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Friday
Jun302017

UNESCO Names Sharjah World Book Capital 2019

Earlier this week, UNESCO named Sharjah (UAE) the World Book Capital for 2019 "because of the very innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature of the application, with a community-focused activity program containing creative proposals to engage the very large migrant population."

In her declaration, UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said, "I applaud the nomination of Sharjah as the World Book Capital as well as the efforts undertaken by the city in order to make reading available to as many people as possible, in particular the marginalized populations, as a motor for social inclusion, creativity and dialogue."

Under the slogan "Read--you are in Sharjah," the program focuses on themes of inclusivity, reading, heritage, outreach, publishing and children. The objective is to "foster a culture of reading in the United Arab Emirates and birth new initiatives to meet the challenge of literary creation in the area and in the rest of the Arab world."

UNESCO also noted that Sharjah, under the leadership of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, is launching Sharjah Publishing City, an ambitious initiative to develop "a space entirely dedicated to publishing and printing. It will be the first place of the kind in the region, specifically developed to meet the needs of companies and institutions operating in the publishing field. Its objective is to reinforce the book industry by encouraging the widespread production and dissemination of publications in the Arab world."

Sharjah International Book Fair, 2016

"The new title underscores Sharjah's deep cultural experience, its achievements, projects and vision at world level," said Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority and former director of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

During BookExpo, I had the opportunity to hear Al Ameri speak at a session called Reaching the Arab World: The New Gateway & Hub--The Sharjah Publishing City Initiative. Moderated by Simon and Schuster v-p Seth Russo, the panel also featured John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Content Group; and Steve Potash, CEO and founder of OverDrive. 

Describing SBC as "365 days of book fairs in one spot" as well as "a United Nations of publishing," Al Ameri noted that the location, on the main road between Sharjah and Dubai, places SPC in close proximity to both airports and seaports, offering the international book trade a central, focused location to provide a complete range of publishing services tax free. He also stressed the freedom to do business with "no interference from the government or any authority over what you can publish. It's a very healthy environment for a publisher, editor, translator, for printing, for distributing books to the region and outside the region."

A soft opening of SPC is planned for September, with the official launch in November. "It is the first publishing city in the world that is a free zone area," Al Ameri added. "It's been established now. It's ready.... It's going to change the whole publishing industry around the world."

In his opening remarks at the BookExpo session, Russo said he had participated in the last three Sharjah International Book Fairs "as part of their professional development program and [I] have had a chance to learn firsthand the rising prospects the region holds for publishers seeking new markets." This evolving dynamic, he continued, "is vividly found in the culturally progressive emirate of Sharjah, where the government has been in the vanguard of a number of highly successful public and private initiatives... to promote the strong publishing sector and the culture of reading. The Sharjah Publishing City is a natural next step in this commitment and will be of keen interest to the global publishing community eager to stake a claim in the development of the region whether it be for distribution, translation, licensing, sales or printing."

Sharjah International Book Fair, 2016

Al Ameri said that with SPC, "we are establishing a new market.... What we are doing is not only reaching the Arab world. We are reaching the African market, the Asian market and the rest of the world through Sharjah, which is becoming a hub for reading."

Ingram observed that "the attractiveness of the marketplace is the focus by the governments over there on literacy, on moving to a post-natural resource society, and putting a lot of money and effort behind education in particular.... The most attractive thing to me is the partnership and the relationship that I feel very fortunate to have started to develop with his highness, Sultan Al-Qasimi, as well as Ahmed and the Sharjah Book Authority. And quite frankly, to go into a new and different region I can't think of a better partner than I have in the ruler and his key people."

Potash expressed excitement "that now, for all the publishers we represent--almost every English language or Western publisher--the Sharjah Book Authority has created a channel.... thanks to Ahmed and the Book Authority, and his highness. They planted a flag and said if you want to reach hundreds of millions of readers, customers and those who want to learn from everything you're publishing... they have provided us a platform and a network, and this is what's so exciting about the Sharjah Publishing City. It's bringing together the resources to reach the whole region and dozens of countries."

