Tips for BEA Newbies

Elizabeth Bluemle - May 23, 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?

8 thoughts on “Tips for BEA Newbies

  1. Francine Lucidon

    Elizabeth, I still recall asking you a question at one of my first BEA experiences. You pulled out the most organized notebook and quoted times and room numbers as if you were running the whole show. I think of you every time I’m doing my last minute planning and vow to be more organized! Thanks for the tips.

  2. Deb Leonard

    Amen to the comfortable shoes! The Yoga pose “Legs Up the Wall’ in your hotel room helps, too. I wish people would listen to your advice about the grab-fest. Last year I was in an author event, when one woman announced that she had already shipped 30 boxes home (this was the 2nd day!) because her library’s funding had been cut.

  3. Karen Corvello

    Amen to business cards. Or, bring some bookmarks from your store (should have your contact info), write your name on it, and ask the publishers to mail you galleys. This is assuming you aren’t being greedy and are only taking things you will actually read. And ask before grabbing (galleys, that is).
    Another trick that worked: instead of lugging the entire catalog home if I only wanted to remember a few of the books, I would tear out those pages and ditch/recycle the rest of the catalog right at the Javits.
    And have fun!

  4. Ellie Miller

    As a bookseller, my first ABA was 1988 which I spent in a total daze, utterly overwhelmed by the sheer size of it. By the 1989 one in Washington DC, I was READY! I grabbed the Pub Wkly ABA edition the minute it hit the store…invaluable! Who will be where when and with what! I had my ‘cheat sheet’ organized by booth number so I could hit the floor running. Tips? Register as early as possible (preferably the night before) to receive all convention handouts (floor maps – autographing session: who and when – booth numbers and the like). Call room service and spend that evening organizing. Be aware that lines will be LONG for ‘name’ authors. Get there early and allow plenty of time if there’s someone you MUST have! I haven’t been able to go in some years, but if a checkroom IS available: go there FIRST and check an empty carton with a luggage cart (if you have one). When your shoulder tote(s) gets overloaded, stop back and disgorge. COMFORTABLE SHOES! COMFORTABLE SHOES! Candy bars or other quick energy snacks are a good substitute for overpriced food and long, time-wasting lines.

  5. Carol Chittenden

    Share cabs. You meet wonderful book people that way.
    Place your orders before or after the show. Paper gets lost in booths.
    Take along a sheet of your credit information so you don’t waste time filling in someone else’s form.
    Try to find one new vendor that you’ve never seen before whose products will work in your store.
    Skip over the Big Titles that will come to you via Big Publicity.
    Concentrate on the tiny jewels you won’t see otherwise.
    Make a plan for walking the floor so you don’t waste time backtracking. Distances are long.
    Get phone numbers for restaurants with bicycle delivery so you can order out good food at a reasonable price.
    Take along a poster tube and rubber bands just in case.
    Find a badge holder that can carry your money, credit cards, business cards, pen, room key, and event tickets as well as your badge, so you’re not hauling along a pocketbook, and so you know the important stuff is secure and with you.
    Find quiet spots where you can give your ears a rest.
    Hug your friends and stop for lemonade before you hit the wall.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle Post author

      Holy cow, Chitts! I feel like cutting and pasting your comments, Ellie’s, Karen’s, and Deb’s into the main body of my post. Thanks, all of you! And thanks for the kind words, Francine and Suzzy. If any of you are heading to BEA this year, have fun! And, um, wear comfy shoes….

  6. SuzzyPC

    Elizabeth, I hope publishers are reading this as well. They’ll appreciate your good words.
    Have a wonderful & productive time – all of you!

  7. Alison

    These are all great suggestions. I would add – try to intersperse some of the interesting panels with your floor time. This gives you a chance to sit down, regroup, and think about books!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *