Top 3 Reasons Authors Don’t Get Asked to the Prom (or Invited to ICRS) – Reason #1

not invited

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 meetings 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.


17 Responses to Top 3 Reasons Authors Don’t Get Asked to the Prom (or Invited to ICRS) – Reason #1

  1. Ron Estrada June 5, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    Trade shows in every industry are becoming far too costly to justify anymore. In our family business, trailer hitches for aftermarket RV, we used to go to RV shows across the country. Now we do all our selling from the office (my part-time job with them is online marketing…love it). Even though we could do a show for around $10,000 or so, it just didn’t pay off. I see it in automotive as well, where I work full-time. We rarely do trade shows now. Good thing for me, because I need all the spare time I can get to work on the novels after I’m done with my two jobs for the day!

  2. Amelia Rhodes June 5, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    Thanks for this information! As a new author, I had no idea the history and changes behind ICRS. It does make a lot of sense now that most ordering is done online and saving expenses.

  3. Rick Barry June 5, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    Interesting, Karen. Thanks for helping all of us scattered across Writerland to stay informed on the industry we love!

  4. Scott Spiewak June 5, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    All good information. I think with all the expansion in International Sales from Amazon and even other large publishers, as an author I would still attend and utilize the International audience that is available to expand my author brand footprint. It also really helps authors get an idea of how much competition there is in the book market. You have to decide as an author your niche market and start reaching readers regardless of sales through brick and mortar stores.

  5. Marion Stroud June 5, 2013 at 7:23 am #

    I was thinking about this very topic yesterday Karen. I would love to go just once – partly because as an author from overseas it would help me to get a taste of the scope of the whole ‘CBA’ market, which is difficult to do from England. The trouble is that with the speed of change in the industry, I’d no sooner be ‘current’ than I’d be ‘out of date’ again. Heigh Ho! One day – maybe!

  6. Stephen Schwambach June 5, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    I well remember those days, Karen! It was heady stuff to be invited, featured, put up in luxurious hotel rooms, invited to exclusive dinners, do book signings, be ushered from interview to interview. But without a doubt, the times have changed – for all of us. We can either bemoan the current state of affairs…or seize the new opportunities they afford.

  7. Carol Johnson June 5, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    My first CBA/ICRS convention was late 1960s, Karen, so I’ve got you beat by a few (husband Gary hasn’t missed one since 1961!). I think there’s some cultural parallel between our convention and the electronic/Internet world we live in. Technology has impacted the publishing industry as much as the Wright brothers impacted transportation–huge strides forward toward speed, efficiency, and a long list of positives in both arenas. But as cell/email have improved connections between people, they often minimize deep, long-lasting relationships. Gary and I walk away from ICRS events noting it’s the serendipity discussions in the aisles that never would have happened by email but have been the most significant. It’s those face-to-face contacts where ideas spark more ideas and help to remind all of us–publishers, authors, agents, marketers, salespeople, retailers–that we are more than an industry, that we work for The Word who became flesh and dwells among us. Financial issues dog at any of us related to CBA, and they can’t be ignored. Certainly adjustments must be made to fit a new day. But we need this place, this event, that brings us together–certainly to “do business,” but most of all to inspire, encourage, and challenge each other to serve our Lord with everything we are and have.

  8. Karen Ball June 5, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Good thoughts, all. Ron, I don’t know that we can’t justify trade shows. They still serve a solid purpose for those immersed in the trade. And they bring folks together, which is a great thing. And many trade shows offer training and education for those who attend. ICRS does a great job with that.

    Marion, I hear you. I love going to ICRS. It’s a bit like old home week, where you get to see colleagues and friends you haven’t seen for a year. And it’s fascinating to walk the aisles and see what everyone has to offer.

    And Carol, great to see you here, friend! You’re absolutely right. Again, don’t anyone hear me saying that ICRS doesn’t have great value. It’s a terrific place for publishing folk to network and brainstorm, and even commiserate, together. The benefits for publishers, editors, and agents are still there. It’s just that the show has changed enough that it doesn’t make the same sense it did years ago for publishers to bring their authors there. And if an author isn’t invited, it doesn’t mean the publisher is any less committed to them and their career.