Al Ameri agreed, noting that Sultan Al Qasimi "supports the industry.... He's passionate about books, passionate about reading. He established the Sharjah Book Fair. And Sharjah is considered in the UAE to be the hub for culture. When you come to Abu Dhabi, it's the political capital of the UAE. When you come to Dubai, it's the economic capital. But when you come to Sharjah, you see it as the cultural capital.... What we see in ourselves is that our growth is through knowledge, and we believe knowledge is the way to get through life... to improve humanity through reading."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3034

Friday
Jun232017

Booksellers Gather for Bookmanager Academy

As a big fan of small (a relative term) indie bookseller gatherings, I was pleased to learn recently that the second Bookmanager Academy, held June 8-11 in Kelowna, B.C., was a resounding success. The inaugural BMA took place in 2015, and this year's event drew representatives from more than 60 stores, with just over 100 booksellers in attendance, along with about 50 reps, publishers and industry leaders. In addition to the forums, panels and education sessions, BMA featured numerous social outings like the Usborne Houseboat Cruise, the Canadian Manda Group "BBQ" at Hanna's, the Penguin Random House Cocktail Party at Mosaic Books, and the Raincoast/PGC/BookExpress Wine tour.

In his post-show roundupBookmanager president and Mosaic Books owner Michael Neill wrote: "All said, I think the mission was accomplished. Our primary goal was to try and fill an industry gap by creating the opportunity for booksellers, and their suppliers, to meet face-to-face. I was very impressed with the professional and positive dialogue between everyone, including discussions on more sensitive and troubling issues. Kudos to all. Diana and I met with over 20 publishers and reps for three hours on Sunday morning. It was wonderful to see competing companies show each other mutual respect and focus on common ground. The interest in independent booksellers seemed especially strong this year, and they were all eager to continue supporting and improving the tools we build for booksellers. Lots of new ideas here."

Diana O'Neill, Bookmanager's head of sales & technical support, added that "a big takeaway from this event is how hungry we all are for excuses to get together, and share ideas and woes and concerns and have an audience to share with. Hopefully several action points on key things should be addressed within the coming weeks and months. It was so great to see booksellers old and new in attendance, some with sage wisdom and advice, others with keen new perspectives and ideas on things."

Black Bond booksellers on Usborne's housboat tour.

The booksellers I contacted enthusiastically agreed. Cathy Jesson of Black Bond Books (10 locations in B.C.) described BMA as "amazing. The attention to detail and frenetic pace was filled with aha moments. The ability to get booksellers from across Canada to come together was a feat. Even booksellers from the north made the trip. The education sessions were packed, loved the town hall, getting a feeling for what we need as an industry and where we can go together."

Kirsten Larmon of Munro's Books in Victoria said: "Like the previous event two years ago, it was a rare opportunity to be in the same room with booksellers and publishers from across Canada and the U.S. Each session covered a topic essential to our industry.... Probably the most memorable were the Round-table and Bookmanager Town Hall forums at the end of Friday and Saturday. In these sessions, booksellers, reps and publishers had a very frank, productive and memorable exchange of ideas. On the fun side, the sponsors of the Academy made sure we were very well treated indeed.... It was a fantastic weekend that managed to inspire, educate and rejuvenate."

Calling the conference "an incredible, mind-melting few days" of learning and fun, Erin Dalton of Lotus Books in Cranbrook praised the Bookmanager and Mosaic Books team for doing "an outstanding job of organizing and hosting the event. I took something home from every presentation. The BookManager sessions were a great confidence-booster regarding new ways of using the program to run my business more effectively. The Paz & Associates 'Show & Sell' was fascinating, and I have some great, practical ideas to implement in my store in the very near future. The bookseller round-table and town hall sessions were fantastic opportunities to share ideas, stories, and tips."

She also noted that "the opportunity to connect both professionally and personally with other book-folk from across Canada (and into the States) was invaluable. (Also, frankly, validating! Nothing like a gathering of the tribe to re-energize a person.) I think the conversations and connections will continue going forward, and I'm excited to see where that leads. I came away invigorated (well, once I caught up on my sleep), with a to-do/wish list as long as my arm. I really hope that once the BMA folks catch their breath, they feel it was worth their while, because I'm already looking forward to 2019."

Asked about the prospect of a future BMA, Neill replied: "It may be too soon to pen anything in for the next BMA. The joke was it was like asking a mother just after delivery if she would do it again. However, we could and should do it again if there is still an appetite from the booksellers and publishers (judging from the feedback we received, I think we are on the hook). We seem to be the only venue in Canada getting everyone together. That's pretty important even if it continues as a bi-annual event put together by a bunch of now semi-professional event coordinators." 

Black Bond's Jesson summed it all up nicely: "I covet what has been attained south of the border by indies. Publishers there have come to value the independent bookseller voice. Socially, all was fun, from the houseboat to dancing at the Manda party, a throwback to what indies in Canada used to like to do when we are together: talk books, drink some wine and then dance. I heard from my team the wine tour finale was great fun. Our crew gave it 10 out 10; lots learned, new friends made and old ones renewed. What could be better?"

