Posts tagged: BEA

Do the big book conventions help self-published authors or small presses?

Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem (Bloodsong 2) It's been a long time and many words since I went to Book Expo America in 2009

A member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance, a group of authors, readers, and aficionados of visionary fiction, asked if the big book conventions or fantasy conventions help indie authors and small presses. I shared the following story on the Visionary Fiction Facebook page.

Or shared most of it. My post must have been too long for FB; the ending got cut off. I’m posting what I said on FB here, so readers can get the whole thing.

This is the complete story of my one time attendance at the BEA–Book Expo America back in 2009. Does it answer the question? As a statistician, I only can say that  a sample of one case does not a valid conclusion make.

In 2009, I attended the Expo, a very green author with two books in print. In 2015, I’ve got ten books out and two more in production, with stack of manuscripts on my hard drive. My books have also won thirty national awards and I’ve been a bestselling author, often for days at a time. (Sales are the trickiest part.) Now, things might be different.

Would I go to BEA or any big fantasy or other convention? Probably not, as will be explained below, but if I did, it would be after great deliberation and analysis. I’d want it to be in LA or some California city: the event has been held in NYC in recent years and will be this year. These conventions are huge. To get an idea of the scale of the exhibit, look at this floorplan of the BEA main hall in 2015.  Purple squares are rented space; turquoise is available. Hover the cursor over the space to see who rented it. Notice the huge Chinese presence: this event’s attendance is worldwide.

One new development might change my conclusions. In 2015, Book Expo America will be combined with the debut of BookCon, a new consumer event featuring the big name authors in popular writing. The new event will be a combined trade show, BEA, followed by the consumer event.  BEA-BookCon 2015 runs from May 27 to 31 for the combined events.  The addition of BookCon to BEA may tip the scales for a smaller author or publishing house. Wholesale orders could be placed at BEA, but books were not sold to  customers. Joining a retail event like ComiCon, which drew 130,000 attendees in 2013, to BEA with retail sales possible could totally upend everything I say.

Or not. Depends upon what they require of people showing at the event. Will indie authors and micro presses be allowed? Participants will have to have stock on hand to sell. Hundreds of print books? Thousands? A way to download eBooks on the spot? With BookCon, the big, big time will become even bigger.

Should I wait until BEA comes back to LA? It used to travel around the country, heading West from time to time. BEA–BookCon 2016 will be in Chicago, I understand. After that?

BookExpo America event director Steven Rosato notes in his blog“BEA Orlando, BEA Dallas, BEA Atlanta—well, I will start looking at prison camps first.” 

He’d rather look at prison camps than Dallas? I’m glad I got to got to BEA in 2009. It’s a world-class event, and getting worldlier.

Here’s my tale of entering the big time:

* * *

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money (Bloodsong 1) my second book and ticket to the BEA.

I went to the BEA–Book Expo America–when my book Numenon came out in 2009. BEA is the largest book fair/convention in the country, then and now. The year we went, it was in LA at Staples Center. Check out the images on their website, keeping in mind that Barry and I are country mice. We went into instant culture shock in the multi-story parking lot.

Seeing that LA is only 2.5 hours from our ranch, as opposed to being on the other side of the continent. We went.

Getting in cost $150. I can’t remember that was just for me or $150 each for my husband and I. We were hosted at a booth taken by the IBPA, Independent Book Publishers Association. They’re the biggest and oldest organization representing indie authors and presses. The organization was known as the PMA back then. The IBPA hosts the Benjamin Franklin Awards, which may be the most prestigious contest for indie books. They READ every word of a book they’re judging. It’s very tough. The IBPA does great things for Indies and is worth joining.

Anyway, the IBPA maintained a booth at the BEA and allowed us micropress members exhibition space. I don’t remember if there was a charge for that or not. Probably.

Book Expo America DID have little cost in addition to the $150 entry fee: any author exhibiting there had to do a book signing and GIVE AWAY fifty copies of his/her book(s). We originally published Numenon as a hardback, to that cost was not inconsiderable.

My signing was scheduled at the IBPA booth. I don’t know why I was there as opposed to the “signing room” with all the major authors. Probably because we decided to go at the last minute and the main room was full. The “signing room” was a very large, corridor-like room with long tables running down both sides. Each author had about two feet of the table’s pristine, white-clothed real estate within which to sign books.

Carrie Fisher was there with a new book. A line of people wanting an autographed copy stacked up in front of her, moving from her perch, out the door, disappearing into the massive main hall beyond.

Here’s a funny story: we used a book consultant in producing my first two books. She’s the one who told us about the BEA and got us to go. One of her other clients, an adorable and ancient MD, had written his memoir. He had a colorful life as a Hollywood doc and I believe was a Holocaust survivor on top of that. He was signing his book at the same time as Carrie Fisher. She was swamped. He sat in front of a pile of his books, all alone.

Carrie looked over at him and shrieked, “Dr. Whatever! OMG! It’s Dr. Whatever! I love him! He’s my favorite person in the world.” He was her doctor. She jumped up and ran to the beaming physician. They embraced.

She went back to signing her book, but sent her line of I-want-your-autograph people to him after she signed her book. He was flooded with loving new fans and had a wonderful BEA experience.

I was sure that my signing would be a bust, even though BEA hires people with big signs to roam the aisles and point the crowds to authors having signings. I didn’t think they would help me. I was a two-book nobody and–Staples Center is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE! They had the main floor, a bridge over to another floor where the cafeteria was, more floors. Nooks and crannies full of authors and books.

I was in culture shock just parking the car. Where we live, cattle in the streets are the biggest traffic problem.

The big publishers, Random House and all the rest, monopolized the main floor with magnificent, specially-designed structures displaying their books. BEA is for booksellers–book stores, etc.–so the reps of the big 6 (or 5 or 3, now) publishers were all over taking orders from stores. Their presence was very professional and took up lots of very expensive floor space.

Smaller publishers, not the majors but substantial publishing houses, and I mean every friggin’ one of them, had smaller displays and booths arranged in rows radiating from the central core/temple area. The IBPA’s booth wasn’t too far back, but it was small and down an aisle. I would be forgotten.

On the other hand, the atmosphere was electric!  I leapt into the crowds and didn’t look back. The bigger booths offered wine, appetizers, seating areas, famous authors on call, and FREE BOOKS. Everyone had to give away fifty, remember. MANY famous authors were there. OK, maybe not so famous, but I remember Carrie Fisher and I got meet Mark Victor Hanson and his entourage.

Crowds filled the space like circling flocks of birds or schools of fish, ignited by a celebrity sighting. Before my signing, I joined a stampede, unable to resist the gang mentality or my own excitement! Captain Kirk was there! With a new book! I didn’t even know William Shatner could write, but I always liked the fact that he rode horses.

I cruised the aisles myself, ending up with several shopping bags of books that looked interesting. All free–giveaways of new books and galleys is good business. All the publishers offered their bounty freely. The only catch was, due to union rules that no one but union members could use wheeled carts to move books or anything else, I had to heft my gleanings in bags that ended up weighing about fifty pounds each. But it was fun!

The seek-and-find mission distracted my attention from my feeling of impending disaster at my booksigning. I expected my signing to be about the same as that older doctor’s without Carrie Fisher’s intervention. I was way back in the aisles, in a small booth with an unknown book about the richest man in the world and a Native American holy man. I would be unable to even GIVE fifty books away. I’d have to take them home. (That mind-set is a residue of my social standing in third grade.)

IT WAS A DELUGE!  Smiling people swamped the little booth, demanding that I sign my precious Numenon before giving it to them. Never in my life have I felt so popular! Being an author was wonderful! WONDERFUL! We were so smart to come to BEA! This was wonderful. The sales this exposure would generate would finance our retirement.

