Tips for BEA Newbies

Elizabeth Bluemle -- May 23rd, 2013

This year marks my 20th BEA or so (I started going back in 1989, when I was a whippersnapper in publishing, the show was called “ABA,” and it was held in venues other than the Javits Center). Though this undeniably makes me a veteran show-goer, I still find myself accumulating tips on how to make the most of the biggest book gathering of the bookselling and publishing year, and how to suffer least while doing it.

Some things I tend to forget every single year, such as:

  • Shoes that are perfectly comfortable for daily use at home will blister the heck out of my feet walking around the show floor and Manhattan. (This wasn’t an issue when I lived in NYC; I guess my feet and shoes were accustomed to all that concrete. But now I apparently have tender country toes that can’t withstand the hard surfaces.) WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I cannot emphasize this enough.
  • Bring business cards. Yes, this is a no-brainer — for everyone but me. Somehow, it’s always a scramble at the last minute to find and pack my cards — or get them printed at some Kinko’s in New York after I get there.
  • Linen is not a travel-friendly fabric. I find it irresistible, especially in the New York heat, but then I end up looking like a crumpled tissue by midday.
  • Pack light. And by this, I really mean, on the show floor. Nothing is worse than lugging 1500 lbs. of books and catalogs on one tilted shoulder all day long except not having enough time to chuck them at the hotel before your evening cocktail party. There are places to check bags, but the lines are maddening, so I try to avoid them.

Some things I do tend to remember every year:

  • Set goals for your day. BEA is so big and so overwhelming that a little advance planning can go a long way. Figure out what you’re really using the show for: is it to see all the new fall books? make appointments with reps? meet authors and have books autographed? attend panels and seminars and book talks and discussions? place orders, taking advantage of show specials? discover new publishing houses? network with your peers? make new professional connections? (If you’re an aspiring author, read the special note below for more on this last.)
  • Don’t be greedy. The show is expensive for publishers, and they spend enormous amounts on the ARCs and freebies they give away. Gathering books you intend to read and share is wonderful. But there is something about the show that seems to unleash a certain glazed-eyed grabby frenzy among otherwise civilized people, so try not to be one of them. Sorry this sounds kind of preachy, but it’s a huge turn-off when people are stealing booth copies of books or grabbing heaps of items they will likely ignore once they get home.
  • There is a shipping center.
  • Less is more. Trying to do and see everything will end up making one weep, at least if you’re me, so try to be as zen as possible about the BEA experience. If you come away with one fabulous new discovery or connection, that is a good show. Two or three, and it’s a great one.

Special note: BEA is NOT a good place for aspiring authors to pitch their works to publishers. For one thing, the folks at the booths usually are from the publicity and marketing, not the editorial departments, so they aren’t the folks who would be reading your manuscript anyway. For another, the people in the booths are working at full capacity; their agenda is to sell books, make rights deals, support and promote their authors, and connect with booksellers and librarians and other customers. So they may be polite but frazzled if you approach them for other reasons. BEA IS a great place to see what’s being published, and by whom, so you get an even more refined sense of what houses might be right for your work. It’s also a great place to meet book people of all stripes and soak in the giddifying magic of being around ALL THOSE BOOKS and people who love them!

Other veteran BEA-goers out there: what are YOUR best tips for newbies?