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3029

Friday
Jun162017

'Editors Tell Stories Behind the Books'

"I want editors when they come in wanting to buy a book to be so excited that their hair is on fire." --Morgan Entrekin, Grove Atlantic president & publisher

During q&a at nearly every bookstore author event, someone in the audience will ask the question: "Where do you get your ideas?" Although publishers and editors are generally less exposed to such public interrogations, if they were the equivalent question might be: "How do you decide which books to publish?" (Second only to: "Will you publish my book?")

l.-r.: Corinna Barsan, Peter Blackstock, Katie Raissian and Morgan Entrekin

That decision-making process was explored at BookExpo during an Uptown Stage event called "Grove Atlantic: Hear the Editors Tell Stories Behind the Books," featuring Morgan Entrekin along with editors Katie Raissian, Peter Blackstock and Corinna Barsan.

Entrekin recounted the tale of how he acquired Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down 20 years ago. When an agent called and asked if he'd read the nonfiction proposal she had sent, "I said no, what's it about? She said well, if I tell you what it's about you'll turn it down over the phone. And that intrigued me enough that I went and found the proposal. It was for something called Helicopter 64 Down and the cover letter said it was about the battle of Mogadishu. And I'm going oh my goodness, I can't sell a book about the battle of Mogadishu, but I started reading the pages... and went, wow, this is incredible. So, I picked up the phone and made a deal for the book within about a half-hour."

Black Hawk Down went on to sell four million copies and was adapted into a hit film. "For a book like this, you've just got to make the leap of faith," said Entrekin, who later approached Bowden with the idea for a book that eventually became the newly released Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam.

Raissian, who works very closely with Grove v-p and editorial director Elizabeth Schmitz, spoke about the acquisition of Megan Hunter's The End We Start From (November). "This came in and we read it at one sitting," she said. "It's a very short book.... We fell in instant love with it. And quickly preempted it overnight before the London Book Fair last year. We both said this is the female version of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. We moved quickly and were lucky enough to land it."

Although Schmitz couldn't make the panel, Entrekin recalled how they acquired Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk: "The way she tells the story is that she brought me a proposal. She said here's this really beautiful proposal from an unknown poet academic at Cambridge, England, writing about how she got over the death of her father by training a goshawk. My response apparently was, 'My, that sounds like a big seller.' But I said how much is it going to cost and she said a number and we bought it. We were the only ones to make an offer on that book. It's funny, after the success of it, another editor at another house said how did you ever get that P&L through your editorial board, and Elizabeth said we don't have an editorial board."

Entrekin noted that "one of the things about being an owner of a company is it's sort of like playing with my own money. It focuses the mind wonderfully, as some of you who are independent booksellers know."

Blackstock discussed Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, describing the acquisition process as "a real education for me about how we build a book at Grove, and also how we have the opportunity to publish a book like The Sympathizer. This was a book that was sent out by a very reputable great agent... I thought it was a fantastic book. I got Morgan to read it, Elizabeth to read some, and we were very passionate about it, and we were very lucky because as it turned out we were the only bidder. Sometimes you get lucky in this way.... We wouldn't have had the chance if I'd been stopped by an editorial board and if they'd said this book is really great but it's going to be difficult to sell."

He also highlighted the challenges presented by Matthew McIntosh's upcoming novel theMystery.doc (October), which is 1,700 pages long "but probably shorter than The Sympathizer" because of its creative use of text and pages as well as myriad images. When the huge manuscript arrived, "We started reading it, with some trepidation, as you can imagine. It's just unlike anything you've ever read.... I really think this is a book that is born out of the Internet age. When I talk about it, I say it's about birth, death and the Internet."

"This is definitely one that we didn't do a P&L on," Entrekin joked.  

Sarah Schmidt's novel See What I Have Done (August), a reimagining of the 19th-century case involving the murder of Lizzy Borden's parents, was a challenge of a different sort, since so many people think they know the legendary story. "It was amazing in-house to see everybody's reaction to the book," Barsan said, "to see them running to Wikipedia and looking up the Borden case and getting more and more information about what actually happened, which is a testament to how Sarah has made it feel so real on the page."

While acknowledging the good work done by many big publishers, Entrekin observed: "I think that more than ever there's a place for independent publishers and for people to be able to take a chance like we do. I see the work of Akashic and Melville House and Counterpoint and Catapult and Graywolf, incredible over the last couple of years, so I think that there's room for everybody and hope that there continues to be. I'm going to always insist that we buy books from passion."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3024

Friday
Jun092017

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to #BEx17

John Hodgman (Vacationland, Viking) took the microphone in front of a packed house just before the start of BookExpo's Downstage event "Do I amuse you? The Work Behind the Laughs." Also featured on the program were Isla Fisher (Marge in Charge, HarperCollins) and Denis Leary (Why We Don't Suck, Crown Archetype).

