More BEA

by Alex

I think we’re not done talking about BEA (Book Expo America) yet.

I’ve been to a LOT of conferences, workshops, and conventions this year and it’s my impression that the two most useful/important for debut authors are ALA (the American Library Association Conference) and BEA. I am happily accepting arguments to the contrary today because I think it would be an extremely valuable discussion to have here (I’m sure not for the first time!) – for all of us to talk about the conferences we think give authors the most bang for the buck.

Also, Toni and JT were both at BEA so I’d love to hear more of their impressions, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

BEA and ALA have a tremendous lot in common (well, I say this mostly because of their size and because they’re both trade shows.) These shows are huge. HUGE – I heard 30,000 attendees for BEA this year. Publishers and distributors set up corporate booths in rows of aisles and aisles and aisles and aisles across a massive convention hall (there were 4500 distinct booths in one hall alone, which gives you some idea), and booksellers and librarians and authors wander the aisles doing business, taking meetings and grabbing bagload after bagload of free books, ARCs and SWAG.

This was my second BEA – I signed ARCs of THE HARROWING last year, and this year I could sign actual books. I remember my first impression of BEA last year as total overwhelm – so many people you could barely get around in the aisles, so many booksellers and librarians to talk to, so many authors to meet. I wasn’t the only one with a completely glazed look in my eyes within an hour. And this year, the first day (Friday) was even more insane, as Toni and JT can attest. There was something seriously wrong with the air conditioning and the wall-to-wall people in each aisle turned the whole place into a tropical nightmare. Luckily I knew to layer and instantly stripped down to bare arms and sandals, but other people were really suffering and I think the next two days were much lighter than they would have been because so many people weren’t up for a repeat of Friday (plus, you know, all of New York was out there singing its siren song…)

But (atomospheric conditions aside) Book Expo America is self-billed as “The Premier Event Serving the Book Publishing Industry”. And this year Heather Graham told some new authors bluntly that BEA is the most important thing you can do all year for your career.

So what does a new author do there, exactly?

Well, first of all, if you’re lucky, your publisher takes you and you do signings in the publisher’s booth. Not every debut author gets to go – not by a long shot. For one thing, BEA is mostly to introduce the fall line of books, so if you’re coming out in a different season, you’re not necessarily going to be on the list.

But that’s not the only way to do signings and appearances at BEA. JT said yesterday how essential it is to join an authors’ group, and I’d like to second that in spades. One of the greatest things that Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America do for their authors is sponsor booths at BEA and ALA (and PLA, the Public Library Association conference, held every other year). You can sign up to sign (you or your publisher have to provide the books, which are given away – there’s no selling on the convention floor). You can also in some cases volunteer to staff the booth, which is a fabulous way to meet hundreds of librarians and booksellers. These book professionals know and love Sisters in Crime and MWA and RWA and go out of their way to find these booths and see what’s new in the genre.

I’m new to RWA and didn’t do a signing there this time, but Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America made me and all of their other author charges feel completely at home and looked after. Sisters in Crime runs an always-hopping booth that acts like a combination lounge and oasis for members and dazed convention-goers alike.

The MWA booth is as organized and professional as it is inviting, thanks to the amazing Margery Flax, Executive Director, without whom the organization would collapse within a half hour.

These booths are home base – I could venture out into the fray, journey the miles of booths and always find safe haven back with SinC and MWA.

And this year, I have to say, the Harlequin booth (booth doesn’t really begin to describe it – it was more like a posh club) was another haven. I know so many HQ/Mira authors now that it was a great place to stop by and find friends and actual chairs when my legs were giving out.

THE PRICE isn’t out until January, so this year I signed THE HARROWING in two different sessions, with Sisters in Crime and MWA, and the rest of the time I just wandered the floor, meeting and chatting with literally hundreds of great booksellers and librarians and reviewers (I’m starting to recognize a lot of people now, booksellers I’ve done signings for, librarians I’ve met at other conferences, reviewers who have been very supportive – it’s really fun.) I had meetings with my agent, with various people from St. Martin’s – you do a tremendous amount of business in those three days. And then of course there are the parties afterward (thank you, Harlequin!!).