Only one thing marred it: Wandering around the aisles, I met a veteran of the Marines who had written his life story. He was published by a military press. Most regrettably, he’d been hit in the head by a missile as he was driving his tank in Iraq. He lived but was almost blinded, lost most of his hearing, and suffered terrible injury, from which he was rehabilitated as much as possible, which was what his book was about.

Nick Popaditch was an heroic and impressive figure in his dress uniform. His beautiful wife, a Native American woman, accompanied him. We chatted for a while and I invited him down the aisle a bit later, offering him a copy of Numenon.

I’d forgotten all about the couple when they appeared at my signing. He held her arm and walked slowly, more magnificent standing than he’d been sitting in his booth. Also grievously injured.

I’d forgotten to put a book away for him. In the melee, all of them had been given out, every single one! I gave them a copy of Stepping Off the Edge, my previous book, but the couple was visibly disappointed. I mailed a copy to the address he gave me, for Wounded Warriors. Never heard anything. They left, disappearing from my life.

I will plug his book; I found it very moving and inspiring. Nick Popaditch, Once a Marine.

Well, the Popaditch‘s didn’t get my book, but the rest had been a triumph. I had a blast with the holiday/cocktail party/star-struck/as-many-free-books-as-you-could-carry-away atmosphere. My book signing had been a great success! The books would go out into the world, and come back as sales and fame for me and my writing. What could be more fun?

My husband is very quiet and reclusive. He hated every minute of BEA.

* * *

When we got home, I looked at Numenon’s sale page on Amazon. Multiple copies of Numenon “signed by the author” were up for sale by many sellers. Also on eBay. Those excited people who came to my book signing were penny-ante booksellers grabbing free stuff to sell. They didn’t care about my book; they were trying to earn back the $150 it cost them to get in. I felt really ripped off.

OK. Much processing later. So I gave away a bunch of books. A well-known consultant to the book business once told me that books fail because there aren’t enough of them out there. “The book has to be visible. Give them away to get them into people’s hands. Give away LOTS.”

When it all shook out, I don’t know that I got a single review from those books or got anything at all.

Would I do it again? I would if I was Carrie Fisher and already had a following. Or if I was really rich and just wanted to go to a party about books and snag a couple of bags full for free. (Aside from Nick Popaditch‘s book, I don’t think I read any of those I picked up.)

That’s my experience at BEA. I did have a great time. I might have had a better time had I gone to some of the award presentations, starting the year before and in future years, when my books began to win prizes. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you win an award: pump it for all it’s worth. Get your face in front of cameras. Announce it everywhere. Scream it for the yarboards, or halboards. Rooftops. That’s called marketing. I’ve never gone to any of the ceremonies, wasting opportunities.

The  IBPA puts on a great award ceremony for the Benjamin Franklin Award. Be sure and go, if you win. I was a finalist for that with my first book, Stepping Off the Edge in 2006 (or 7).  Looks like the ceremony is separate from BEA now, but it used to be held in a location near the BEA at the same time.  Also, the Independent Publisher has a great ceremony for winners in the IPPYs, its book award. Here’s a blog article by Lisa Shea, who won two awards in the IPPYs. She went to the ceremony and give a rundown of what it was like. I’ve won three IPPYs awards over the years, but didn’t go to their  award ceremonies. Looks like I missed something.

Why didn’t I go to the award ceremonies? I’m not a “goer”: I didn’t attend any of my graduations after high school. The only reunion I’ve gone to was for the employees of the Santa Clara County Planning Department, where I worked for a long time. Loved those folks.

Would I go again if a fairy godmother gifted me? Sure, especially if I had an award to pick up. Otherwise, I’d want to build up my brand and visibility with every tool I had before venturing forth. Which is what Indie authors should be doing anyway.

I hope this tale is illuminating. I don’t know if conferences devoted specifically to fantasy or genres would be any different. I’d say: build your brand, your sales, your visibility, then evaluate going.


Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan, who’s got a lot of cool books for you to check out. Click the link.


The article's over: the fat lady's singing.

Win Book Contests – Make Your Book a Winner!

You win the minute you walk into the arena.

