Lessons From My First BEA

by Bess Weatherby
published in Writing

Book Expo America is the biggest book conference in the country. It’s where agents, editors, publicists and authors all gather together with readers to talk about everyone’s favorite thing—books. It almost reads like a Dr. Suess poem – old books, new books, read books, blue books.

Okay. There weren’t actually any blue books. Not that I saw, anyway.

But I did get an old book—The Hunger Games. Yeah. Scholastic was just giving them away. I read The Hunger Games two years ago, but I borrowed the copy. So now I have my own. That was the first book I found. And I thought, Well, today is already shaping up to be a great day.

I had barely even started.

BEA is huge. The Javitz Center, located far west on 11th Avenue, is huge. From my apartment, it was a thirty minute walk in direct sunlight. In New York, this is not a good thing. By the end of my walk I was starting to feel like I was on a pilgrimage. The Javitz Center—all metal lines and shining windows—literally sparkled in the distance.

And thus I learned . . .

BEA LESSON 1: Arrange Transportation

For the love of books, get a shuttle. They go to the hotels. You can look them up online. Or, if not, take the cross town bus. Pony up for a cab. Then you will not arrive like I did: melting, literally, slouching into the Javitz Center looking like I really had just gone on a pilgrimage, then spending the next ten minutes just standing there relishing the gift of air conditioning.

Which brings me to . . .

BEA LESSON 2: Bring a Sweater

The Javitz Center is FREEZING.  There are about a thousand people, so the air conditioner is blasting. It pays to think ahead and bring something warm. Also, it’s also a good idea to bring a snack. There is food available in the Javitz Center, but you’re at BEA to hear about books, not waste time and money in lines. So chuck away an apple and a water bottle along with that sweater. This will be simple to do if you follow  . . .

BEA LESSON 3: BABOB – Which Stands for “Bring a Big OI’ Bag”

I did not do this the first time around. Thankfully, they had some Hobbit bags available. So I snagged one. This was a good thing, because by the time I left it was filled up with books. Gabi was a genius and brought a rolling suitcase. This might sound crazy, but trust me, it’s worth it, especially if you, like me, did not heed:

BEA Lesson 4: Don’t Grab Everything

There are speeches and keynotes and author signings at BEA, but the biggest part of the event is the floor—where each publisher has set up a huge booth showcasing their upcoming titles. In these booths are publicists, editors and marketing people who are there to talk about the books and—glory be!—pass them out. For free.

The first day, I thought I’d do a once-over of the whole place before diving in. You know, to peruse. Get my bearings. I was going to observe, and pick things up later.

This did not last long.

What happens instead is that you’ll be walking along, admiring a poster of a middle grade series with spirit animals that you’re thinking is pretty awesome, and you’ll see a twenty-something girl in trendy clothing emerge from behind a table with a stack of books.

Free. Books.

It’s like someone puts a freezing charm on the people in the vicinity. It does not matter what the book is. There are twenty of them. There are thirty people. And he who hesitates is lost.

Yielding to this herd mentality, I ended up with several books that I probably won’t read, and I took them from people who probably would have. Don’t mistake me—they are there for the taking. But next year, I think I will be more selective, ignoring that little voice in my head screaming, Grab all the things! And just picking up the Arcs I really want.

How do you discern this? Well, that brings me to:

BEA Lesson 5: For the Love of BOOKS Make a Plan

This year, I mostly just collected books and talked to people. BEA is a great place to make connections at all the different publishing houses. The publishing industry is small and friendly; almost anyone was willing and eager to talk about writers and what’s next. But, as I said before, when you’re on the floor itself, and there are hundreds of people all rushing past, swarming tables, exchanging business cards, and you look up and Veronica Roth is standing three feet from you in the coolest pair of boots you have ever seen, you can easily become overwhelmed.

I started thinking of BEA the way I think of a first draft. Sure, I can just start writing. I can finish an entire book that way. But I’ll save myself a lot of heartache, accomplish more quicker, and keep myself from being overwhelmed if I approach the task with a game plan.

BEA has excellent resources to help you do just that. There is an App that shows you where the booths, signings and speeches are. It’s worth your time to peruse the list, see what’s available, and decide what you really want.

If you follow all these rules, like I’m planning to next time, you’ll probably find yourself walking away from the Javitz center vaguely believing you were just a part of something so wonderful Dr. Suess could have made it up.

You’ll have a massive bag of books and swag.

Tired feet skipping up the city street

Still with time to roam before you head home

And, even for all the miles, a big ol’ smile. 

Actually, that’s pretty much how I left this year, anyway.

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