Light Messages' Senior Editor Reflects on this Year's Book Expo America in Chicago

When Light Messages Publishing decided to expand to general trade in the fall of 2011 and bring me on as Senior Editor, one of the first things we did was go to the 2012 Book Expo America in NYC. We realized in those few days what a steep learning curve we had in front of us.

We had successfully published works by our founding members––Wally Turnbull's Creole Made Easy has sold approximately 100,000 copies since its release––and we'd released a handful of books by new authors. But we quickly realized that what had worked for niche books with a highly defined audience was not going to cut it in the larger literary world.

To make matters worse, the industry in 2011 had a very different perspective on hybrid presses, partnership models, and even traditional small presses. Given that we were doing some of both hybrid publishing (Torchflame Books) and traditional publishing (Light Messages), we found ourselves hitting a wall of discriminatory practices while trying to find our footing on a most unlevel playing field.

We were in trouble if we didn't do something different––and fast. We made a series of strategic decisions that spring... not the least of which was to join the Indpendent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). In short, we set about to learn the industry, to navigate around the roadblocks, and to redefine the terms we found harmful to us.

Each step of the way, we had two goals: to achieve excellence and to honor our authors with our professionalism.

Fast forward to five years later (and imagine a lot of trial and error in between). Our story from this year's 2016 Book Expo America in Chicago couldn't have been more different from that first trip in 2012:

  • This year, we walked into BEA with an agenda full of meetings with industry leaders and influencers.
  • We brought 3 authors for signings, each of whom ran out of books during their signing –– and we brought plenty of copies (Rebecca Brewster Stevenon with Healing Maddie Brees; Deborah Hining with A Saint in Graceland; Brad A. LaMar with the Celtic Mythos series).
  • We could direct industry people to a major distributor for our titles (thanks to an innovative and exciting partnership between INdemand and IPG).
  • Hybrid presses, self published authors, and creative publishing partnerships were highlighted through events like UPublishU instead of being maligned. In fact, Publisher's Weekly made several mentions of the "discoverability" potential at this year's BEA and the buzz created by small presses
  • This time, I wasn't just learning from all the experts, I was also teaching a short session at UPublishU (3 Virtually Free Ways to Increase Pre Sales... and Why it Matters).
  • This year I was priveleged to be one of the people advocating for other independent publishers as an executive board member at IBPA.

My point isn't to brag on our accomplishments, but rather to highlight how we in particular and the industry as a whole are evolving and growing.

Countless words on the internet are being devoted to how the publishing industry is changing and the challenges that change brings. I'd argue we're changing for the better––in large part due to the hard work small presses like ours are putting toward "growing up" and "growing into" the industry as a whole. 

This year after BEA, the challenges ahead are no longer daunting. Instead, I've returned eager to learn more, grateful to contribute, and optimisitc about the future of publishing.

Light Messages Authors at BEA 2016Who wouldn't feel proud and grateful to publish talented authors like these? (L to R: Elizabeth Turnbull, Brad A. LaMar, Deborah Hining, Rebecca Brewster Stevenson, Betty Turnbull)

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