Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Expo America 2010

A week has passed, and I know I am horribly remiss in not putting pen to paper (or in this case, electron to screen) to document the amazing spectacle that was Book Expo America. I have spent the past week going over the experience and making notes of what I must do differently when I attend next year, for attend next year, I must!

I first learned about BEA in December. I can't begin to guess how in my life as a writer and previous life as a bookseller, the splendor that is BEA escaped my consciousness, but it took a book signing to clue me in to all I was missing. It was at our book signing at the Palmer Branch of the Easton Area Public Library that my ignorance came to an end. There, I started comparing literary notes with the librarian who was hosting us, and she asked if we had ever attended Book Expo America. She went on to describe an amazing gathering where members of the book industry come together to network and, more unbelievably, get free books.

What a concept!

I came away from the signing knowing I had to learn more about BEA. My research turned up the dates of BEA and the fact that it was going to be held in New York in 2010, and I knew I had to attend. When A Christmas Sampler won its two Next Generation Indie Book Awards, that just sealed the deal. No way was I going to go into New York on one of the days of BEA and not go to the Expo!

I ended up deciding to attend BEA on Wednesday since the Tuesday of the award ceremony was only the opening day of BEA and the exhibit hall was not yet open. I figured, correctly, that the exhibit hall was where all that free book magic happened, and I didn't want to miss it. Perhaps in retrospect, signing on for two complete round trips into NYC two days in a row wasn't the smartest decision, but it was certainly worth it.

My goals for BEA were three:

1. Get a signed copy of David Weber's new book for my husband

2. Network with industry professionals

3. Get free books

With those three goals in mind, I spent many days, and some nights, preparing for the experience. I researched which publishing companies and agents would be present, prepared a synopsis of my current writing project, got some spiffy new business cards, and, of course, researched which authors would be signing books. I also found a catalog of the books that would be available at BEA, and drew up a strategic plan for picking up as many of the ones I wanted as possible. And, of course, I made careful note of when, and where, David Weber would be signing his new book.

I was sleep-deprived, but I was prepared. Or so I thought.

Carol L. Wright, Ralph Hieb, Sally W. Paradysz and I met early on Wednesday morning to drive in to NYC together. I was working on about two and a half hours of sleep from Tuesday night (I had to put the finishing touches on my synopsis, after all), and about two hours of sleep from Monday night. Accordingly, I loaded up on coffee and chatted the whole way into the city, knowing if I allowed my body to slow down even for a moment, I'd be dead to the world. We got tied up in the Lincoln Tunnel for much longer than we anticipated, even having considered the morning rush of commuters, and thus arrived at BEA later than we would have wished. Thus, I missed the first author I wanted to meet, but was so happy to finally be out of the car that I wouldn't think of complaining.

Carol, Sal, Ralph and I entered the Javits Center and the first thing I saw was the registration area, which resembled nothing more than an airport check-in. We wound our way through the maze of ropes, and each waited until a teller opened to check us in. When it was my turn, I approached the teller, handed over my registration confirmation, and noticed on the counter before me the catalog of Next Generation Indie Book Awards winners. I was thrilled to know that everyone who registered at BEA had the opportunity to pick up the catalog, and therefore might know A Christmas Sampler won both the Short Fiction, and Anthology categories of that prestigious award.

I grabbed a map of the expo, and a book outlining all of the exhibitors, and met my co-authors at the foot of the escalator. We rode to the next floor together, scrambling to don our name tags which each proclaimed in green that we were published authors. When we reached the top of the escalator, nothing could have adequately prepared us for what we saw.

Book Expo is huge!

Okay, we knew Book Expo would be huge. Everyone tells you Book Expo is huge, but Book Expo is huge in the sense that the Biltemore Estates is huge. Even knowing it is huge, nothing can prepare you for how very huge it is.

I snapped two quick pictures, and put my camera away for the remainder of the experience. Next year I'll be better prepared and attempt to take more pictures... that's BEA 2011 resolution number 1.

Now, in my preparation for BEA, I had outlined which booths, authors, and events were happening on which floor of the Javits Center. I had a nifty list of where I should be and when, and I was going to stick to it. The only problem was that I couldn't make my nifty little list reconcile itself with the space before me. I wasn't sure which floor I was on, but I knew I was looking for the third. Or rather, I thought I knew I wanted to be on the third floor.

In an effort to catch my bearings, I decided to accompany Carol and Ralph to where Scott Turow was signing books. I figured I could follow them, and check the map, and eventually figure out where I wanted to be. Sal was much braver and announced she was going off to find the agents... I knew the agents were upstairs, but I had no idea how to get there... I told myself I'd figure that out later. Carol, Ralph, and I plunged into the mass of humanity before us, and somehow found the correct line.

