Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

February 14, 2020

Should You Pay To Display Your Book At BookExpo? (Short Answer: No)


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

BookExpo (formerly known as BookExpo America, but still referred to as BEA) is the US's leading publishing industry event. Attended by publishers, agents, booksellers, retailers, librarians, and people and companies from all aspects of the book trade, it's an opportunity for industry professionals to network, do business, and learn about new trends, titles, and opportunities in the book world.

Although BEA doesn't happen until May 27 this year, it's not too soon for industry professionals to begin planning for attendance. It's also not too soon for authors to start receiving solicitations--by phone and by email--to buy expensive services and packages that supposedly will give their books visibility at the fair.

Here's what author and editor Jane Friedman has to say about paying to display at BEA. (Jane's website is an amazingly comprehensive and useful resource on all aspects of writing and publishing; you should definitely bookmark it.)
Aside from the Author Market [a designated area of the exhibit floor where self-published authors can buy display space], there are a handful of opportunities for authors to get visibility for their work at BEA. As far as I’m concerned—as someone who attended this show for 10 years, mainly as an editor with a traditional publishing house—it is not worth the investment. Here’s why.

The emphasis of the show is on traditional publishing, rights sales and pre-publication marketing, and does not favor indie title promotion. It is a New York industry event where traditional publishing insiders talk to other traditional publishing insiders. Yes, there are librarians and booksellers, but they’re rarely paying attention to the places where an indie book may be showcased or promoted.

Nobody is going to notice your book there. Your book is likely to be promoted with many other books, with no way of attracting attention even if someone did pause for a second within 50 feet of your book. Imagine setting a copy of your book down in the world’s largest book fair, and expecting someone to not only notice it, but be entranced by it so much they can ignore 10,000 other things happening at the same time.

If you—the author—are not present to advocate for it, your book doesn’t stand a chance. Services that offer to promote your book at BEA are rarely, if ever, hand-selling or promoting your book in a meaningful way. But they will be happy to cash your check and say that your book had a “presence” at BEA. If you want to satisfy your ego, go ahead. But it’s not going to lead to meaningful sales. (I challenge anyone in the comments to provide evidence that a self-published book gained traction at BEA because the author paid a fee to secure placement—and the author was not present.)
I'll add a fourth consideration: You will likely be hugely overcharged, especially by companies that sell book fair packages, or re-sell the exhibit services of others.

SOLICITATIONS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER


1. You may already have received an email from the Combined Book Exhibit's New Title Showcase. The CBE, an area of standing bookshelves outside the entrance to the BEA display floor, offers display packages for a few hundred dollars. For a few hundred more, you can buy an ad in its catalog; for many hundreds more, you can buy an autographing session.

Your book will be placed on a shelf with hundreds of others, in no particular order: there are no separate areas for genres, for instance. I've attended BEA many times, and the CBE is often completely deserted, with not a customer or a staff person in sight. I've never seen more than a handful of people browsing it at any one time. There is definitely no handselling involved.

A number of predatory marketing companies re-sell CBE services for enormous markups. The CBE is aware of this, and has posted a warning on its website (it's no coincidence that all the companies named in the warning appear on the scam list in the sidebar of this blog).

2. If you've chosen an assisted self-publishing company, you may be encouraged to buy presence in their BEA booth.

The Author Solutions imprints sell BEA as part of a package that includes several fairs and costs nearly $3,000. (What do you get for that? Basically, a spot on a shelf, higglety-pigglety in among an unknown number of other books by writers no one has heard of). Xulon Press sells BEA on its own, but with multiple options for spending big bucks, from shelf space only ($599) to a "Boutique High Top Table with 30 Books" ($1,999--do you get to take the table home?).

Outskirts Press re-sells CBE services--for over $150 more than you'd pay if you dealt with CBE directly.

3. Vanity publishers (yes, vanity publishers do attend and display at BEA and other fairs) may offer their authors the "opportunity" for BEA presence--at extra (possibly significantly extra) cost.

Here's my post about SterlingHouse, a vanity publisher that is now defunct but in its heyday charged its authors as much as $9,500 for BEA display of their books, signings, and other perks. (As Jane indicates above, being present to advocate for your book may make a difference--but $9,500 worth? Even if the author sold all 150 books included in the package, they wouldn't come close to making that money back.)