But Hodgman took the mic first. I'd seen him do this years ago, just before an MPIBA show author breakfast in Colorado Springs. That time, in the shadow of Pike's Peak, he told the story of how "America the Beautiful" was written and led a room full of booksellers in an impromptu, a cappella rendition.

Hodgman, Leary and Fisher entertain the crowd.

This time he announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, Denis Leary and Isla Fisher are here. I'm just going to do about 10 minutes of warmup. How you all doing? Where are you from, sir? Dallas, Texas. I've got no joke for that. It's a joke in itself, he says. He knows where he lives."

Relative order was quickly restored by moderator James West of Mother Jones magazine and an entertaining conversation ensued.  

Noting that his first book was Why We Suck, Leary said "the new book is Why We Don't Suck.... Hey, I'm really original on the titles, aren't I? Nine years later, I came up with Why We Don't Suck. It's optimistic progress."

When Hodgman displayed a sampler for Vacationland, Leary advised: "John, show the cover. F**king guy!.... It's not the finished product, we hope."
Hodgman: "No, this is the whole book.... I wanted to actually sell some copies. I'm like, give them a little less."
Leary: "And it's a quick read. You could read it right now. In fact, I'm going to read it to you."

The discussion turned to being funny in what may seem to be an increasingly unamusing world, specifically referencing the recent examples of Kathy Griffin posing for a photo shoot with a model of Donald Trump's severed head and the "covfefe" incident.

Leary, whom West had described as a "bad boy of comedy," said, "Listen, I saw that picture before it first hit, before she had to apologize. And I'm not a f**king Trump fan. I mean I'm no Hillary fan either, but I was like, I don't know, man. This bit better be really f**king funny if you're gonna decapitate the president's head."
Hodgman: "I will say personally it wasn't funny."
Leary: "I think the line is hard to draw, right? But if it's funny you can get away with anything. I just didn't understand what was funny about it.
Fisher: "I don't find violence that funny. That's all I'm going to say about that."

Hodgman cracked that he has "never had to apologize for a joke because I'm a very good boy and I always say very safe things that people applaud rather than laugh at. That's my style of humor."

In a discussion of the Internet's influence on children, Hodgman asked: "Dennis, when your kids were young did they have a problem with getting bad stuff on the telegraph?"
"It was a big issue, yeah," Leary countered, then recalled: "When I was a kid, we saw Lee Harvey Oswald get shot live on TV on a Sunday morning. It was f**king awesome.... We were just eating our cereal watching a black and white TV show where the guy who shot the president came out and some other guy shot him.... I feel like that paid off in my life. I made a career. It turned me into a comedian. So I think kids should be scarred early by violence they see on television because it will turn them into better artists."

Fisher talked about writing to entertain kids. The protagonist in Marge in Charge is loosely based on her daughter. "I sort of am now seeing the world through her eyes as I write, which brings me closer to her and my other daughter," she said. "But, yeah, they're fierce critics and when they're bored they just walk out of the bedroom. And, of course, when my editor gives me notes, I run those notes past my children and if they don't approve, then they overrule the editor. That's how much they matter."

Asked what makes kids laugh, she observed: "Well, I think kids laugh at different things at different stages. When they're babies, they laugh at a tickle or a raspberry or a funny face. They're not that smart. But then as they get older and develop language, they find knock-knock jokes and poop jokes. I think ultimately children laugh at the same things adults do. I think the foundation is just stupidity. Even my two-year-old finds it hilarious when I try to wear her shoes, or when I misunderstand a rule that she assumes I, as an authority figure, should be following through with. And it's the same with us in all cultures. We find stupidity hilarious.... We're allowed to feel superior. And we're allowed to laugh when someone's an idiot."

When q&a began, Hodgman took the mic, naturally enough, and performed his "Phil Donahue move" as he ran up and down the aisles to reach questioners.

One audience member described the event as "the most fabulous and enjoyable panel I've ever been to here," and Leary, who had earlier noted that all of their books are coming out in October, decided a road tour might be in order: "Thank you for your comments. I think we do make a great panel. The superheroes of publishing. That could be our f**king name!"

Hodgman capped off the event by sharing an experience he'd had upon arriving at the Javits Center earlier: "I come walking in at 8:30 in the morning, and Stephen King [who'd spoken at the Author Breakfast] is walking out. I'm so excited."
Leary: "Maybe he was here overnight."
Hodgman: "Spooky convention with Stephen King."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3019

Friday
May262017

Yet Another BEA Loomed. What Was I Thinking?