With horses, you win the minute you walk into the arena. This is a Matched Pairs Class at the La Bahia Peruvian Horse Show in Watsonville, CA. My husband and I are riding horses that are full brothers––same mom & pop. Except for the extra chrome (white markings) on Azteca, these horses pass for identical. The judge told us after the class, "You won that class the minute you walked into the arena." Your book will win or lose the same way.

Most of the 2009 book contests are closed. The books are and supporting materials are in. The judging is on. The contestants hyperventilate as the countdown continues. Will they be finalists? Actually win?

A nice thing about book contests is that you are an award winner even if you’re “just” a finalist. In the same way that Academy Award nominees get to say, “Academy Award nominee Snelda Grottie” forever, you can say Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist. Being a finalist counts as an award!

I’ve got my book, Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money, in five contests. I’m about to freak out. Should I have entered it in different categories than the ones I entered? Where’s the receipt from that very prestigious competition I took a chance on? I did enter it, didn’t I?

The anxiety will continue for the contestants until the finalists are notified. And longer, until the winner is announced––often at Book Expo America, the largest  book publishing event in North America. This year, BEA is May 28 to 31 in NYC.

It’s a little late for an article about setting your book up to win in 2009 book contests, but I’ve got to do something to fill the time.

I’M SANDY NATHAN. So far, I’ve won eight national awards for my two books. I’ll post a list of my wins at the end of this article.

Less well known is the fact that I also have experience as a book contest judge. My writerly credentials, contest wins, and the fact that I graded papers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business for 18 spring quarters make me an ideal candidate for judging.

I love it, truly. Brings back memories. I used to work for a top rated Stanford professor along with a jaded team of other smart people. Every year, he gave each of us a FOUR FOOT TALL stack of academic papers to grade OVER THE WEEKEND. Brutal.

I got really good at separating fluff from substance. Fast.  The books presented to me to judge remind me of those wonderful days of the nonstop pursuit of achievement, which I have not left behind.


If you win a book contest, chances are you already know how to win it. Here’s a story: When the Publisher’s Marketing Association (now the Independent Book Publishers’ Association) notified me that my book, Stepping Off the Edge, was a finalist in the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Awards in the New Age/Spirituality category, I boo-hooed. They choose only 3 finalists per category nationwide, one of which would be the winner. This was the first contest I’d entered. My first book.

“Oh, I can’t believe it. I’m so excited. Oh, my God. I’m so grateful. One out of three finalists! I can’t believe it. This is so wonderful!” I walked around our ranch emoting tearfully. Then something happened.

The overarching category of my writing is spiritually––which is based on spiritual or religious experience. That’s because I have spiritual experiences and have had them all my life. In the cacophony of my inner dialogue, one voice stands out. It’s calm, clear, unaffected, and never wrong. I think of it as God. This voice spoke:

“What’s the big deal, Sandy? You’ve been a straight A student most of your life. Why shouldn’t you win? You know what went into that book.” There was a pause and more communication. “Don’t you trust Me to reward you? To notice that you’ve done a good job? Don’t you think I care about you?”

Oops. My tearful gratitude had the smell of a contestant on a TV quiz show flipping out over winning a new refrigerator. It was an unnecessary display of ego and self importance, which also pointed to my lack of faith.

So let’s leave that behind and talk about how to win.

The key is: If you win a book contest, you already know how to set up a winner. It’s a job of work, like mucking out stalls at our ranch.

Just like winning a horse show class.  You win the instant you ride into the arena on a winning horse. Similarly, you win in a book contest the instant the judge looks at the array of books he or she has to judge. Your book has to leap out of the stack of ho-hum contenders and SING. Also tap dance.


1.  HARDBACKS SHOW UP BETTER. You’re a judge.  Thirty or forty books are sitting on a table. You won’t read all of them. You see well-designed hardback with a killer cover. Your eyes and hands gravitate to it. Wow. It’s beautiful. Paper even feels classy. You put the book in the “keeper” pile. Hardbacks have more weight in competition.

