Thursday, May 19, 2011

Murder at the ABA

I've been invited to BookExpo America 2011 and will be traveling to New York next week. So naturally, instead of spending my time deciding what to wear for the publisher's party on the first evening of the BEA and otherwise preparing for the trip, I am reading Isaac Asimov's Murder at the ABA. I suspected, and this turns out to be the case, that the ABA (American Booksellers Association) convention was the precursor to BEA. According to the ABA website, "ABA sold the trade show in 1994 to Reed Exhibitions, which manages and operates BEA." Today BEA is advertised as being the largest annual book trade fair in North America. 

I picked up a used hardcover copy of the book, first published in 1976, at Uncle Hugo's. The entertaining and quite funny mystery novel follows the adventures of a midlist writer named Darius Just. While attending the 1975 ABA convention, Just discovers a dead body and things take off from there. (The height-challenged Just is modeled, rumor has it, on Asimov's friend and fellow writer Harlan Ellison; the dedication in the front of the book seems to confirm this, as it reads: To Harlan Ellison, whose brightness of personality is exceeded only by his height* of talent). 

What has surprised me as I've been reading the book, which I'm enjoying very much, is not how much things have changed since the seventies--though they have, of course, with respect to the "filth of cigarette smoke (that) hung in the air" at the convention and also some other stuff, like the role of the women in the book. 

No, what really surprised me is how much things haven't changed in the world of publishing between then and now--writers, editors, publishers, booksellers all vying for their piece of the pie and stepping on each other's toes, as described by Asimov with a light hand through the voice of his narrator Darius Just. Asimov himself is a character in the book, an acquaintance of Just; some of the descriptions of Asimov as given by Just are hilarious. 

According to the book, the attendance that year (May 1975) was around twelve thousand, with six hundred exhibitor booths. If 2010 is any indication, this year there will be twenty thousand-some attendees; look for me somewhere in the vicinity of AmazonEncore's booth (#3129). It will be my first time at BEA and I plan to wander around and take lots of pictures and try not to be too intimidated by the sight of all those authors with long autographing lines. I am particularly looking forward to meeting in person and putting faces to some of the names that have made this past year, my first in the publishing business, so memorable: Alex, Jill, Sarah (two of them), Jacque, Karen, Richard, and others! 

*The emphasis is mine.