  9. Mesu Andrews June 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Good info, Karen! Thanks for taking the time to get it straight from the folks who are making those decisions. We THINK we know what the publishing houses are thinking, but it’s nice to KNOW.

  10. Peter DeHaan June 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    Karen, I appreciate knowing the background of this show. Thank you!

  11. Ellie Whyte June 5, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    Hi Karen! I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 2009 show as a part of the distribution company I worked for at the time, but only due to the downsizing that was already happening and the sales & marketing responsibility thus falling partly to me. I remember that year (in Denver) it was commented that the trade show floor size was only half what it used to be. Being from little NZ it was still huge to me!

    While attending that week though I was privileged to be invited to attend the Christy Awards banquet, which being held nearby and in tune with ICRS scheduling meant I could attend something I had only previously dreamed of doing. Of course while there I got to meet authors face to face I had only previously “met” via email and online writing workshops, including one Karen Ball who couldn’t get enough of my Kiwi accent, if I remember correctly! 😉 That night was a dream come true and because I was in “deer in headlights” mode completely forgot to take more pictures.

    Then before the ICRS week was out I had a chance to chat casually with Steve Laube and discuss how the face of Christian fiction had changed over the past decade and how stories set internationally may be more acceptable now than 10 years earlier. For example, with the popularity of the Lord of the Rings movies suddenly NZ wasn’t as globally unknown as it used to be, so if a well-told story set in NZ came about it wouldn’t be as unwelcome as the impression had once been.

    There was so much more I got out of the one week that I attended ICRS, even though I was attending in one capacity but my heart was somewhere else. If events like the Christy Awards and any others (such as writing workshops) could be held at the same time and in the same vicinity as ICRS in future it would be more “justified” for authors to attend, whether funded by their publisher or out of their own pocket (that is, if authors are able to attend without being under the umbrella of their publisher), as the benefits to their writing career would be immeasurable. Not to mention all the encouragement, networking, inspiration, and other benefits others have mentioned that would naturally result.

    Just my ’02 😉

  12. Curtis Riskey June 6, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    I want you to know that authors are welcome at ICRS. In fact, CBA has been working in partnership with ACFW, CAN, and AWSA to help authors meet retailers who sell books and to support author marketing and book sales in the US and around the globe.
    Publishers may make business decisions on whether or not to sponsor an author’s appearance at ICRS, but the show is alive and well with author events, training, and promotions. Authors who take their marketing work seriously are there through a special exhibiting area created specifically for authors.
    Hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales are transacted during the three-day event. ICRS remains the place where the industry meets – especially for creative Christians who produce works that lift up the faith and Jesus Christ.
    Here is a brief listing of items designed just for authors: Author Boot Camp (a seminar on marketing and retailing books); Author Avenue, a destination for authors to meet retailers for book signings and meet-and-greets; Fiction Trends, a workshop that presents research about fiction and promotes authors and the genre to retailers; CAN’s Tips for Successful Author Events in Town Center, including retailer drawings for more than $1,300 in free books from CAN authors; an AFCW kiosk in Town Center to promote the website; and author award events and announcements, including The Christy Awards banquet, a press conference announcing The Carol Awards finalists, and The Golden Scroll Awards banquet.
    The Independent Publishers Association meets at ICRS and is hosting a training event, not to mention every publisher of import to the Christian channel. Christian filmmakers also are coming to ICRS to network to find stories that will translate into films.
    ICRS is a community of leading Christians from business, the church, and content creators, distributors, and producers. To say the show is “not a buying show,” totally misses the point and is old language for an old model that does not match today’s ICRS. As authors take on more of their own marketing and promotion, and don’t receive invitations from their publishers, ICRS offers authors a unique opportunity to be where the industry meets and to help further their own promotional goals. Unfortunately, it is late for this year’s opportunity, however, we would love to have more Christian authors begin planning for ICRS 2014 in Atlanta, GA June 22-25, 2014.
    Today’s authors understand that connecting on a more personal level with the retailers who carry their books is crucial to increased sales of their new (and backlist) titles—and leads to anticipation of their future titles. It’s not only the sales that take place on the show floor that matter—it’s the sales that will take place in the stores as a result of direct interaction with retailers who take their books’ messages to consumers.
    As you can clearly see, ICRS is author-friendly on purpose.
    Curtis Riskey
    President, CBA

