by Karen Ball
It’s just around the corner. That time of year when publishers, retailers, agents and yes, some authors, descend upon a select conference center (this year in St. Louis in late June) to attend the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS).
ICRS. The trade show formerly known as CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). Where publishers gather with their editorial, sales, & marketing folks in shiny and grandiose booths to regale retailers with their offerings. This trade show has been around for a lot of years. In fact, I attended my first ICRS in 1982! Oh, how I remember standing there, staring at aisle after aisle of impressive booths and sparkling product; seeing famous authors I’d only heard of walking by or signing books; attending nightly extravaganzas that rivaled anything you could find in Nashville, Branson, or Vegas. It was, in a word, amazing!
And so it remained for a lot of years. Which made ICRS a coveted destination for authors. For years, the standard thought has been if a publisher takes you to ICRS, that proves they look on you as a rising (or established) star. A crowd pleaser. THE author whose products the retailers should carry in their stores. And so every year as the time approached for the annual event the excited buzz would begin…
Is your publisher taking you?
Are you having a book signing?
Are they featuring your books in their booth?
Are they putting up banners that feature you in the convention center or, better yet, on the side of a bus?
And right on the heels of this buzz, came another. But the overall tone of this buzz was far from excitement.
No, they’re not taking me.
No, they’re not featuring my book. It was released in the last catalog and is no longer “current.”
I told them I’d go on my own dime, and they still won’t let me do a book signing! What are they thinking?
Well, in anticipation of this cycle of discouragement, I thought I’d find go to the source to find out exactly that: what publishers and editors are thinking nowadays about ICRS and its value for authors.
I contacted nearly a dozen editors and publishers who all agreed, yes, back in the day, taking an author to ICRS was a sign of the publishers’ commitment to and belief in that author. However, things have changed. Over the next few blogs, I’ll share their thoughts and insights on the Top 3 Reasons Authors Don’t Get Asked to the Prom (or Invited to ICRS). (However, David Letterman notwithstanding, I’m going to start with Reason #1 and go to #3.)
I hope you’ll find their responses as informative as I did…and maybe even a little bit encouraging.
So, reason #1:
ICRS is no longer the primary place where retailers order product.
In the trade show’s heyday, it was a SELLING show. Retailers would place orders for enough product to last them through Christmas. There were special discounts and incentives to do so. Publishers would unveil their new Fall books at the convention. Media was there in force, giving authors ample opportunities for interviews and publicity (often doing pre-recorded interviews to air throughout the Fall).
But ICRS has changed dramatically in the past 5 to 10 years. What was once an order-taking show has now become a networking show, where key people in the industry can meet together. When the floor was crowded with independent Christian bookstore owners (many of whom brought several members of their staff), it made great sense to have authors there. Retailers still attend but there are fewer stores and the economy has caused them to be selective on how many of their staff attend.
But the same thing that’s happening with consumer book purchases is happening with trade purchases: More of it takes place online. Publisher catalogs are online, as well as videos, author interviews, and all kinds of wonderful tools to introduce retailers to product and authors. Sales representatives for the publishers are not able to visit their accounts as often, especially the smaller independent stores.
For the key accounts, the large chain stores, they’ve already made their sales presentations. The new Fall books are presented to the accounts in the first quarter, much earlier than in the past. Therefore fewer key accounts attend ICRS, at least not the way they used to. And when you think about it, it makes sense. Why go to the expense of travel/food/housing for yourself and your employees when you can take care of business without leaving home?
So what about interviews, you ask? Media, publicity? Well, there isn’t anywhere near the media involvement in ICRS that there used to be. I remember several years ago escorting my authors from interview to interview, barely able to catch my breath as we raced from one place to another. You’d walk through the convention center and everywhere you looked some form of media was set up with cameras and lights, interviewing someone. The last time I attended ICRS, there was only a fraction of the media In attendance. And what opportunities did exist were slotted for established, best-selling authors.
All of which means that the ICRS of today doesn’t provide as many opportunities for publishers to share their authors with those who will make a difference in what a store orders. And that’s what ICRS is about: promoting product to the trade, to the retailer. So it becomes an economic decision for the publisher to think hard about the expense, time, and effort to bring authors to the convention. Steve told me that he knows of one publisher that spent over $100,000 during the week of ICRS on expenses for staff, booth rental, shipping, and author events. And today there are some publishers who no longer exhibit at the convention. There are alternative ways, for the publisher and the author, to spend that money.
Which leads us to Reason #2. But that’s saved for next week!
One caveat. This doesn’t mean ICRS isn’t a valuable experience. In fact both Steve and Tamela will be attending again this year and have over 20 important meeting scheduled with publishers, editors, and authors. (Plus Steve is the emcee for the Christy Awards banquet held that Monday night.) I’m only trying to answer the question of why you may not have been invited by your publisher.