Here's one of the many BEA-related solicitations with which the late, unlamented PublishAmerica bombarded its authors:


4. Some unscrupulous literary agents sell slots in catalogs or portfolios that they claim to bring to BEA, supposedly to market to publishers.

Examples of this scheme that I've seen involve fees of anywhere from $150 to four figures (here's one that charges $300). If your agent is the kind of agent who exploits clients in this way, they are not the kind of agent who has contacts with publishers.

This sort of thing is far less common than it used to be, thank goodness (there are fewer literary agent scams in general, thanks to self-publishing and the many small presses that deal directly with authors), but it's still a ripoff. Don't do it.

5. The most aggressive solicitations--especially by phone--come from unscrupulous or scammy marketing companies.

Services run from the basic--a spot on a shelf in a not-always-very-professional-looking display area (you have to supply the book)--to basic with perks--mostly junk marketing, like press releases, a listing in the company's proprietary magazine, and a "post fair fulfillment report"--to elaborate packages that include an autographing session.

Prices I've seen range from $750 for shelf space only, to mid-four figures for signing packages. For instance, here's Stonewall Press's deluxe offering, which doesn't even include author presence. Note the effort to create faux urgency by pretending that space is limited.


Looking for a bargain? AuthorCentrix is a tad more economical--here are its 2019 BEA packages. The "standard" doesn't include a badge, which would add around $400 to the total.


BOOK FAIR RIPOFFS AREN'T LIMITED TO BEA

Multiple predatory marketing companies and PR services hawk book fair presence to authors. It's one of the most common marketing solicitations you'll receive. Why? Because it's insanely lucrative--for the predator.

The photo below is last year's BEA booth for publishing and marketing scammer URLink Print and Media.


More than 100 books can be counted in this photo. All the authors have paid to be there. URLink also sells ad space in a 50-page catalog, with most of the pages listing eight book per page. Writers have bought the banners shown in the photo, and others have paid to host signings. Still others have bought ads and features in URLink's fake magazine, Harbinger Postwhich sits in piles on a table on the off chance someone picks one up.

The minimum cost for any of these "services" is several hundred dollars, with more elaborate packages running into the mid-four figures (see the examples above). From one book fair, a company like URLink can gross well over $100,000--a considerable profit, even taking into account the cost of booth rental, travel, and badges. Now multiply that by multiple book fairs attended per year.

The Miami Book Fair, which along with BEA is one of the fairs most frequently targeted by marketing scammers, appears to be aware of the exploitation, and provides a warning.

THE TAKEAWAY

My feeling about book fairs is the same as Jane Friedman's: book fairs are not the best place for authors to self-promote. If you do decide to attend, do it with the aim of learning and having fun--not getting "discovered"--and don't pay someone else to take you or your books there. At best, you'll get little return on your money. At worst, you'll be ripped off.

11 comments :

IndieBookGal said...

Thank you for a most informative blog. Is the same true of library conferences, (ALA) re: author tables? I’m working with an author to promote his book to libraries.
Is the same true of IBPA & IPG?
IBPA has books by genre & staff, plus book signings & a swag table.
IPG has staff at its’ exhibit although a different display plus author signings.
Thank you,

Victoria Strauss said...

IndieBookGal,

From the Writer Beware perspective, the main "beware" is on paying for services provided by others. The IBPA and IPG are professional organizations, not scams. However, I don't know what they charge for author or book presence, and even if it doesn't rise to author-gouging levels, the question of whether it's a worthwhile investment still arises (as it does with any paid service). As Jane Friedman points out, there will be a lot of other books on offer, and the people running the booths or tables aren't going to be handselling them--so the odds that your book will be picked from the crowd, or realize significant sales, are probably slim. Keep in mind also that you are probably expected to supply the books, so there are costs in addition to whatever you have to pay for presence.

I think it's the same question for writers like your client, who want to attend book fairs themselves and engage in their own promotional efforts. Certainly that's a more proactive way to go about it, and you don't have to worry about being gouged by a service provider--but does it give you a better chance of engaging industry professionals and reaching out to readers? Possibly. But the costs--entry fees, booth or table rental, books, swag if you provide that, and possibly travel, food, and lodging if you're not local--can be considerable, and the competition for eyeballs in a crowded fair is steep (especially if the fair isolates all the indie authors in a distant corner of the fair floor, which does happen). So it's still a gamble.