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. Your cover should hook the viewers' archetypes: The symbol in the middle of my cover is based on the photo of a Shiva Nataraj I own. Not only is the circle an archetype of wholeness, Shiva is revered all over the world. Including by me. Note the high contrast and predominately black cover. This design will dominate pretty near anything.

2. YOUR TITLE AND COVER will make you win or sink you. Do you know how to judge a cover? Lewis Agrell of The Agrell Group, will be a guest blogger with his terrific article on what makes a winning book cover. I’ll post it soon.

For now, let’s rely on phone book ads. Open the yellow page ads in any phone book. Scan the page quickly. Where do your eyes land? Note the ad. Do it again on another page, and another.

In all probability, the ad that draws your attention is SIMPLE. UNCLUTTERED. EITHER BLACK, WHITE, OR MOSTLY EMPTY. The ads that grab your eyeballs and hold them have attained PAGE  DOMINANCE. People hire consultants to create dominant ads for them.

Now go to a book store sale table and look at the books. Which books grab your eyes? Which do you pick up? Buy? A book contest is like that table. Clear, bold, design that dominates the competition will win.

YOUR COVER MUST HAVE AN EMOTIONAL HOOK. THINK ARCHETYPES. Primal images. Something that grabs the inner psychology of your reader/judge.

To win and much more importantly, to be purchased, your book cover AND SPINE must dominate any table and any bookshelf.

3. YOUR TITLE IS REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. First off, your title embodies your book’s essence. It is the first word or words the reader sees. It should be engaging, easy to read, evocative, and compelling––it should set the emotional tone for your book. As should the SUBTITLE or TAG LINE (THE ONE LINE DESCRIPTION BELOW THE TITLE.) Also, most of the big catalogs of books will list your book by its TITLE ONLY. Better be memorable. Like Twilight.

4. THE WORDS ON YOUR COVER, FLAPS, AND FIRST FEW PAGES OF YOUR BOOK, YOUR BOOK’S COPY, SHOULD BE UNFORGETTABLE. These words are your prime real estate and are what will make your book succeed. The book contest judge, book store owner, and your buyer will make a decision about your book based on these words––in seconds. You want emotional hooks, ease of reading, and enchantment in these places.

Writing copy is a skill. You can write text like an angel and not be able to pump out a winning tag line. I’ve got an Emmy-nominated screenwriter Laren Bright, the best copy writer I know, preparing an article for this blog. He’ll tell you how to do it.

I say: Hire it done if you can possibly afford it. Copy writing is like writing poetry: You need to be able to produce succinct messages packed with meaning and emotional associations in a tight space.

5. BOOK DESIGN, INTERIOR & EXTERIOR: YOUR BOOK SHOULD LOOK LIKE RANDOM HOUSE PRODUCED IT. NO LESS. We’ve talked about the cover, title, and copy. Every page and every word should be as well designed as your cover. Go to a book store and look at best selling books. Get a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and memorize the order of pages in a book.

A very important thing to note: NEVER HAVE YOUR TITLE PAGE ON THE LEFT. DO NOT DO THAT. Do your homework. Know the proper order of pages in a book. Know what a half title page is and where it goes. The contest judge will know all about this.

6. SELF PUBLISHING, SMALL PRESSES, THE MAJORS: Some contests are specifically for self published books, by that I mean books put out by the big POD printers like, iUniverse, Outskirts Press, BookSurge and the rest. If this is your competition, let your lulu imprint show.

If you’re in open competition, hide it. Some people have real prejudices against self-published books. There’s not as much of a prejudice against author-owned small presses––after all, Benjamin Franklin did it. So did Mark Twain, DH Lawrence and tons of big literary names. If you own and operate a small press, that puts you in a different category, even if your book was printed by CreateSpace or Outskirts Press. Just make sure that nothing about the mass producers shows.

If you take this approach, create a killer logo and press name, and have the book professionally designed and produced, you’ll be in good shape to compete in contests.