  13. Karen Ball June 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Really appreciate the info from Curtis. It’s an honor to have him drop in and share this great rundown of what authors can find at ICRS. Absolutely, as I’ve been saying, ICRS is a great place to go. I just don’t want authors to feel bad if their publishers don’t invite them.

    This isn’t at all about the value of the show itself. It’s about protecting the relationship of publishers and authors, and helping authors understand that not being invited to ICRS by their publisher isn’t an insult, it’s the new normal. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go.

  14. Cynthia Ruchti June 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    As both an author and a representative of an author organization, I appreciate both Karen’s additional clarification that she does see the value in ICRS (but wants to help authors understand why they may not be funded by their pub house to attend ICRS) and Curtis Riskey’s wonderful explanation of where authors fit at ICRS.

    ICRS has helped me catch the vision of how each link in this long chain of getting great stories into the hands of readers–from inception of the idea in the author’s mind to life-change in the heart of the reader–is interconnected. When a writer is able to step into an arena where nearly every step in the process is represented, he or she begins to lose the confines of the writing cave and see how it all works together in an intricate dance of writing/publishing/marketing/distribution/retailing/purchasing/embracing/devouring/reporting…

    I’m excited about the new innovations that are author-centric at this year’s ICRS. As always, nothing can substitute for that face-to-face interaction with others in the industry who may serve a different role but the same overarching purpose. Casual conversations turn into lifelong friendships. A spark of an idea becomes something new to try. Appointments only God could orchestrate lead to connections unimagined until that moment.

    Another unique opportunity at this year’s ICRS is the prayer room developed by and hosted by authors praying for the industry and one another.

    In some ways, ICRS is one of those “because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us press on…” kind of experiences.

    If you’re an author, editor, agent, publisher, or retailer attending ICRS, please stop by the ACFW kiosk or the prayer room. We’re there to cheer you on, point to resources that might be of value, and support each link in the chain.

    If you’re not able to attend ICRS, would you please join us vicariously in praying for the industry?

    Thanks for sharing your heart for authors, Karen.

    We’re in this together.

  15. Mary DeMuth (@MaryDeMuth) June 7, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    Each time I’ve attended ICRS I’ve had significant conversations face to face with industry professionals. In this crazy cyber world, you can’t replace that kind of interaction.

  16. Colleen Coble June 7, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    My publisher has rarely paid my way to go, but I attend almost every year. I may start the year thinking I won’t go this year, but I end up always going. LOL I can’t seem to stay away. A strong career is based on relationship and anytime you can further your relationship with retailers, your publishing house, your sales folks, fellow authors, then do it on your own dime. It’s worth it. 🙂

    Even if I’m not signing, I like running through the aisles and directing retailers to friends who are signing. I like hearing what the stores are doing and what they think about fiction. And I love, love, love, having one more place to connect with my peeps at my publishing house.

    That said, you have to put on your armor when you go because yes it can hurt to see a big banner plastered for other writers and not for you. But go for the chance to encourage others. Go for the opportunity to make new friends and see old ones. Go for the chance to give chocolate to your team. 🙂 And did I mention the chance to have numerous cups of coffee with friends? Now THAT is totally worth it!

    • Brandilyn Collins June 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      I’m not attending ICRS this year, for the first time since 2002. I will miss it. I’ve loved signing on the floor, seeing so many author/agent/editor friends, interacting with booksellers, and on and on. It’s a wonderful place to congregate. I do understand individual and publisher budgets. Sad thing they’re so tight these days.

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