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BEA: Touting Serious Books, Mulling Reviews Ethics, Celebrating Indies, Lining up for a Cat

In addition to providing a showcase for upcoming books and lots of schmoozing opportunities, BookExpo America offers a look at the trends and ideas that—for better or worse–could affect authors now and in the near future.

This year’s BEA featured less hyperbolic discussion of digital publishing than in recent years, reflecting the fact that ebooks are now an entrenched part of the business. Many of the best-attended events revolved around more traditional subjects.

At the annual Buzz Panel, where editors tout their favorite fall titles, observers noted a refreshing emphasis on serious books.  On the Vulture website, Boris Kachka described the panel:

I’ve previously found it to be a hodgepodge affair, spanning fiction and non-, great and derivative. This year was different: overwhelmingly female (five of the six writers, all six editors), unrelentingly bleak (genocide, strokes, Calvino-esque alienation), and consistently enthralling.

Another BEA gathering focused on the ethics of book reviewing.  Time reporter  Lily Rothman wrote:

 As print book reviews are trimmed and amateur, online review sites prosper, the lack of clarity about what’s acceptable for a legit book review has become clearer than ever.

The story noted that the National Book Critics Circle is working on a set of ethics guidelines.  Though it’s hard to say whether those guidelines would mean anything to amateur book bloggers and reader reviewers, most of whom aren’t NBCC members.

On the bookselling side, ABA CEO Oren Teicher told the group’s members that indie bookstore sales were up 8% in 2012. Judith Rosen of Publishers Weekly wrote:

Teicher’s report this year offered news of a segment coming back, with membership up for the fourth year in a row and strong finances. “The good news,” he said, “is that the majority of our publishing colleagues have recognized the unique role of indie bookstores.”

Some decidedly less encouraging sentiments emerged at the  Publishers Launch BEA conference, where the over-used word of the day was “scale.”

As Brian DeFiore of DeFiore and Company pointed out, “A mega-company needs mega-authors to survive,” meaning that agents “need major clients more than ever.” Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media agreed, talking about how consolidation will possibly mean bigger incentives for bestselling authors, but may make it even harder for mid-list authors who are struggling; agents might be less inclined to stay with clients through rough times.

For another vision of the future, check out Forbes’ coverage of the Hackathon, which culminated at BEA with inventors displaying their ideas for improving online book discovery.

The winning submission was “Evoke” an App that makes book recommendations based on a reader’s preferences about a protagonist’s characteristics.  So, for example, if you like a book with a hero/heroine who is strong-yet-vulnerable; or independent-but-conniving, or fill-in-the-characteristics, Evoke’s algorithm will make book recommendations with a protagonist based on your preferred characteristics.

Or you could search for feline-with-bad-attitude if you liked what the Wall Street Journal declared this year’s BEA breakout star:

It was none other than meme sensation Grumpy Cat, who drew a line of hundreds of fans, some of whom waited more than two hours just to take a photograph with the cantankerous feline.

All said, quite a show.