Monday, July 1, 2013

What is AWSA and the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS)?

Signing my book at ICRS 6/24/2013.
Publisher Tracy Ruckman helping me.

I know this question has been burning in your soul: What is AWSA and the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS)?

Some of you know. Some of you have no clue. Since I recently returned from both, let's talk about these two events. Even if you haven't heard about these events and would never attend, I hope learning about them and how they work might be enlightening for you in your own circles. And if you know what they are and have attended or want to some day, I hope learning how they work will be helpful to you also.

I'll start with AWSA since it come first on the calendar, followed by ICRS. These are two separate events and are in no way officially related at this point.

 

What is AWSA?

AWSA stands for the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. Founded by author Linda Evans Shepherd, this is an organization for women who are experienced speakers and writers in Christian publishing.

To be a member of AWSA, members must be active in at least two forms of communication including having at least two books published. So one form of communication is in book publishing. The second is often speaking to a certain number of people in multiple states each year, but could also be hosting a radio or TV show or another type of communication. In my case, my second form of communication is my work in the screenwriting industry.

AWSA holds an annual conference, and it is always on the weekend preceding ICRS and in the same location as ICRS. This year, we were in St. Louis, Missouri. At the end of the AWSA conference, AWSA holds the Golden Scroll Banquet where awards are given for books of the year, editor of the year, and more. (You may recall that last year my book Deliver Me was one of four finalists for the Golden Scroll Nonfiction Book of the Year.)

This year a new feature for the conference was that we could invite our "mentees" to attend. These are women who are starting out in publishing or otherwise don't yet meet the requirements to join. We had several mentees attend and I found that very exciting because I believe they are future members of AWSA.

One more note: I am now on the board of directors of Right to the Heart Ministries, which is the umbrella organization over the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association.

If you think you might be interested in applying for membership in AWSA, you can find information here.

What is ICRS?


ICRS is short for the International Christian Retail Show. (One literary agent calls it "ickers," but I don't think that name is catching on.) This is a closed trade show that was formerly known as "CBA" or the Christian Booksellers Association. They changed the name several years ago to reflect changes in Christian retail stores: that they are selling much more than books nowadays!

The reason I emphasized the word "closed " above is because that's probably the most crucial part of this discussion that you need to know, if you don't already. By "closed" I mean that you can't go. Well, probably. What I mean is, not just anyone can go. In order to attend, you must be a member of the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association). To be a member of CBA, you must own a Christian bookstore or be a Christian publisher or a company that produces goods for sale in Christian retail outlets. Besides Christian publishers that create and publish books, other companies includes those that produce music, movies, greeting cards, jewelry, artwork, trinkets, and so much more. (Sometimes you'll even see various other goods, such as "Christian" breath mints and golf balls.)

The best way I know how to describe ICRS is to say it is a meeting of the Christian publishing companies and other producers "wining and dining" owners of Christian retail stores in order to get them to carry their products.

I'm certain other industries have similar "closed" conventions that not just anyone can attend--or would want to. So whatever your primary industry is, a convention probably just came to your mind. I've never been to BEA ("Book Expo of America") but I think it's the same thing for all the publishers (not just Christian ones).

ICRS has many events going on, such as holding seminars to help retailers become more efficient and profitable. You will also see industry celebrities, such as popular authors or musicians. Hal went with me this year and while there we got to hear well-known Christian author Max Lucado speak and recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman sing.

Signing Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus for a
Christian book retailer at the Christian Small Publishers
Association (CSPA) booth. Publisher Tracy Ruckman is
helping me. Sarah Bolme, director of CSPA in background.
 

In what many authors see as quite ironic, in the past ICRS has not been friendly to authors. The authors, those of us who write and create the very books the publishers publish, were not allowed to attend ICRS -- unless your publisher brought you to do a personality event (such as a book signing). Sounds strange doesn't it? Well that is because this trade show was intended for the sales people of publishing companies to meet with the retailers who put their goods on the shelves in their stores. Authors aren't in that equation. For those who think authors should be included, the openness to authors attending has improved in the past years.

Many authors want to attend because they want to meet with the retailers who are carrying our products, too, and we want them to love us, love our books, and carry them in their stores. Many authors also want to attend with a different agenda: they want to meet with acquisition editors to pitch them ideas for their books in hopes of getting new publishing contracts. This didn't use to be the purpose of the CBA convention, but it seems that is changing as more and more of this is happening.

I remember the first time I attended CBA/ICRS. I can't remember what year it was, but it was held in Denver. I went through a friend who owns a bookstore to get my entrance badge. And when the folks at CBA got my request for an entrance badge, I had to talk with someone on the telephone and felt like I was given the third degree. I wanted to go so I could go to "the big show" while it was in my home state, in Denver, Colorado, and see what it was like and experience it. This is, after all, my industry. The folks at CBA apparently thought I had a different agenda. I was asked if I was going to pitch book ideas to publishing company dignitaries? No, I tried to convince them. Because that is not allowed, I was informed. And if I was caught doing so, my entrance badge would be taken away and I would be shown the door, made to leave, and not allowed back in. No matter what I said I felt they did not believe that I was not an author trying to sneak in to be a pest to the publishing company people. It was not a pleasant conversation and left me with a very negative impression of the Christian Booksellers Association. I am not the only one this happened to. Thankfully, things have changed some since then and, while authors still don't seem to be very welcome unless they are doing personality events and signing their books, the are doors opening for authors at ICRS. There was even an "Author's Alley" area this year. (Unfortunately I didn't get there. Why? I'll explain later.)