It was at about this point that the lack of sleep, the unfamiliar surroundings, and the overabundance of caffeine kicked in and I realized that standing elbow to elbow with everyone in line wasn't going to happen. I bid my co-authors adieu and ventured forth onto the melee, hoping to find Sal and the many agents.

Moving from booth to booth, and still not understanding which floor I was on, I noticed something else. Nowhere did I see the much-talked-of piles of free books. From what I had heard from those "in the know," BEA was supposed to be comprised of stacks and stacks of free books that you could just walk past and take. Not so... at least not as far as I could see. Finally, reconciling my list with my map, I realized I must be on the second floor of the Javits Center, and the agents were on the fourth, so I cast around looking for the stairs.

Or an elevator.

Or an escalator.

Or an obliging ladder.

The only escalator I could find was the one that led down to the lobby. And stairs, elevators and ladders were not to be found.

I was no thoroughly confused at this point, and so overwhelmed that I started questioning why I ever came to Book Expo in the first place. This wasn't what I prepared for! This wasn't fun! In that moment I thought I'd NEVER go to BEA again.

And then I noticed the banners hanging from the ceiling.

I will try to justify the fact that the banners escaped my notice until that point by reminding you how extremely sleep deprived I was. In any case, all of my preparation for BEA had failed to inform me of one very important fact: the exhibit hall is all on one floor. Here I was thinking that booth 3000 was on the third floor, 4000 was on the fourth, etc, and I would have done better to realize that 3000 was in the middle, and 4000 was off to the right.

With my new-found understanding of my surroundings, I took a deep breath, checked my watch, checked my schedule and checked my map and realized the best thing I could possibly do was high-tail it to booth 3940 where David Weber was supposed to start signing books in twenty minutes. Or so I thought.

With a goal in mind and a general understanding of the layout of the hall, I entered the throngs of people again and wound my way to the approximate area of booth 3940. I was able to find the right aisle, but was uncertain which booth was his, so I buckled down and asked for directions. It was then that I learned one more very important fact. I learned about the "Author Signing Area."

David Weber was nowhere near booth 3940, he was off in the author signing area with most of the other authors who were signing books that day. I followed the delightfully clear directions to the area, which I had not noticed on the map, and eventually found an eddy of peace in the rushing rapids of book expo. Fortunately it was very clear which line led to David Weber, and his line-- by virtue of the fact that it was in the author signing area and not among the booths of the exhibit hall-- wasn't nearly as frenetic as Turow's line. So, I joined Weber's line finding comfort in the knowledge that I would end my day having accomplished at least one of my goals.

Standing in line allowed me a chance to breath, to collect myself, and to get to know the people around me. I asked those nearby who had the look of BEA veterans where to find the free books and learned that, indeed, the number of giveaways was far diminished from previous years, but that I should be able to know them when I saw them. This somewhat cryptic advice (no matter how accurate) was followed by more helpful advice. "If you're not sure if you can take a book, just ask."

Sometimes it's the most obvious advice that is the most helpful.

By the time I got to the front of David Weber's line, I once more felt in charge of my Book Expo experience. Mr. Weber only made my day better. He was welcoming and pleasant and inscribed his book "to Adam, from Emily, and me" which I love, and think I'll have to borrow at future book signings.

Just knowing how thrilled Adam would be to have the signed book, made me feel able to face the insanity of BEA with no worries, so, thank you, Mr. Weber!

I spent the rest of the day learning everything I'll need to know for BEA 2011. For example, while there are agents and publishers all over the place, I would need to make appointments to meet with them and pitch my book, so my hours of synopsis editing were perhaps not as useful as if I had spent some of them asleep.

I learned that the best way to get a free book is to find someone who is signing, but, if you see a pile of identical books and you ask nicely, you might get to keep a copy.

I learned that some books are only for people with blogs (so glad I have one) and "published authors" rank pretty low on the list of important people... unless, of course, you're signing books!

I learned that a backpack is better than a canvas bag, but they give tote bags away for free all over the place, so don't bother bringing your own.

I learned that you'd better bring a sandwich, because, if you're like me you'll forget to eat, and that you need to budget your time wisely because you might find out the two authors you want to meet are on opposite ends of the exhibit hall.

And, I learned it's well worth the time you spend hiking back to the car to empty your bags, and return, unladen, for more books, because even if the giveaways have gone down from previous days, you're still going to go home with more books than you can carry. For example, at the beginning of the day, the trunk of this car was empty!

Next year, you can expect to see me at BEA for at least two days, and maybe all three. I'll have my map and my list of must-see authors, and a backpack and a water bottle, and a great big smile on my face, because I'll finally know how to be prepared.

I hope to see you there too!


  1. It was an incredible experience--one I enjoyed sharing with you. Can't wait until next year.

  2. Me too! Thanks for driving... can I reserve my seat in your car for next year?