BookExpo is about anticipation as well as participation. I've been writing pre-BEA columns since 2005, initially as a bookseller/blogger and then as an editor at Shelf Awareness. Year after year, yet another BEA loomed. What was I thinking?

2005: "Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Children of All Ages! You are just a few short days away from a weekend of thrills! A weekend of gasps! A weekend of giggles! A weekend at BookExpo America in New York City!

"This year's edition of BEA, the publishing world's annual bigtop extravaganza, will happen at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center ('Marketplace to the World'), perched upon the glittering waters of the Hudson River. But unlike Ringling Brothers, our circus won't be limited to three rings. In fact, we'll have dozens, maybe hundreds, of rings.... Business mixes seamlessly with pleasure, so the work day runs, or feels like it runs, from the dawn to dawn. Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends."

2006: "Mostly, however, I'll enjoy the spectacle of books that is BookExpo. Big publishers and small publishers looking for business; self-published authors looking for an audience and a few unpublished authors looking for publishers. Everybody talking books. Thousands of people talking books and nothing but books, day and night, for the better part of a week. Maybe somebody is still reading out there. You'd think so at BookExpo."

2007: "But the future is more than just idle speculation in our business; it is the water in which we swim. We routinely read in the future--manuscripts, catalogs, ARCs--and at BookExpo, the full utopian vision is on display. Books that will be published next fall have not failed yet; first-time authors are always promising; any book might grow up to be a bestseller."

2009: "As you walk through the airport concourse upon arrival, you can spot the 'book people.' Just as you think you're imagining this, you see another one coming your way. It turns out to be somebody you know. And when you look in the rest room mirror to check on your own post-flight status, a book person stares back at you bleary-eyed. You're not surprised. Or disappointed."

2010: " I'll be on the lookout for indie booksellers at BEA. I used to be one of them. No, in many ways I'm still one of them. Former booksellers just don't fade away.... And now we're headed back to BookExpo. Handselling and handwringing will continue unabated, and we'll talk it all out once again with our eyes on the digital horizon. Enjoy the ride anyway. How can we possibly resist the temptation to yell 'Woooooooo-hooooooo,' whether we're plummeting like Icarus, or just skydiving while waiting for the parachutes to deploy?"

2011: "When some of us gather in New York next week for BookExpo America, we'll once again discuss the future of reading and its potential effects on books (print and digital), bookstores (chain and indie; online and bricks & mortar), publishers, writers, readers and anyone or anything else connected to our wordy world. We will, for the most part, be anxiously, if politely, asking each other: What's going to happen to us?

2012: "In a few days, we'll gather in New York to talk about the future of books. 'Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today,' Bill Murray said in Groundhog Day. Don't worry. Tomorrow starts next week, once again. It's a paradox we've been living with for a while. You get used to it."

2013: "We will, of course, need our stinkin' badges when we descend upon the Javits Center next week for BookExpo America. We'll need them to get in, get around and get acquainted. Identity is everything.... Although my trusty Shelf Awareness holder still has last year's badge tucked inside at the moment, it seems anxious to acquire the updated version I'll pick up next week. Hope to see you at BEA. My stinking badge will say Robert, but you can call me Bob."

2014: "If you've observed BEA attendees before in their unnatural habitat (aka the Javits Center), you may have noticed a wide range of walking styles negotiating their way through the bookish throngs. Since Sibley hasn't yet published a field guide to identify all of these varieties, I tried to assemble a sampling here to illustrate just a few of the walkers you're likely to encounter--or become--during your #BEA14 pilgrimage."

2015: "Next week, we bookish folk will infiltrate New York City for BookExpo America, each of us covertly bringing our own home library identity with us, along with our book trade identity (bookseller, publisher, author, etc.).... This year, however, I've been reminded... of something that struck me during my first book trade show, at the moment I walked into the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1993 for ABA's annual event. I'd been a bookseller for less than a year, but knew at once I belonged there. Maybe that was just my home library identity overcompensating, but it was a useful survival tool nonetheless."

For some reason, I didn't write a pre-BEA column last year, so I'll end with something from a 2005 blog post, when I was still a frontline bookseller: "My prime directive at BEA is to find the unexpected book, the one that might never cross my desk otherwise. Everything else is just work. Finding the unexpected book is pleasure. Well, finding the unexpected book when it is buried under the number of books on display at BEA is also work. But I ain't complaining."

The anticipation grows. See you at BookExpo

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3010