Warning: LONG post ahead.
For the last couple of years, I have been a big ball of envy during the last week in May, stalking other bloggers’ twitter feeds and wishing that I was at BEA. The idea of attending a trade show focused on books held immense appeal, as did (of course) the stacks and stacks of books that people were bringing home. I thought about attending last year but decided to start small and attend BookCon instead. Here’s a link to my take on last year’s BookCon. (Summary of this year’s event is coming soon.)
This year, BookCon became a two-day event, and I planned to attend the first day. I kept thinking of BEA as a possibility, though, and eventually decided to buy a one-day ticket. This would allow me to give the event a try without needing my husband to use all of his remaining personal time to watch the kids (I’m a stay at home mom).
Here are some of the things I did to plan for BEA:
Make a schedule. Since I’m an over-the-top planner, I first made a list of which guests of interest were attending on each day of the conference. Thursday won because a) Wednesday was a half day on the show floor, b) I didn’t want to drive into New York back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, and c) Libba Bray would be there. I then made a multiple-column schedule of panels, autographing sessions, and galley drops I was interested in. Once I printed it, I color-coded the boxes based on priority. Having multiple interesting events at any given moment reminded me of what I was missing out on, sure, but it also allowed me to have fall-backs in case a line was too long or something. For instance, I was hoping to get tickets to Gregory Maguire’s signing but got stuck in over an hour and a half of traffic; tickets were gone by the time I arrived at the expo. That left my 11:30 time slot wide open, so I took in a little bit of Geraldine Brooks’s panel before meeting Sandra Boynton and telling her how much my family adores her books. If I’d needed to plan this last-minute, I would have needed to find an area with cell reception and scroll through the numerous events occurring during that time slot to figure out what I wanted to do. Planning ahead saved me valuable time at BEA. Here’s what my schedule looked like, in case you’re curious:
Map it out. I printed a map of the show floor, labeled it in teeny-tiny print, and highlighted the booths of my favorite publishers. I can’t begin to tell you how many exhibitors were there, and I didn’t want to drain my phone’s battery by pulling up the floor map every few minutes.
Bring a rolling suitcase. Bag check is a mere three dollars, and they let you stop in as many times as you like to drop things off. This means that I carried around a tote bag with my essentials in it, and when it got too full of books, I could stop by bag check to unload. I really don’t know how people function without doing this.
Pack snacks. Food at the Javits is expensive, of course, and lines are long. I saved lots of time by carrying snacks around with me (fruit, trail mix, Clif bars) and eating while waiting on line for a signing.
Wear flats. A quick Google search yielded a site (I forget which one now…) that said attendance at BEA in the past was just under 30,000 people. Imagine how big a facility has to be to house that number, then imagine walking through it all day long. I wore a pair of dressy-ish canvas flats and didn’t get a single blister. I saw some girls who went so far as to wear a dress with neon-laced running shoes, but I thought that was a bit much. Maybe no one really cared, but it seemed a little unprofessional to me.
Order business cards. It’s much easier than writing a blog link over and over, I figured. Though, to be honest, I only handed out a couple of cards. I’m hoping to be more proactive about networking in the future; I was a little intimidated this time around.
Download the BEA app. I never figured out how to sync my online schedule with the one on the app, but I still made good use of the app while I was there, sometimes to check details of a signing advertised at a booth and sometimes to check a booth’s location. It was a fun way to interact with other attendees before the conference as well.
Now let’s talk about my experience(s) while actually at BEA.
Little fish in a huge sea! Let me start by saying that I was overwhelmed as hell. I constantly felt like I was missing out on something because I couldn’t be in six places at once, and everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, whereas I did not. (At least I was familiar with the facility from attending BookCon last year; that helped immensely.) I wasn’t sure if I should strike up a conversation with reps from my favorite publishers or if they’d see me as a waste of time because I’m not a bookseller that will be placing a large order from them and I’m not a blogger with significant “influence.” I was polite but not terribly outgoing (which is my everyday personality, so I guess that makes sense, but in future I’d like to reach out of my comfort zone a bit more).
Voyeurism: The larger publishers have space allocated for meetings; they actually have small tables around which two or three people could discuss…something, I don’t know what. I liked to imagine that filmmakers were getting their hands on ARCs to decide which rights to buy and that booksellers and librarians were asking about the Next Big Thing. It was exciting to get to see some of that behind-the-scenes stuff taking place.
Interesting panels: I got to listen to Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks read from her upcoming novel, The Secret Chord, and talk about her religious beliefs (or lack thereof, really). I was interested by her notion that the people of David’s time “worshipped a book” and the idea of how much power a text can have. I also got to listen to five independent publishers promote some literary fiction titles; I enjoyed hearing a sales pitch for something that I’d actually want. (I generally hate pushy salespeople, but book recommendations are a horse of a different color.)
Book people are wonderful. The other attendees were friendly and courteous; waiting in line wasn’t bad because no one was pushing ahead and most people wanted to chat a bit about the books they’d gotten or a book I was holding that they might have missed.
Authors are wonderful, too. Most autographing lines weren’t terribly long; in fact, I stumbled upon a few sessions that were just finishing up and didn’t even have to wait five minutes to meet the author. Whether the line was long or short, though, every author was pleasant. (Well, all except for one, whose autographing table was empty. His eyes lit up when I approached, then his face fell when he read my badge and realized that I was a blogger. It was the only time all day I felt inferior because I wasn’t a publishing bigwig.) I even got to meet a few favorites, most notably the illustrious Libba Bray.
Free books! I’d seen other people’s hauls from BEA and always figured there had to be something they weren’t telling me. I mean, there’s no way that all of those books could be free, right? Wrong. I only spent one day at BEA and came home with 40 books — and I turned down numerous books that were so far out of my preferred genres that I knew I wouldn’t read them. I didn’t pay for a single one, and I was able to get many of them autographed. Basically, people hand you books all day long. There are even piles of books, some fancied up for display and others sort of shoved to the side. It’s like the best scavenger hunt ever.
I don’t usually take samplers (I hate reading an excerpt without being able to finish the book immediately), but this one was worth it. The art is beautiful, and I’ll certainly be purchasing this one in October.
Some other fun moments from the day:
Here’s my total for the day, minus tote bags, buttons, magnets, and samplers:
All in all: If BEA was going to be in New York again next year, I’d try to attend for all three days if possible. I’d love to attend the bloggers’ conference and still have time to wander the floor and take in panels. However, it’s in Chicago, which is not gonna happen. Please let me know if you know of any other blogger-friendly expos/conferences on the East Coast that are worth attending! 🙂