L.A. Times Festival of Books: Author Solutions, Indie Bound, David Gaughran and thousands of happy book lovers

Recently author David Gaughran and Publishers Weekly offered criticisms of the L.A. Times Festival of Books, the largest book festival in the United States.  I am reporting here on what I actually saw and learned at the Festival which was held at the University of Southern California.  I attended both days this last weekend.  (To see photos of the event, please go to my other blog, LACityPix.)

Re the Amazon vs. Indie Bound connection to the Festival:  When the L.A. Times announced the nominees for this year’s Book Award, it included hot links for the various authors’ works in the online news report.  The links went to a page on the Indie Bound website.  The visitor/prospective book buyer was asked to enter his/her zip code to find a list of nearby independent bookstores.  The link did not go to Amazon or Kindle.  And Amazon’s presence was not conspicuous at the Festival.  I don’t remember even seeing a booth for them.

Author Solutions booth at the L.A. Festival of Books.

Book lovers lined up in front of one of the Author Solutions booths at the 2014 Festival of Books.

On the other hand, Author Solutions was very, very conspicuous.  They had six booths lined up right at the entrance where the free shuttle busses let off passengers coming to the Festival and another four booths near the Main Stage.  Out in front of the booths were attractive young women–probably USC students earning some extra money–telling passers-by that there was a “free book signing”.  The books were free. Meeting the author in person and the signing, of course, were free. There were lines of four to ten people at almost every booth and lots of people were walking away happy with their first signed book from the event.  Moreover, every author I saw looked as happy as a pig in mud!

Based on the signs posted near the first six booths, 30 authors signed their free books as fast as they could on Saturday.  Another 14 authors signed free books on Sunday afternoon.  If each of these authors paid $3,999 for the right to sign books for an hour, Author Solutions grossed $175,956.  (If my math is correct.)  The cost for these six  booths, based on the application posted online,  was $9,000.   That leaves $166,956 for Author Solutions to pay the young women who were shilling and for other expenses, but the L.A. Times Festival of Books was apparently quite profitable for them.   (These figures do not include the other four booths toward the center of the Festival.)

As we all know some writers who have worked with Author Solutions, a subsidiary of the Penguin Random empire, have become so angry with the company that they have sued.  But every author I saw was clearly thrilled with the turnout and the number of people asking for free copies of their book.  Maybe this was their 15 minutes of fame–well, one hour of fame!

While I do not endorse Author Solutions business practices at all, I find it hard to criticize these writers.  Many authors these days spend $1,000, $3,000 or more on ads, PR people and reviewers to promote their newly published books–or their backlist.  Many writers give away hundreds or thousands of their ebooks free on KDP Select.  These writers simply made a different choice.  And who knows what kind of fan base may develop from these giveaways!

I think Author Solutions should come clean and admit they are a book promotion and marketing company.  And–oh yes–they’ll get the book printed, too.

Penguin's mobile book shop

Penguin Publishing, the parent of Author Solutions had a bright orange truck at the L.A. Festival of Books.

Penguin Publishing, the parent of Author Solutions, was also at the event in the form of a bright orange truck–like a food truck for books–parked not far from the Main Stage, but no where near the Author Solutions booths.  People could buy books at the truck.  No authors.  No signings.

In my next post I’ll write about conversations with Veronica Roth and Jared Diamond.


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