I have no prejudice against self-published books. I have a real bone to pick with poorly produced self-published books whose authors don’t respect me––the buying customer and reader––enough to get the thing professionally edited and proofed before offering it for sale. Or stick it in my face and expect me to judge it.


7. PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTION: The book contest judge may not have time to read all of your book, but he or she will sure sample pages and text. Typos, lousy interior and exterior design, cheap paper, all of it pops out. Hire an editor, copy editor and proofreader. Hire a book designer. Believe it or not, they’re not all super expensive. Look at my blog roll. Some great professionals are listed there.

TEMPLATES: Many of the big POD publishers offer templates for book interiors. These don’t show up well in contests. The text is set too tight, and the margins too small. There’s not enough variety in the overall design. In contests, judges see many books with very similar, standard interiors. If your book is one of thirty in a category, or one of THREE HUNDRED, it has to stand out. Templates won’t do it.

8. PERIPHERALS: YOUR WEB SITE, STATIONERY, & PRESS KIT. You did include those with your entry, didn’t you? I assure you, the winners did. The book contest judges are very likely to check your website, especially if you make it through enough of the hoops to stay in “the good pile” to the end. The “ad-ons” are breakers.

Two books might be ranked about the same, but if one author has an amazing web site and hosts a blog with a bazillion visitors a day providing a vital services to the world––who do you think will win? Ditto if on author provides copies of his book’s terrific reviews, testimonials, and advertising materials in a lovely custom folder. Which book will win?

Oh, yeah. What about the VIDEO FOR YOUR BOOK? Is that linked prominently on your site? Mentioned in your press kit?

9. THE BOOK, AS IN––WHAT’S BETWEEN THE COVERS? In your writing group, you concentrate on the writers’ skills and arts. Word by word, you construct and deconstruct and reconstruct your masterpiece. Ditto working with your editor. Your write, rewrite, have it slashed and burned, and make it rise again. You struggle to express exactly what you want, worry about pacing and plot and characters.

I was in two writing groups for a total of eleven years. I’ve worked with maybe six or seven good, tough editors. The content of your book matters, especially if you want it to sell. If you want word of mouth to propel it. If you want to read it yourself in future years and not be embarrassed by it.

The contest judge or panel of judges isn’t going to read all of your book. They’ll sample it and look at different aspects of it.

Does that mean you can skip the 11 years of writing groups and all those creative writing classes? No. Whatever random page a judge’s eyes fall upon will produce an impression. All the pages have to be good, since you don’t know which one will be read. Know what terms relating to race, ethnicity, or sexual preference are OK to use in modern literary and cultural circles. Get it right.

The curious thing is: Most people writing in academic settings concentrate solely on the quality of their manuscripts. They don’t look at any of the other points noted here, any of which can destroy their chances of winning a book contest or selling. That’s because in the major creative writing and MFA programs, people assume that they will be published by the major publishers.

They haven’t had direct experience of the realities of the publishing industry. Such students often have no idea that to succeed, they may have to set up a small press and learn to do things they never were taught in school. Academic programs may not talk about the recession and cut-backs and literary agents being laid off, either.

The real world can be a big surprise, even if you got your MFA from Iowa.

Producing a book that wins contests is a big job requiring a commitment of time and money. It doesn’t have to be a HUGE commitment of money, but its going to cost something. Before you enter a contest, you should know what you’re up against.

What do you win at the end of the day?
Some of the awards won by Rancho Vilasa. A few of these are my wins. The real victory that comes from athletic competition is a winning of soul, which is transferable to other endeavors. If you can show a horse and win, you can do anything.

To win in a horse show, you need a horse that grabs the judge’s eye the instant he enters the arena. He needs the stamina to look good at the end of a grueling class. For book contest, you need a book that’s set up to win from one end of the judging process to the other. And then into the marketing arena.

That’s it, folks! Happy competing!

Sandy Nathan, award winning author of Numenon & Stepping Off the Edge. I’m a bit burnt out writing about winning. Here are some links to what I’ve won in book contests:

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