If you're a writer, you've probably heard of BookExpo America. Although it describes itself as "the premier event for the North American publishing industry," in recent years it has shrunk considerably, both in exhibitors and attendance. There are those who question its relevance, not to mention its survival (see Mike Shatzkin's interesting essay on the dwindling of BEA, and the changes in publishing and book retailing that have driven this).
Nevertheless, for many writers BEA retains its gloss as a kind of book industry Mecca, a place to make pilgrimage in hope of establishing contacts, promoting a recently-published book, or even attracting the interest of a publisher or agent. And wherever there's something writers want, there are people waiting to take their money.
I touched on this issue last week, with a post about vanity publisher SterlingHouse Publishing, which sells its authors face time at BEA for astronomical prices. I would not be at all surprised to learn that another vanity publisher loudly touting its BEA attendance is doing something similar.
(Yes, questionable agents and publishers do exhibit at BEA. I've looked at about half the exhibitor list so far, and have identified five companies about which Writer Beware has received significant complaints. At BEA, as elsewhere, don't take everything at face value.)
Vanity publishers aren't the only ones looking to make a profit from BEA. Writer Beware knows of several fee-charging agents who give clients the "opportunity" to pay extra to have their manuscripts carried to BEA, supposedly in hopes of making publisher contacts. (A good agent shouldn't need a book fair to make publisher contacts, but never mind.) Last year, I heard from a writer who paid his agent $250 for this privilege; all he got for his money was a few business cards, which the agent could easily have acquired just by spending half an hour walking around the floor.
Other questionable agents solicit writers (not just their clients, but writers whose addresses they've bought or harvested from the Internet) for inclusion in a catalog that they promise to bring to BEA for publishers to peruse. We know of one agent who charges $300 per catalog page, which includes an author photo, bio, and brief synopsis. Cut-rate book publicists and print-on-demand self-publishing services also sometimes offer BEA catalog listings--for instance, this one for $499 from POD self-pub service Llumina Press (scroll down the page). Or from Trafford, last year, this one for $669.
Do BEA attendees really look at these catalogs? ...What do you think? The catalog owners, on the other hand, make a stack of cash.
There are also consultants, writing coaches, and the like who offer BEA "representation" to aspiring and self-published authors. They promise to develop a pitch or press kit to promote writers' proposals or self-pubbed books to appropriate agents and editors at the fair, and report back once it's all over. Fees can be hefty: $1,500, $2,000, or even more. Sometimes only a certain number of hours of effort are guaranteed; beyond that, further charges accrue.
While many such consultants have questionable or marginal resumes, and are rarely able to point to successes, others have genuine credentials, and present convincing-sounded testimonials--for instance, AuthorOneStop, which offers several BEA representation packages. Ask yourself, though--do you really want to pay $2,000 for a service like this, which basically is an expensive gamble that offers no guarantees, either that any contacts will result or, if they do result, that representation or publication will follow? Why not just query in the ordinary way? If your ms. is marketable, you stand just as good a chance, if not better, of being picked up. If your ms. is not marketable, the best BEA representation pitch in the world won't get you closer to publication.
Apart from any considerations of cost or honesty, the fact is that while BEA is a great place to meet, greet, schmooze, and learn, it's not really an optimal venue to try and sell unpublished manuscripts, or to promote self-published books. Even for a BEA service that's offered by competent people in good faith, writers' dollars are probably best spent elsewhere. As it is, most of the services are ripoffs--just another way for unscrupulous people to leverage writers' desperate desire for publication.
Just a reminder: Writer Beware will be at BEA on Saturday and Sunday, in Booth 3828 (courtesy of Mystery Writers of America). Stop by and see us, and pick up one of our brand-new brochures.