Update Feb. 19, 4:46 pm: The AWP sent this email to all who were planning to be exhibitors at their annual book fair, announcing that they would be opening the fair to the public.
The Association of Writers & Writing Progams holds a large annual conference and book fair every year in a major city. In the past, the book fair has been opened to registered attendants of the conference and open to the public on the final day.
Citing tax reasons, the AWP announced this morning that they would not be opening the book fair to the public at all. This announcement comes nine days before the actual conference, located this year in Seattle.
According to the AWP, exhibitors at the book fair pay either $875 for a booth or $500 for a table. Onsite, nonmember registration, which you now need to attend any part of the book fair, costs $285.
The AWP has apologized through its Twitter account, but they've also indicated that they have known about the restrictions forcing them close the book fair to the public prior to their announcement.
The AWP has been trying to quell some of the outrage by pointing to the conference's registration numbers, claiming that there will still be 11,000 to 14,000 in attendance.
... What bothers me so much about this whole incident is the lack of timely communication about the decision. If they'd said from the beginning, "hey, we're not going to open the book fair to the public in Seattle for these reasons, and here's why we don't think it's going to be an issue, laid out the argument from the start, we wouldn't be here right now." Maybe a handful of presses would have decided not to come, but most would be there, because AWP is the biggest conference of its type. It's the one that's big enough to maybe justify the money you're going to shell out to be a part of it. All we're really asking is that you let us know the rules in advance.
The decision, as well as the casual way in which it was presented, has many independent authors frustrated.
Part of the frustration comes from financial concerns. The final day of the book fair is cited by some authors as traditionally being the most profitable, specifically because it is open to the public.
Convention planning and negotiating the tax vagaries of host cities can be really difficult. Writers and editors are sympathetic to that. Nonetheless, it is frustrating, as an editor, to find out only nine days before the conference, that the book fair won't be open to the public on Saturday. We do a good portion of our business on Saturdays at AWP, and that money helps offset the significant cost of attending AWP. It's also a shame that the good people of Seattle won't be able to attend the book fair and see most of the literary magazines and small presses in North America, in one room.
Author Lincoln Michel has called for a partial refund to those who have paid for tables or booths.
I know a lot of writers who travel to AWP for the offsite events and the book fair even if they don't purchase an AWP pass. So those writers have no access to the gigantic assortment of literary magazines and small presses that show up to AWP each year (including my own magazine, Gigantic.) It probably has a greater affect of the residents of Seattle, who now can't enter the book fair without paying a large fee. As a magazine editor, it obviously hurts sales. But more so, a large part of the appeal of AWP is getting your magazine seen by writers and readers in a city that might not know about you. I can't say how much of the blame falls on AWP itself or on the city of Seattle, but this is not something that writers, editors, or readers should be finding out only a little over a week before AWP starts.
Justin Taylor and other authors are trying to bring the matter to the city itself.
Independent publishers like New Directions have also added to the collective anger towards this decision.
The last-minute decision has also caused some problems on a more personal level.
When asked for comment, AWP Director Of Conferences Christian Teresi told BuzzFeed that the AWP is a relatively small non-profit. He said that, in the past, the book fair had been "able to open the book fair to the public in a case by case basis."
In the case of this years' Seattle conference, Teresi said that the AWP determined that "opening the book fair to the public would put exhibitors in a tax-liable situation and potentially cause them to more money than they were already planning to" due to the city and state's complex tax laws. Teresi also said that the AWP "should have absolutely announced the closure earlier," but noted that the AWP is not obligated to open the book fair to public. "When we originally made the decision [to open the book fair to the public], the conference was smaller. Now, given the significant growth of the conference, the normal attendance boost that was brought by that day is now negligible. Ultimately we have to abide by the law."
Teresi noted that after the recession in 2008 he began seeing more complex tax laws in states as possible source of revenue, but he said that couldn't say whether that had anything to do with Seattle and the state of Washington's tax laws.