Last year I took the plunge and booked a flight and went to BEA. I was nervous, not sure what to expect, and feeling sort of like an impostor in someone else's club. But I went ahead and did it and I haven't regretted that decision for a moment. That trip was worth its weight in gold. If you love books and, more importantly, you love talking about the books you love with other book lovers, and you are dedicated to spreading the word on good books, then Book Expo America is the place for you. Yes, there are tons of ARCs being handed out for free. And, yes, there are scads of wonderful authors signing those ARCs. But, as mind-blowingly lovely as those two things are, they're not the main reason to go. The main reason is those connections you make when you're standing on line and you strike up a conversation with the people next to you and you exchange recommendations and contact information and you know that, even though you're total strangers and you may live in states thousands of miles apart, you're on the same level. You speak the same language. And that language is books.
This year there's the added draw of the Book Blogger Convention being held the day after BEA ends (May 28th) right there in the Javits Center.
The convention organizers have put together a stellar agenda filled with blogger-led panels on topics ranging from writing and building content to professionalism and ethics in blogging to the relationship between blogger and author. Publishing industry professionals and authors will be attending as well. As for me, I've already registered and am so excited to meet so many of my blog friends there and take part in such a timely and important discussion.
Thinking back on my experience I put together a few of the most important things to keep in mind when attending your first BEA. All the other fabulous blog tour participants have gone over these things as well, but in case you haven't read one yet or are looking for a reminder:
1. Go to the Javits Center the day before, if possible, to pick up your badge and get the lay of the land
This was a huge benefit to me. I went in the day before the crush hit and was able to quietly pick up my badge and admire it without looking like too much of an idiot. I also wandered the floors just a bit to get an idea of where I wanted to be and when.
2. Make a schedule
Come April, the BEA website will update with the vast and complicated schedule of which authors will be signing and the number of the line they'll be in. Some will be signing in-booth, some in the bank of lines downstairs. If you do nothing else before arriving, make sure you print out this schedule and highlight the ones you absolutely don't want to miss. Then put together your own list or spreadsheet to help map and plan out your time. In some cases authors will be ticketed and there will be detailed information on where and how to get tickets.
3. Be prepared to make the impossible choice between two excellent authors/events/panels
You won't be able to get to them all. You might think you're going to attend a panel on YA Buzz Books and then, at the last minute, end up haring off to another floor to meet Neil Gaiman and have him accidentally (but so awesomely) sign your hand. Be prepared to make that call in a split second if needs be.
4. Save up your appetite for dinner
Take a granola bar or a banana, some gum, and a bottle of water or caffeinated beverage (particularly if you got up at the crack of dawn to get one of a limited number of ARCs of the latest Hunger Games book) to last you the day. If you're like me, you won't want to take the time to leave the center to get lunch. There is food available in house but it's fairly expensive and, compared with what wonderful food is available in NYC, not worth it. Save up for the evening and then go out with some friends for some real food. Make sure you make some time to get out and explore the city as well. I highly recommend a stop at the classic children's bookstore Books of Wonder.
5. Relax and enjoy the awesome.
Don't be afraid to approach other attendees and introduce yourself or, when appropriate, tell them you love them. Lol. There is still nothing like the feeling I had when the first person came up to me out of nowhere to tell me they loved my blog. Seriously, that's as close to rock star as I'll ever get. And the wonderful thing is I got the chance many times over to do the very same thing. When you meet an author who's been sitting there signing books for an hour or more, have your question or comment ready. Don't take up too much of their time, but be sure to let them know how you feel about their work and how grateful you are to have the opportunity to meet them and read their new book. When you're sitting in line, strike up a conversation with the people next to you. I'm still in touch with those librarians and booksellers I met those three days last year and I absolutely treasure those connections.