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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Horton Roams the Floor at BEA

By Paula Margulies

And that Yopp…
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean?…

This year's Book Expo America at the Los Angeles Convention Center from May 30 - June 1 was like many of it's previous incarnations: long lines for Starbuck's coffee addicts, $7.50 sandwiches at the food court, attendees eating their lunches while camped out on the floor along the walls, bored-looking sales reps at lonely exhibit tables, and blue-haired ladies hauling rolling carts filled with free books. There were some strange exhibits - Oreck vacuum cleaners and dentists offering $20 teeth-whitening - and a number of mascots wearing elephant, mice, and bear suits roaming the children's book section of the West Hall. Most notable were a couple of actors scantily dressed as a warrior prince and princess, who paraded the aisles to promote a self-published erotic thriller.

I spent most of my time at this year's BEA at an exhibit for one of my authors in the West Hall's African American Pavilion. That area of the convention was much quieter than the larger South Hall, where the big publishing houses were exhibiting. After venturing to the South Hall for a brief stint and enduring the crush of attendees fighting to gather free books from the likes of Harcourt, Norton, Little, Brown, etc., it was a pleasure to retreat back to the West Hall. There, the crowd was more dignified and sedate; those in the long lines for the author signings listened patiently to the jazz notes emanating from the African American Pavilion stage, while authors on the main stage set out Cuisinarts and knives for cookbook demos.

I found the show to be insular and calm - almost eerily so, considering that BEA is one of the largest book trade events in the world. Many of the African American Pavilion exhibitors were self-published authors, who spent the majority of their time sharing their work and experiences with each other. The spirit of the exhibitors was friendly and open - a good thing, given that visitor attendance this year was spotty in that part of the convention center.

The African American Pavilion, in its fifth year at BEA, held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday morning, replete with champagne and a speech by co-founder, Tony Rose. Although a small part of the convention in terms of size, the authors and publishers there were serious about their work. At one point, a children's book exhibitor in an elephant suit wandered the aisles, reminding me of the Dr. Seuss character Horton, from Horton Hears a Who. While it may not have been the busiest corner of the convention hall, those at the African American Pavilion appeared happy to have had their voices heard.
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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her website at http://www.paulamargulies.com/.

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