The Clueless Eater

Book Expo America

Book Expo America, or BEA, is the largest trade convention held each year concerning the publishing industry. It is held in New York every other year, alternating with other cities with the capacity to host it. This is where publishers from teeny to giant bring out their new books and show them to bookstores and distributors from across the country. This is also where foreign presses come to sell rights to their works, and see what in the American market might appeal to their reading public.

I attended this year because 1) it was in LA, 2) I can stay with a friend, 3) I had a low-cost registration fee through my membership in the Authors Guild, and most compelling, 4) I attended a reading for the new anthology, Latinos In Lotusland, edited by Daniel F. Olivas.

Because all of my planes were late, I missed Friday of BEA. I did attend an Authors Guild party that night, at which most of the attendees seemed to be local wanabee writers. I came away with a button that says “It’s all good,” since my other choices were things like “I love my agent.” Since I don’t have one right now, that will have to wait.

Saturday I tromped from one end of the Staples Convention Center to the other visiting my various publishers and trying to connect with a specific agent. Along the way, I met a variety of people in the biz, and discovered that my last book, “The Desert Remembers My Name,” had received two awards, an International Latino Book Awards, and a Foreward Magazine Award. Nice!

The high point of Expo was sitting in on a panel on how presses are trying to figure out the best format for new books. the participants were not listed in the program, but turned out to be gods of publishing: Jonathan Galassi of Farrar/Strauss/Geroux; Becky Saletan, André Bernard’s successor as publisher of Harcourt, Julie Grau of Spiegel and Grau, and, I think, a foreign rights acquisitions editor for Knopf one of who’s names was Russell. I would have walked across the floor on my knees to have any of these people read one of my manuscripts.

Even better, the discussion was about the passion these editors bring to the projects they support. Grau left her post at Riverhead to concentrate on publishing books such as I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere, by Anna Gavalda, translated from the French. Galassi held up a copy of Roberto Bolaño’s book, 2666, which is really several books in a boxed paperback set.

A lot of the discussion was about introducing books with foreign settings to an American audience, notorious for not caring what is published in the rest of the world. But these editors have been successful in the past. Saletan acquired “The Places in Between” as a package with another book by Rory Stewart that Harcourt preferred. The publication of that book was delayed, but “Places,” about his walk across Afghanistan, was a runaway best seller. Galassi asked for a rewrite of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid when he decided that the voice was “too American.”

Publishing remains a quirky, unpredictable business. Amazon sent dozens of staffers to Book Expo to promote partnerships with booksellers and writers, and to promote their handheld reader, Kindle. People were
juggling, throwing darts, sipping gourmet chocolate, handing out gimmes, and trying to find a place to sit down for lunch.

The panel of editors and publishers reminded me that there are still people in publishing who really do care what we read. It gave me hope. I came away with cards for an agent, a lawyer who specializes in literary properties, a publicist, and a staffer from the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. Publishers are trying to match books to increasingly narrow niches defined by marketing departments, but I continue to see my work as addressing a global readership, from students in Germany to “readers like me” in the United States.

Selected Works

Anthologies
From the early literature of the Americas to the late 20th Century
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
Fiction
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
Booklist
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

Find Authors