Serpent Blog

Being BEA 
Imagine being surrounded by thousands and thousands of books. Envision yourself browsing through books that nobody has seen yet – novels, art books, books of gorgeous photographs and prints. There are dictionaries and encyclopedias, Bibles and Koran’s, books on comic art and movie art and cooking and crafts. The smell of new books. The feel of them. And all around you are people like you, people who love books, people willing to talk about books for as long as you want. It’s Heaven. A world of books, many given away for free (the novels, not the expensive picture books). What is this place I speak of? Is it a land? A dream? No, it’s BEA.

BEA stands for Book Expo America, and it’s the big, must-attend, trade show for book publishing and buying professionals. It was held last week on Los Angeles and on a whim I went. I was not featured in my publisher’s vast booth. I did not have a signing set up. I had no meetings arranged and no one to see. I went simply to learn about the business of selling books, and unlike a sausage factory, this is a process you do want to see.

I wandered the halls like a ghost with my purple-coded badge, a badge that signifies me as one of the unwashed, the untouchables – a writer. No one wants to talk to writers at BEA. They all want to talk to buyers, and they are ever on the lookout for their blue-coded badges. They, being the publishers and book marketeers. They treat them like royalty and lavish upon them free books and gifts. There is tons of schwag at BEA, the most popular being the shoulder-bags these buyers use to carry their piles of free books. The most sought after item was the huge McGraw-Hill shoulder bag – a giant crimson sack big enough to hold a child. The Mcgraw-Hill toadies handing out these bags would only give them to book buyers or librarians, so when I queued up to try and get one I was told by a mean McGraw-Hill lady I’d not get one because I was a writer. Thank God for John, a very nice librarian ahead of me in line. He helped mask my badge and planned to vouch for me should I be queried by the booth-Nazis as to my lack of status. But I got a bag without so much as a glance at my badge.

I saw all around me not just books, but book people, and book marketing campaigns and the amount of money spent to promote certain books. You’d think that I’d be depressed, but I’m not. You’d think that NOT seeing Serpent Box anywhere would bring me down. No. I am filled with joy. That’s right, joy. The HarperCollins booth was one of the big ones, and there was a ton of promotion given to books coming out this Fall and I couldn’t help but think that if only Serpent Box could get some of this push, some of this visibility, then people might actually know it exists and pick it up. I admit, I was jealous and a little angry at first. But then I spoke to two people at HarperPerennial who really helped me to gain a new perspective. Carl Lennertz and Cal Morgan took the time to tell me how much they liked Serpent Box and Cal especially gave me a wonderful and much-needed boost of confidence. All it really takes is a few kind words, you know? All it really takes is one person reaching out to help another. And that’s what the book itself is all about.

So I left BEA feeling like I remember why it is I wrote Serpent Box and why it is I have dedicated myself to this mostly thankless often brutal task of putting my heart on paper for you to see.

My good friend, the talented writer Bob Thurber sent me this today. It is a quote I used to have posted about my writing desk when I had an office. It is worth posting here, now, because it is what I believe above all other reasons to write and I will close with it.

“From things that had happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.” Hemingway

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