BEA 2011: Basically Extremely Awesome

If you live in New York and you pay attention to the publishing industry now is the time when you start hearing a lot about Book Expo America (BEA for short) on blogs and twitter and what not. This year, on May 24 in fact, it was also something my good friend The Book Bandit and I decided to attempt.

You have to register (and pay, of course) to attend BEA but we decided it was worth it because it’s something we’d both been wanting to investigate. As book bloggers it also seemed like a great way to get books and network and generally see what’s what. If we managed to get 5 arcs the list price of those books would cover the cost of admission. What was there to lose?

With our day passes in hand we arrived at the Javits Center a little after 8 with time to scout and prep before the exhibit floor opened. If you haven’t seen it before let me just take a moment to say the Javits Center is ENORMOUS and the exhibit floor was a maze. Even being there for a full eight hours we had a hard time navigating certain areas. (I don’t think it was just us.)

The day did not start auspiciously when we encountered a mob at the Bloomsbury booth where we were trapped in the unenviable position smack in the middle of the ARCs they had for attendees and the attendees who were grabbing said ARCs. But after surviving that mob we figured we were game for anything.

The day wasn’t perfect. We grossly miscalculated with bags and discovered the magical bag check area too late to spare our sore shoulders, some publishers were missed entirely in the labrythn of the exhibit floor, some exhibitors acted like we were trying to steal when asking if they had X book. I don’t even want to think about how crowded the food court was.

BUT for two first-time attendees, I think we did pretty well and we met some really wonderful people. (I want to underscore how unfailingly nice ALL of the people I saw at the Scholastic, Disney Hyperion, and Houghton Mifflin booths were. Aside from being polite and smiling they answered all of my questions and were generally awesome. They all definitely set the gold standard for the day.)

We also met some amazing authors at the author signings. I’d like to think I shared a moment with Ally Carter, Kevin Henkes, and Marla Frazee when I saw them. Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Alexandra Bracken, Sarah Dessen, Melissa de la Cruz, Leigh Fallon and L. A. Weatherly were all charming. And I know I shared a moment with Lev Grossman but that moment was mainly him thinking I was a blathering idiot so we won’t dwell on that.

And, of course, books were gotten including Uncommon Criminals (which I am reading now and already love), Brightly Woven (so excited Bracken was there because this has been on my radar since the Cybils!), Kevin Henkes’ new novel, several debut author arcs and tons of other things that you WILL hear more about in due time, AND The Scorpio Races–Maggie Stiefvater’s forthcoming start to a new series (I’m honestly not even sure I’m supposed to tell you about that because it was so very cloak and dagger when I got the arc–it was intense). All told we more than covered the admission price with around thirty books (weighted some were worth even more since they were also signed and hardcover instead of ARCs).

Bizarrely the most harrowing experience wound up getting home. With no taxis in sight we wound up packed in a van driven by a gypsy cab driver with five other attendees as he wound his way through Manhattan to drop us all off. I won’t say more because, frankly, words will never do that van ride justice.

In the end it was a day that was at times intense and overwhelming but it was a lot of fun and I’m still so very glad The Book Bandit was able to experience it with me. Having one day at BEA under out belts we’re already planning for next year.

(Future plans include organizing more according to publisher booths instead of searching for specific authors/titles, carrying fewer totes and business cards–some are good but the amount I had was ridiculous–remembering the magical bag check, capitalizing on the autographing area, paying attention to the floor plan, and most importantly NOT eating in the food court at a peak time. Who knows? Next year we might even brave a ticketed signing!)