BEA is huge, but it’s essentially like any other conference in terms of working it – all you have to do is relax and walk around and just run into the people you need to run into. Really, it works. Reviewers, booksellers, your publishers, extraordinary friends you haven’t seen in ten years – they’re all there in a very contained space and you will drift into them if you just go with the flow.

In the end you have dozens and dozens of buyers reading your books. You get dozens of requests for bookstore and festival appearances and can get a much clearer picture of where you want to tour, and in what order. You make new friends, and get reunited with very dear old ones. And let’s not forget the SWAG. Remember – no selling on the floor – it’s all giveaways!.

It’s crazy, but I really think, bottom line, it’s invaluable and unmissable.

Now – others? Can we get some more impressions of BEA? And what are the unmissable conferences for you?

7 thoughts on “More BEA

  1. Naomi

    Alex–

    Thanks so much for this report. In mystery circles (at least in listservs and blogs), no one really talks much about Book Expo and ALA–perhaps because they are trade events and not consumer-oriented conferences.

    If you go on your own, how much is it? And even if you’re not officially sent by your publisher, it’s worth it–at least that’s what I gather from your post.

    How about the ALA? How is it similiar and how is it different?

    Reply
  2. Alex Sokoloff

    Naomi, I think BEA was around $250 for a three-day pass – that was the early bird rate. A one day pass was either $100 or $145 (maybe $145 day of).

    Sorry to be vague but I couldn’t find the info on the site just now.

    Yes, it’s definitely worth going whether or not you’re official. You could always sign with SinC and MWA and you just meet SO many people.

    ALA looks exactly the same. The panels are geared to librarians but a lot of the same people go to both – publishers have wised up that librarians are one of their biggest markets and they are bending over backwards to get out the ARCs and perks. ALA feels more casual and friendly, though – maybe it’s just that I love librarians. And the parties are knockouts at ALA, I swear! Librarians put authors to shame on the party front.

    Reply
  3. JT Ellison

    If you’re a member of the Author’s Guild, there’s a nice discount on these conferences. It’s well worth looking into, I know of a couple of people who went that route.

    As far as the contacts, I think I need to do an entire blog on this. I’ve now been to two major events, Thrillerfest in Phoenix and BEA. I’ve met so many industry people, plus my publisher, editor, agent, etc. There’s just no substitute for meeting someone face to face.

    It’s an investment in yourself and your career. It’s tax deductible. It’s worth it.

    Reply
  4. pari

    Thank you so much for this report, Alex. I’ve heard people talk about these conventions so much before and didn’t have any idea how to approach them. These both sound like must-sees/gos.

    Since my publisher is unlikely to ever attend either one of these, it’s important for me to find ways to do it myself. I’d be even happier if I knew that there’d be friends there.

    Does anyone know when these are occuring next year?

    As to other must-go conventions, I don’t know. I’ve been to several within in the mystery community; I’ll always go to Malice and LCC (if I can) — but I don’t know of others that will vastly advance careers. For slow builds, there are many that are great, but none of the size or diversity of what you’ve described.

    Reply
  5. toni mcgee causey

    I found BEA terrific for the short time I had there; I was able to reconnect with a number of people I’d been talking to over the last year from the publisher’s, but also a ton of friends. I missed several opportunities to join in some great gigs (like MWA and SIC) because I hadn’t known I was going ’til about a week ahead of time, so next year, I’ll plan ahead. Mostly, the benefit to me was to see how that end of the business worked and how books were promoted there–that was fairly eye-opening.

    Plus, all of the free books I lugged home are now calling my name. It’s like being a kid in a candy store.

    Reply

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