One way to judge the popularity of the BEA’s panel discussions was to locate the boom mic operator. Was he safe inside, or getting elbowed by people preserving their hard-won spots in the doorway?
At “Generation Next: The New Hybrid Young Editor,” the mic guy was getting bruises. In the space between the room’s doorway and its seats, a throng of people competed for the few spots where the panel discussion would be audible. (The scene could be used to illustrate a lesson about the cyclical nature of suffering: People kept leaving [and inadvertantly encouraging people in the hallway to enter] because they couldn’t hear over the din of people leaving.)
Whether the panel discussion was worth any elbowing, I’m not sure. When good points were made, they were made in spite of the panel’s scattershot approach to topics.
Kate Travers, an editor at Harper Collins, directed the conversation towards trade paperbacks. Book formats, she proposed, are like sisters: the hardcover’s the oldest and most glamorous; the paperback’s the youngest, most “darling,” child; and the trade paperback, Travers’ favorite, is the classic middle child: awkward, overlooked, and undervalued.
From there, the conversation shifted towards the “larger cultural problem” of reading’s low status in popular culture. “How many 23 year olds are hanging out in bookstores?” asked Bloomsbury’s Gillian Blake (a surprisingly accurate, though miniature, facsimile of Mariel Hemingway). But, as the moderator, PW’s Steve Zeitchik, summarized: is something like Simon Spotlight the answer, or just another “cynical approach”? One response to that question came later, as Lorin Stein (FSG) reflected that “the only books I wish I hadn’t gotten involved with were the books I thought someone else would love.”
Both Chris Jackson (Crown) and Liz Naglle (Little, Brown) proposed that editors would have a better sense of what sells, and why, if they were required to spend their time in bookstores. But the remainder of the panel was devoted less to possible solutions to the industry’s problems than getting a grip on what those problems are. [Continued in Part II]