THIS IS A STORY ABOUT TWO INDIVIDUALS THAT I MET AT BOOKEXPO 1997 who were in the next years, to have a significant impact on the world of books, and beyond.
It was at my last BookExpo –I think it must have been in 1997, in New York– and I was sitting at my booth in the Small Press section.
A petite, youngish woman was looking at my display of handmade books. She asked me some questions about how I made them, and how I selected the titles. She had an English accent. She looked some more, and then handed me her card: she would like to be on my mailing list. I put the card in a box, for later transcription.
I asked her what she did. She told me that she was a writer too. I asked what she had written; might I have read anything she had done? No, she said. She was just getting started –she’d just had a book published in the U.K.; it was to come out here in the U.S. fairly soon.
I keep all such cards, and some years later, when I was going through them, I saw a name that I recognized –J.K. Rowling. It was my petite English friend from BookExpo 1997. J.K. Rowling herself! Before she became J.K. Rowling!
Her Harry Potter books would make a huge impact on a young readership, with their exciting and intricate plots, and their underlying message of courage and curiosity, of self-motivation and thinking for one’s self. She is credited with turning young readership around after years of decline.
At the same BookExpo, an old book friend, Bob R., came to see me. He was a book rep. who covered the NorthEast for the publishers Addison-Wesley. Bob also liked my books and had a small collection of his own. He even had taken some with him when he was making his calls and shown them to some booksellers who he thought might like to stock them. And indeed they did, and several orders came out of his efforts on my behalf.
Now, at the book fair, he told me he was leaving his job and moving out west, to Seattle.
“Hey,” he said, “Come on over and meet my new boss.”
His new boss had a booth just across the way from me, also in the small press section, although he had taken several booths and put them together for his operation. I glanced at it: it wasn’t clear exactly what the operation was. Something computerized.There were about 8 to 10 people working there, all dressed in bright red Tshirts, with lettering in white on them.
And there was Bob’s new boss. As Bob went to make the introductions, the boss took the initiative as people sometimes do. He put out his hand to me and said his name. “Hi. Jeff Bezos.”
Yes, Jeff Bezos! Mr. Amazon.com himself! It was his very first BookExpo, and nobody –including Jeff– quite knew what Amazon.com was. Or would become. (As I said, “something computerized”.)
J.K. Rowling and Jeff Bezos.
Neither one of them had hit their life’s stride yet, but both were allready well on their way, both filled with a determined purpose.
And amazingly, they would soon be figuring hugely in each other’s success. With her Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling was to sell –so far– some four hundred million books, and make an extraordinary fifteen billion dollars! And it was Jeff Bezos and his Amazon.com that would sell a large slice of that –I think I read 40% somewhere.
It is, I think, a story of quite miraculous dimension. A story of small current dimension, that would in a short space of time of a few short years experience an explosive evolution across the world –and not just the world of books.