I attend blogger conferences a lot and people find that concept very confusing. They find Book Expo America, aka BEA, to be a little less confusing but still not something that makes a ton of sense. So I thought I would pass on a little bit of insight for those of you outside the book world to have an idea of just what happened to all of us last week.
This was only my second BEA. I am by no means an expert. But at least it wasn’t the flailing confusion that I had the first time. Now I kind of get it.
The short version is that BEA is a trade show for the book world. Publishers, authors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers all come together to see what’s happening. That kind of makes it sound very kumbaya. It’s really less singing and more lines.
It’s kind of like Disneyland… except at the end of the line someone hands you a book and then you get in another line.
BEA takes place in the Javits Center in NYC. It’s 3 blocks long. And you feel it. Everyone talks about the books they got while they’re at BEA, then they talk about how much their feet hurt.
When you come inside, there are massive banners for books hanging from the glass ceiling.
Then you get to the floor, which looks like this:
Except that it just looks like that forever and ever and ever and why bother bringing a fitbit because you know you’ll walk 85 bajillion steps?
Seriously, it’s impossible to give you an idea of its size
This picture shows you aisles 700 to 1900 or so. And even then you can barely see 700. You definitely can’t see all the way to the end. Plus the aisles kept going in the other direction into the 3000’s. And, of course, you always need one thing on one end and then have to go back to the other end for the next thing.
So what is it that we’re all doing here?
Some of us are taking meetings and doing business. Some of us are trying to find contacts or build relationships. And some of us are here for the books.
You see, the publishers all have booths on the floor. Some are big, some are small. But many of them have books. And they know that there will be many people at BEA who put books into the hands of readers by reviewing or selling or lending. They want those people to see their books. So you’ll see a lot of this:
Sometimes these piles are just there for the taking. Sometimes they require a line.
Now the nice thing is that the line usually comes with a signing at the end. So you and the author can say hi. Sometimes these books are in the publisher booths. Sometimes they are in the “autographing area.” The Autographing Area makes me feel as though I’m about to be led up a ramp and zapped.
The drill becomes familiar. First line.
(Good lines had signs and people keeping everything in order. Props to them. Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster all seemed to do pretty well. But the Macmillan line signs, pictured above, were by far my favorite.)
This continues throughout the day. Some of us intersperse this with other stuff. Some devote themselves solely to books. This all requires a tote bag. I brought my favorite one with me.
As you can see, my tote already has a few books in it. I tend to go light. I like e-galleys on my Kindle and save just the good stuff for hard copies. Others don’t.
And for some people it gets kind of out of control.
That is why the roller bags are here. So that people who cannot possibly carry all their books around have something to put them in and a way to get them back to their hotel. There are lots of them.
I am not a roller bag person. I am strictly a one tote bag person. And I prefer that that tote bag not be full.
There is also a shipping area because sometimes you have too many books for your suitcase and you have to mail them home.
I did go home with one small roller bag which was about half full of books. So it wasn’t a small haul. Less than 20, but not by a lot.
It is really easy to get so caught up in everything that you don’t eat. It is easier because the cafeteria in the Javits is less than stellar and there’s really no decent food for several blocks. (Pro tip: I did snag a gyro from a place in the lower level called The Agape Cafe or something? And it was a pretty great gyro piled ridiculously high with lettuce, tomato, onion, and tzatziki and I’m pretty sure it was cheaper than a hot dog and fries. Also it was really delicious. And I’m kind of sad that I finally figured out Javits Center food the last day I’ll be there.)
For two days I walked back and forth across the floor. I said hi to the handful of people I knew. I took only one selfie with an author because we weren’t in line and I mean COME ON she’s a legend.
I waited in zero celebrity lines. And there are lots. Off the top of my head I can recall Jesse Eisenberg, Nathan Lane, Julianne Moore, Mindy Kaling, Felicia Day, Gloria Steinem, Bernadette Peters, etc. And those are just the non-book celebrities. The book celebrities are ridiculous.
The funny thing is that the book world is so wide that I didn’t recognize the vast majority of names I saw. It’s a great opportunity to dig through the listings and explore new possibilities and try new things. Almost every book I got is by an author I haven’t read before. That’s exciting. There are picture books and middle grade and young adult and nonfiction of all kinds and fiction of all kinds and cookbooks and coffee table books and literally every possible book. It’s a big world.
I was lucky to attend BEA this year as a member of Book Riot, where I’ve been a ridiculously happy member of the crew for a year now. Last time I went was back in the day of Red Letter Reads, a tiny site with tiny numbers that no one had heard of. This year people knew who we were. It was weird and kind of exhilarating.
But it wasn’t nearly as wonderful as getting to meet many of my fellow Rioters in person.
Getting to hang with them was a huge highlight of BEA. I know from years of blog experience that you can become fast friends without ever meeting, and this was yet another confirmation. They are good people and my favorite.
I also got to spend a bunch of time with JoLee and her sister Paige who run the book blog Intellectual Recreation and who I have known for more years than I should admit publicly if I want to keep the belief going that I am 27. We roomed together, ate much food together, talked about curly hair together, and walked many blocks together.
I obviously didn’t have this post all mapped out because we took zero selfies together. Bad blogger.
BEA is in many ways more work than a blogger conference, but it’s also less. I got home and went out a few minutes later (even though my feet were so sore by this point that I just started pretending they weren’t there). Blogger conferences usually take me a few days to recover from the forced extroversion. But BEA lets you be as much of a hermit as you’d like, though you’re still surrounded by people. It’s not a place where people are chatty and constantly introducing themselves, although plenty of conversations happen. It’s not a place where you’re afraid to ditch your friends and go wait in a line by yourself that no one else wants to wait in. And happily, for many of us, we have no qualms about our book choices.
I went home with this
And I really don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed or like I can’t tell people. I’m really excited to read it.
People walked around with high fantasy, YA, indie books, etc. Just people who love reading and that’s that. Also people who love tote bags. Because so many tote bags.
Next year BEA will be in Chicago and I will definitely be there. It’ll be an adventure to leave the Javits, but I’m really hopeful that there will be better food and maybe, just maybe, less walking. A girl can dream.