Leonardo’s Time in the Sun: The 2006 Book Expo America

Da Vinci Buzz

Da Vinci Buzz was all over the show–as well as Da Vinci spinoffs. Amazon lists 250 books that match “Da Vinci Code,” and at the show there must have been 40 books attempting to capitalize on the runaway bestseller and upcoming movie release: deconstructing the code, arguing back for traditional Catholicism, seeking the deeper mysteries, exploring Leonardo’s own world (including a mammoth and magnificent prize-winning coffeetable book called Leonardo’s Notebooks), etc. Both small and large houses contributed to the pile. Even Mad Magazine got into the act, with a cover of Alfred E. Newman as the Mona Lisa and several pages making fun of Tom Hanks and the whole phenomenon. My favorite from the mag: a cartoon captioned “The Da Vinci Cold,” featuring Leonardo with a very red and swollen nose, sneezing all over Mona.

Nice to see that with the right tie-in, a celebrity can still be timely after half a millennium! It gives me hope for continuing to breath life into my books that are currently three (Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First), six (Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World), and eleven (The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant’s Pocketbook) years old.

Subsidy Houses Get Taken Seriously

The industry loves to laugh at subsidy-published books that take anybody with a checkbook, and usually, all the subsidy houses together may manage to field one or two finalists in the various book awards. But this year, something changed. Perhaps because more authors are deliberately using subsidy houses as stepping stones to something bigger, without the hassle of becoming one’s own publisher–and are planning actively and knowledgeably for their success–this year, books from the subsidy houses started winning. iUniverse had seven winners in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards, AuthorHouse had two. No Golds, all Bronze and Silver–but iU got the coveted Editor’s Choice prize for fiction

Politics and Culture

2006 is also the year of the political book. Small houses offered dozens of new titles, primarily from the progressive point of view (going well beyond the traditional progressive houses such as South End and Soft Skull), but also quite a number of conservative titles from Regnery, Freedom, and other houses. There were quite a number of big progressive authors at the show, including Frank Rich of the New York Times (publishing with a small outfit called The Penguin Press–which does not seem to be the same as Penguin/Putnam) and Arianna Huffington.

Big publishers had a few political titles, but they don’t seem to be taking chances on unknown authors in that genre.

Americana/nostalgia books were much in evidence, with books about diners, retro fashions, a charming Simon and Schuster book of cartoons rejected by the New Yorker. Another favorite of mine was an illustrated history of airline flight attendants, with pictures and ads from the 20s on up.

Three Prodigies

2006 also seemed to be the Year of the Self-Published Child Author. I personally met three: nine-year-old novelist Reese Haller–he billed himself as the youngest published novelist in the US–who took a Ben Franklin Award for Fred the Mouse; Michael Braiser, a 13-year-old with an illustrated travel memoir of six years visiting exotic and not-so-exotic locales with his parents (see separate story), and Alea Bushardt a 15-year-old high-functioning autistic with a sweet looking Young Adult unicorn novel called Cloud Filly.

The show itself seemed a bit sparse in the cavernous Washington Convention Center, with its wide-spaced aisles. A lot of people seemed to be late to meetings, probably because of the huge distances they had to traverse. A nice thing about this location is that it’s right downtown in a human-scale part of DC, with plenty of restaurant choices beyond the usual convention fare. Oh and Wolfgang Puck has a pizza restaurant on the upper floor.

The small-press ghetto was more marginalized than usual this year. The row on the main floor was at the far end, past about four intimidating aisles of remainders; many show attenders apparently felt it wasn’t worth the trip. Those folks were lonely out there! It was a little better on the upper floor, because the religion, children’s, African-American, and autographing areas brought traffic upstairs. But still, it felt like a different show than downstairs.

Related Stories from BEA 2006

A Child Author Becomes Published at Age 12

Oceanview Publishing: Starting a Publishing Company that Breaks the Rules

Don Cambpell Discusses The Wisdom & Power of Music

Behind the Bathroom Reader: An Interview with Uncle John of Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers (a/k/a Gordon Javna)