Monday, May 11, 2009

BOOK EXPO, ABA, AND EARLY DAYS WITH DAVE BARRY

Another morning of queries, and yes, you guessed it, the "abused woman who is the world's greatest composer" was back! I need a break.

We're registering for Book Expo America this week. We'll spend the rest of the month getting organized so that we make the convention as productive as possible. This pre-BEA flutter of activity brings back memories of BEAs and ABAs past. (It was called the American Bookseller Association convention--ABA--when I was just a new kid in publishing.)

The big book for Rodale in 1980 when I attended the first "ABA" was, I kid you not, Movable Insulation. Those were the good old days at Rodale when "organic" meant compost, sprouts and rice cakes and Bob Rodale came to the booth and sat in a rocking chair. I remember a guy passing our booth and saying to his friend, "That guy looks just like Bob Rodale!"

As time passed and Rodale began to move from the old mail order books model into the scary world of trade books--those that would do well in bookstores--our image at BEA began to change. Instead of baking bread in the booth as we did in the 70s, we concentrated on pushing books out the door. Instead of do-it-yourself insulation, draft horses, nuts and grains, we began to promote running, back packing, beauty and "delicious cooking."

Then we found Dave Barry and everything really changed for the book division. Our crack director of trade sales, Barbara Andrews, discovered a column Dave had written for a suburban Philadelphia paper. His column entitled "How to Make a Board" charmed Barbara and all of us in publicity. This guy Dave Barry was REALLY funny. And he was writing about a topic near and dear to us at Rodale, building things! He should write a book for us!

We contacted Dave who was unagented at the time. He agreed to write a short humor book entitled The Taming of the Screw. As publicity director, I was thrilled, but didn't know how to publicize such a book. I got smart with his next book, Babies and Other Hazards of Sex, and hired Donna Gould, a freelance publicist who had done a great campaign for The Preppie Handbook. Instead of Movable Insulation, we launched Dave's Babies book at BEA and the rest is history. Donna and I collaborated beautifully on the publicity campaign for the book which included a 12-city author tour for Dave. Babies and Other Hazards of Sex became a Rodale bestseller.

Dave went on to write several more books for Rodale, but was eventually wooed away to Crown who could pay him more and invest more into his career. It was a good move for him--he's a famous guy now. But, now you know where he got his start!

What does this mean for writers today? I think modeling your career after Dave Barry's might be a good idea.
  • Work like crazy. Dave wrote for newspapers to pay the bills. You may need to write a blog.
  • Get yourself out there.
  • Keep writing, no matter what else you have to do to pay the bills.
  • Take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way.
  • Play nice. Don't burn bridges and do what your publisher tells you.

I got carried away with the good old days with this entry. Stay tuned for more on Book Expo!

3 comments:

DebraLSchubert said...

Great story on Dave Barry! How cool that you were in on his whole beginning. (And "The Taming of the Screw" and "Babies and Other Hazards of Sex" are funny, brilliant titles!)

I'm getting nervous and excited for the BEA Writer's Conference followed by the Backspace Writer's Conference in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to meeting agents and authors alike, to tightening my pitch, and to learning as much as I can. I attended the Algonkian Pitch and Shop last September and learned a lot, although there was too much "down time" during the four day conference (it could have easily been three days). Looking at the schedules for BEA and Backspace, I don't think that will be the case here.

Any advice for us writers attending either or both of these conferences?

Kae and Jon said...

Debra:

I wish I could give you advice, but I'm not familiar enough with the structure of these two conferences to be an authority. But I have an idea--how about doing an interview on our site after the conferences? I'm sure your experiences and insights would be most appreciated by other readers. Let me know if you'd be willing to be interviewed?

DebraLSchubert said...

Kae and Jon, Count me in! I'm greatly looking forward to it.;-)