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New York's Indie and Small Press Book Fair

March 7, 2010 |  9:26 am


Independent publishers have gathered in the grand library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in New York this weekend to sell their wares to -- well, whom, exactly? Sadly, not too many buyers wandered past. On Saturday, publishers said this was the worst-attended Indie and Small Press Book Fair they'd seen.

Publishers paid a few hundred dollars to the New York Center for Independent Publishing, the event's organizer, to have a table at the event. Some, like the State University of New York's SUNY Press, invited their authors to attend. Binnie Klein was happy to talk to anyone about her memoir "Blows to the Head," in which she wrote about learning to box in her 50s. An event like this is an opportunity for a new author with a smaller press to connect with readers -- but only if the readers show up.

Where were they? In February 2009, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, the nonprofit that funds the NYCIP, laid off Executive Director Karin Taylor due to the "murderous economy." Taylor had led the organization for 20 years, and her responsibilities fell to then-assistant-director, now interim-director Leah Schnelbach. Can an organization that was previously run by two people be managed by just one?

Getting the word out seemed to be a challenge. On Saturday, the only information on the NYCIP website about the event was directed toward publishers who might purchase a table. By Sunday -- as the fair continued for a second full day -- even that had disappeared. Anyone hoping to find out details about the fair -- its location, its start or end times or its speaker schedule -- would have to look elsewhere. (It runs Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 20 W. 44th Street in Manhattan.) That information was on Facebook -- which I reached through a publisher's link -- but it was incomplete. A young woman at the fair passed out slips of paper with information about an appearance by Richard Nash, which didn't appear online or in the event's printed program.

As an Angeleno visiting New York, this was the first chance I'd had to attend the Indie and Small Press Book Fair and was entranced by the location. The library is in a three-story atrium, with tall marble columns and a skylight above, built a century ago. I was curious about the intricate mechanical devices on display in glass cases on the balcony but would have had to climb over the Cervantes Institute booth to get a closer look.

With fewer than 30 publishers present, the fair wasn't comprehensive -- notably absent were larger local independents Soft Skull and Akashic -- but readers would have found plenty to catch their interest. Displays included works in translation from Brooklyn's Archipelago Books, hip contemporary Canadian literature from Anvil Press and politically inflected memoir and nonfiction from South End Press (its motto: Read. Write. Revolt.). Thomson-Shore, a Michigan book printer, emphasized they could do small runs, for independent presses and authors planning to self-publish. The same opportunity -- on a vastly different scale -- was offered by Studio on the Square, a letterpress shop that encouraged hands-on bookmaking.

Certainly, there was enough to keep crowds engaged. If only there had been crowds.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Author Binnie Klein at the Indie and Small Press Book Fair. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg