 36 Grade 4 students from Ms von Blerk’s class and Ms Schachter’s class at Westmount Park Public School in Montreal (a school that looks like a castle!). Nico and Max, who are homeschooling, attended the presentation too. We talked about the weird and cool parts of math and played with Möbius strips. The kids were great – polite and full of questions.

A couple of their questions stumped me! So I looked up the answer to "How did Pierre Fermat, creator of Fermat’s Last Theorem, die?" The encyclopedia didn’t say how he died but it did say that, in 1637, he scribbled in a book that he had a proof for his theorem . He didn’t die until 28 years later, but he still hadn’t written down the proof in a place where people could find it. Talk about not getting your homework done!

My presentation was part of an ongoing science program run by the excellent Montreal Children’s Library, a non-profit institution that has been providing free library service since 1929. Thanks to MCL Science Coordinator Josie Baker for setting up the event. And a big thank you to Librarian Elizabeth Macdonnell, Robin, the teachers and all the kids for making an author feel so welcome – and to the two students who volunteered to draw on and cut Möbius strips.

Here’s a joke for you all:

Why did the Möbius strip cross the road?

To get to the other....???!!!