- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

M rji Ross, head of the conservative Regnery Publishing Inc., will address a conference at this weekend’s BookExpo America on how to market “Right of Center Books Via Left of Center Channels.”

Miss Ross, Regnery’s president and publisher, could begin by discussing the convention itself.

“Conservatives are a lot more welcome than they were a few years ago, but when I walk up and down the aisles [of BookExpo America], I certainly don’t think to myself, ‘This is a red-state event’,” says Miss Ross, who has published best-sellers by Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich and many others.

BookExpo America, a three-day event ending Sunday, is taking place in the District, the longtime home of Regnery and a place where Republicans control the White House and Congress. However, were nationhood granted this weekend to those attending the expo at the Washington Convention Center — where thousands of writers, publishers, librarians and booksellers will gather — Democrats almost surely would be in charge.

“Obviously, the conventional wisdom is that librarians and bookstore owners and authors are progressive politically and vote for liberal candidates,” says Patricia Schroeder, president and chief executive of the American Association of Publishers and once among the most liberal members of Congress.

“I’ve never taken a poll on the convention floor,” Mrs. Schroeder says — but, she adds, “my gut would tell me they are indeed progressive. Although, I would also say they are businesspeople.”

The publishing industry appreciates sales, and Miss Ross and other conservatives have had little trouble getting their books into channels left, right and center. The relationship is friendly and productive, but not a meeting of the souls.

“Our industry’s tendency toward championing left-of-center titles and voices can present challenging hurdles for those publishing right-of-center books,” reads BookExpo’s description of the conference Miss Ross is attending.

The book world does not deny a conservative’s right to attend the show and be heard — or its own right to respond. In 1995, when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich completed his convention address, he received a standing ovation. At the beginning, however, he was criticized by the man who introduced him, bookseller Chuck Robinson, for advocating cuts in federal support for the arts.

When former President Bill Clinton spoke at the convention in 2004, his presence set off an explosion of applause, especially when Alfred A. Knopf President Sonny Mehta, who introduced him, speculated that Mr. Clinton might still have been in office if he could have served a third term.

Would an appearance by President Bush inspire such delight?

“That would be rather interesting,” says Mr. Robinson, co-owner of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., and a former president of the American Booksellers Association. “I’m not sure if I were a publisher of a major voice of conservative politics I would want to send that person into the lion’s den.”

“Whether or not people disagree with the political record of the speaker, the convention has had a history of being open to all political views,” says Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the booksellers association.

Mr. Teicher and the convention’s managers, Reed Exhibitions, say the list of speakers is based on a number of factors — star power, political balance, excitement over the author’s book or long-term respect for the writer, such as John Updike, who will promote his novel “Terrorist.”

Although books by conservatives have become increasingly popular, BookExpo’s special-events director, Roger Bilheimer, acknowledges that the majority of authors that publishers offer as possible speakers are liberal. “As a result,” he says, “the majority of speakers also tend to be liberal-left leaning.”

This weekend’s featured politician is Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, who will appear at an author’s breakfast to discuss his book “The Audacity of Hope.” The host of another breakfast will be comedian Andy Borowitz, author of “The Republican Playbook: Dirty Tricks, Distortions, and Other Keys to Victory.”

None of the breakfast hosts or speakers, who also include CNN’s Anderson Cooper and actress Amy Sedaris, is a known supporter of President Bush; Miss Ross cannot recall a Regnery author who has received one of the cherished breakfast spots.

Then again, she doesn’t bother submitting any names.

“I don’t think I’m selling any additional books by having an author speak at [BookExpo America],” she says. “I am more interested in getting my authors in front of customers. So I would much rather have my author on talk radio or TV, talking to conservative readers, than talking to a bunch of liberal editors and publishers.”

In the spirit of free debate, BookExpo will continue its traditional left-right author lunch, immortalized three years ago when Al Franken took on Bill O’Reilly. This year’s panelists: conservatives Patrick Buchanan and Andrew Sullivan against liberals Frank Rich and Arianna Huffington.

BookExpo will include others with whom the industry has disagreed. Officials from China, which publishers have criticized for censorship and piracy, will participate in a discussion on the country’s role in the “International Publishing Marketplace.” The search-engine giant Google, which is being sued by two industry associations for its plans to scan and index books for the Internet, will host a seminar on “How to Promote Your Books on Google.”

The industry shares a common mission: How to sell books in a struggling market. BookExpo will host numerous strategy sessions, with a special emphasis on the Internet and such entrepreneurial themes as “The Best Way to Leverage Podcasting,” “Capitalism Meets the Gift Economy of the Web” and “The Best Way to Target Mobile Devices.”

One obvious way to reach readers: Publish a book that reminds them of “The Da Vinci Code.” With the movie version coming out this weekend, best-seller lists have been filled with such titles as “The Last Templar” and “The Templar Legacy.” More related novels can be expected this summer and fall, among them Robyn Young’s “Brethren,” Brad Meltzer’s “Book of Fate,” and Eric Van Lustbader’s “The Testament.”

“Trends tend to keep getting bigger until they stop,” says Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley. “I don’t see that happening for a while with ‘The Da Vinci Code.’”

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