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Artwork by Jim Steranko
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The Spider at BEA
By Chris Kalb
June 1st and 2nd, I attended BookExpo America, the huge publishing tradeshow that took place this year at the massive Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York City. I attended the show as the invited guest of Lake Isle Press, and while I did sign a few copies of Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals for Kids, I was really there for another project of mine: the new Spider Ring! Authors and editors can walk into any bookstore and proudly point to their work on the shelves, but if you're the designer of a giveaway you have to go where they're being given away! So here I was at the Javitz Center leading a double life: mild-mannered children's cookbook illustrator by day, and scary Pulp jewelry designer by later in the day.
The generally slow-moving and genteel world of book publishing has never seemed so exciting as when you are at BookExpo. People in furry mascot costumes, celebrity authors, and thousands of people packing several crowded floors of exhibitors (plus another for workshops and deal-making) will convince you that Print is not in fact "dead."
Now, if you were expecting Baen to have a whole booth at the show you would be sorely disappointed. Even though they are one of the largest publishers of science fiction books, Baen is still very much a "mom and pop" operation, with a small office in North Carolina and many of their staff working remotely. Though there was no booth, no posters, not even their name on the wall of the Simon & Schuster area, Baen did have a big "presence" at the show on Friday in the person of Corinda Carford, Baen's dynamic marketing consultant (and part-time Jersey chanteuse). Corinda is a larger-than-life, charismatic "dame" (pulpsters know this is a compliment) with a touch of old-school glamour, who heartily worked the convention floor like the pro she is.
Between pitching Bean's newest releases and catching up with colleagues that she gets to see once a year at the show, Corinda took a moment to speak with me about the push for Robot Titans. Here's what I found out:
>> Robot Titans has a hefty print run of 16,000 copies! This is mostly due to strong interest from Barnes & Noble, where you may even find it in table displays at the front of the store. (Robert Lesser once told me that B&N is nuts about anything Pulp, so this is not surprising.)
>> The Spider promotional packet (sell-sheet, CD-Rom and Spider Ring in a glossy plastic envelope) is an unprecedented marketing push for Baen Books; Normally they would only send out promo CD-Roms. 350 packets were mailed out to Baen's custom list of faithful booksellers and 450 were mailed out to the independent bookstores of BookSense.
... Now then, I missed the rings completely on Friday -- this is not hard, since a basket of premiums doesn't last long at BookExpo -- so I came back to the show on Saturday. I had planned to meet Corinda at 11 that morning, and arriving fifteen minutes late, there were only two rings left from the 100 put out! We met up again at Noon, filled the basket with another 100 rings, and I FINALLY got to really see The Spider Ring at work. I wish I could say that everyone who grabbed a ring was nuts about The Spider; It's actually that many people at BookExpo simply go from booth to booth and take whatever is free. Some probably thought the ring had to do with Olivia the Pig, whom we awkwardly shared table space with. But, standing there taking pictures, I did talk to a few people who walked up and asked "Are these the old Spider stories?" and were genuinely interested in Baen's new foray into pulp reprints. In addition to the rings put out on the show floor, Corinda positioned a bowl of 100 rings in Simon & Schuster's meeting room downstairs.
As great as it was to see the rings "in the wild" the real highlight for me on Saturday was meeting in person Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf who had interviewed me for Baen's website. She is the heart and soul of Baen's small operation, and she's also just a really nice person to boot. Toni and author David Weber did a Science Fiction panel with a standing room only crowd--where everyone received Baen tote-bags packed with Spider packets, Mark Van Name's hardcover One Jump Ahead, Build Your Own Rockeship promo materials and a water bottle! After the exhibition room closed on Saturday, Baen also hosted cocktails in the Simon & Schuster meeting room with two of their authors. So, not a bad showing for a publisher with no physical booth at the convention.
I left the show before the cocktail hour and hit a few spots in Manhattan to see if Robot Titans was IN STORES NOW as Corinda had told me. First I went over to Jim Hanley's Universe, a big comic book store on 33rd Street, and, sure enough, there was a single copy alongside the Shadow and Doc Savage reprints from Anthony Tollin and Nostalgia Ventures. Then I went to the Barnes & Noble on 6th Avenue below 23rd. No table display, but THERE IT WAS, facing out on the New Science Fiction shelves. How exciting to see a Pulp Hero book from a major publisher in a big bookstore again! I'm thrilled to be even a small part of it.