Interestingly, the books that authors do sign at their personality events are not sold, but are given away for free. These are the "free samples" given away at the publisher's booths at this convention. So if your publisher takes you as their author, let's you sign your books in their booth, and pays for the give-away books, you're very fortunate. If you're on your own (and there are ways to take yourself, but that's probably a length conversation for another time), it's quite an expensive endeavor to pay for all that yourself.

Helping Vicki Tiede at her signing. Hal, my loyal helper,
is behind me in line, holding our yummy
fresh-squeezed lemonade.

This year I attended with my new publisher, Pix-N-Pens Publishing. Five PNP authors banded together with our publisher to make it possible for us to attend this year. We each had book signings. I signed my book Prophecies Fulfilled in the Birth of Jesus, because the retailers are ordering for the Christmas season at this time.

PNP did not have its own booth. We signed in the Christian Small Publishers Association booth (as I did two years ago with my Deliver Me book). Part of our agreement with the CSPA booth is that we volunteer to work the booth for a couple hours. We do this by talking with retailers walking past about the book that is being signed that hour and giving out CSPA catalogs, which our books are included in.


Helping with Vicki Tiede's signing of Parenting On Your Knees
and handing out CSPA catalogs to passersby.
Doing this kind of volunteer work involves taking off the "creative, author" hat and putting on the "sales person" hat. Like it or not, this is a good experience for any author.

While all those books are given away, a lot of authors and publishers hope to see a bounce in sales to retailers after the show. We hope they will see the brilliance of our books and order a slew of them to sell in their stores, especially for the Christmas season which many of the retailers are now buying for. From my experience and also from talking with others, that doesn't really happen. (Often what seems to happen to those free books is they are taken back to the retailers' stores and are put on the shelf and sold--meaning no income for the publishing company and no royalties for the author--but the retailer keeps the profit. I guess it helps pay for their trip to ICRS.)

Even so, we still go. Authors and publishers alike attend ICRS because we must make the retailers aware of what we have to offer. And we're always hopeful that letting them know will pay off with increased sales in the long run.

ICRS now rotates between three cities. This year we were in St. Louis. Next year, in 2014, it will be in Atlanta. In 2015 it will be in Orlando. The following year it will be back in St. Louis. Denver has been taken out of the rotation because attendance declines steeply when the show is west of the Mississippi. Apparently most of the Christian retailers are east of the Mississippi and don't want to travel this far west (which sounds just a tad crazy to those of us who love it here and think others would love to visit the beautiful western U.S.).

If you ever get the opportunity to go to the International Christian Retail Show, of course I recommend that you should go. That's because I'm always in favor of experiencing what we can of our industries. But go with a realistic understanding of what the show is for, who will be there, and what you hope to gain from attending so you're not disappointed.

Here are three other articles you may enjoy written by others about their experiences at ICRS:

Highlights of ICRS at my publisher's blog.

Thursdays with Amanda: ICRS Recap at literary agent Chip MacGregor's blog

Is ICRS Still Important? by Mary Keeley, Books & Such Literary Agency

Just a Note...


You may note that the article by my publisher mentions that I was involved in an accident prior to ICRS. On June 9th I was riding my motorcycle when my front tire went flat and I went tumbling down Interstate 25 at about 60 mph. I was wearing a full-face helmet, which no doubt saved me. Gratefully I have no major injuries. I have a chipped bone in my ankle, deep bruises, two swelled ankles, some pretty severe road rash, and had some stitches in my elbow. It has been three weeks since the accident and I'm still recovering, but I'm going to be okay. This is why Hal drove me to ICRS and he was able to attend with me and help me get where I needed to go. I had to cancel some of my plans, and I couldn't walk the entire convention floor or visit Author Alley as I would have liked to do, but I'm so glad I was still able to attend for my book signing, although signing my books with a pretty severely bruised hand was challenging. (If you look closely at all the photos, you might see bandages covering the road rash on my arms. Swollen ankles are out of sight, I think.)
PNP Authors and husbands out to dinner at Bailey's Range in St. Louis.
L-R: Hal, Me (Dianne E. Butts), Vicki Tiede, helper and AWSA mentee Suzy Moore,
publisher Tracy Ruckman, Peggy Cunningham, Marie Wells Coutu and Ed Coutu,
and Peggy's husband Chuck Cunningham.
Not pictured: Fay Lamb (behind the camera).

In closing, let my accident spur you on to good things. The unexpected can happen at any time. What do you want to do that you haven't accomplished yet? What steps to do you need to take to get there? List them. Plan when to accomplish each and get on the road to making your dreams come true.

Tweetables


I'm adding a new feature to my blog posts, which I hope to remember to include from now on. These links below are called "Tweetables" and if you like what you read here in this blog post and would like to share it on Twitter (which I hope you will!), all you need to do is click one of these:

What is AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association)?

What is #ICRS? Why go to Interna'l #Christian Retail Show?

Photos from #ICRS.

If you want to add this feature to your own blog, find it here: http://clicktotweet.com/


Next month(s):

I've had some people ask so let's talk about how to go about setting up a book signing at a local bookstore and how to make your signing a success.


What are your thoughts about the International Christian Retail Show? Have you been there? Leave a comment and let us know.

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