Also an important consideration: if you take your book to a book fair or library conference hoping that booksellers and/or librarians are going to take notice and possibly place orders, be sure you have the kind of distribution capability and ordering protocols they expect, including standard discounts, returnability, and the ability to accept bulk orders and turn them around quickly. If ordering is inconvenient and/or you can't provide the terms industry people prefer, they're unlikely to want to deal with you, even if they like your book.

L.G. Keltner said...

I received a call from Maple Leaf Publishing earlier this week offering to display one of my self-published books at the London Book Fair. The whole pitch felt weird to me, especially when they said they would normally charge $1000 but they would cut me a deal for $700. When I said I couldn't justify spending that, they tried convincing me that it would be irresponsible of me not to invest in my future. Yikes. I did some research after I got off the phone and saw Maple Leaf Publishing mentioned in a 2018 blog post here. Thanks for the great information! It's crucial writers do their research before committing to anything. There are so many ways to get ripped off or outright scammed.

Karla M. Jay said...

Thank you for covering all of this. I've been approached but couldn't afford to spend all that money to move a few books if any! Good to know about Maple Lef Publishing, as well. Writer's hear so many different stories about where to market their books that it's nice they have watchdogs to help guide them.

Unknown said...

I got an email from EC Publishing LLC telling me all about the book expo at Southern Cal University in April. It sounded really professional until I noticed they had spelled the word "check", cheque. Two symbols used further down in the email also looked suspicious. I'm so glad I checked with you and, yes, they were on your list of scammers. Thank you.

Felicity said...



I admire your courage and boldness Victoria to tackle all the issues surrounding the industry. We should all despise all who practice fraud.

But hopefully you will also realize that with those companies you have been putting into infamy, not all of the people there are fraudulent. You are pouncing the companies as a whole entity. You are ostracizing them.

But didn't it occurr to you that there are also honest employees in those companies? Haven't you thought of their families who will be affected with all of your allegations? I even saw you before posting pictures and emails,which is really unfair. They can't even defend themselves. It felt you have crossed the borderline. It affects their privacy.

Isn't this character assassination and denigrating?

Also, you own a publishing industry, so I am sanguine enough that you know how the pricing works. Well, any person with an understanding about business know how the pricing works especially if you're a 3rd-party or just an affiliate of that main business. You always look for a better ROI.

This blog is so full of negativity about your competitors. Isn't this blog your source of profit also? As they say protectionism invites retaliation.

You even mention other businesses, other bloggers, and other blogsites, etc. as sort of promoting them. Isn't that backlinking and a skyscraper technique to rank higher and have better site visits and exposure?

I understand that you just want to guide budding authors and aspiring writers. I am grateful for that as an aspiring one.

Sometimes, I just feel every time I read it's so full of negativity. I can't help but feel, I am sorry for the term, enjoying this. It comes to you with ease, with no qualms of conscience after.

I guess this kind of blog format earns more than choosing an article written in a positive guide format. Or perhaps this is your form of deviating from the norm so as not to get your readers/subscribers bored.

I just hope that readers and writers like me will take all of the blogs here with a grain of salt and be prudent in our publishing and marketing decisions.

Jojoba said...

Sounds like a caught literary scammer talking. If a problem exists it should be brought to light.

Victoria Strauss said...

"Felicity" is certainly a scammer (the bad grammar is a giveaway), very possibly one of the ones I mention in this post. They periodically post comments here, taking me to task for my "negativity", claiming that I'm trying to do down "competitors" because I own a publishing service myself (I'm not and I don't), and accusing me of making money from this blog (hard to figure out how I'd be doing that, since there's no advertising or subscription fee). I let the comments through because I think they do a better job of discrediting themselves than I ever could.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell said...

FYI the Expo is now happening in July, from what I've heard. Assuming that date sticks...

sam said...

Own a publishing service? Why, Victoria – Felicity here tells us you own a publishing INDUSTRY! Come clean, Victoria, and admit that you actually own THE publishing industry. The whole shebang. Some of us have suspected it for years; the signs have all been there!

/s and rolled eyeballs, in case it wasn’t obvious :-D

Victoria Strauss said...

Shhhh. No one's supposed to know. ;-)

 
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