BEA Is Almost Here

Josie Leavitt - May 31, 2012

I woke up yesterday and realized, finally, that BEA is in less than a week, and panicked a little. It’s the usual panic I feel before a trade show: will I be organized enough this year to really make the most of the show?
Right now that answer is a resounding “not so much”. I will be arriving in NYC on Sunday night so I’m ready for the ABA Day of Education on Monday morning. I looked at the sessions again, and am struck thinking this might not be the nuts and bolts that I need. The first session, “Why Indies Matter,” seems a bit like preaching to the choir. We know why matter, we just need for all the online shoppers to know and start making purchasing changes. Although, honestly, I’d go to hear Richard Russo read the phone book, so I’ll be happy.
The next thing on Monday is “Putting the Sell in Bookselling,” which promises to be a galvanizing session. Nothing’s more fun than hearing good booksellers talk passionately about what they love. The roundtables, which follow, also should be equally fun. I am always amazed at so many great things booksellers are doing all over the country. The roundtables are the epitome of the collaborative spirit: everyone happily shares some of their best ideas so that other stores can make them their own and have a great event.
Tuesday is the first day the show floor is open. So, I’ll walk the floor from aisle to aisle, taking my time where I need to and speed up when I know it’s time to move on. I walk the trade show floor a lot like I shop: I scan, assess and then go to where I’m intrigued. This cuts down the time considerably. I am very eager to see if there will actually books in certain publishers’ booths. Last year Simon & Schuster and Harper most notably had few if any books in their booths. I found this very disturbing. I know drayage charges are expensive, but it’s called Book Expo, not Catalog Blow Up Expo. Have fewer buttons and let me actually look at, and hold, books.
Wednesday is the ABC Children’s Institute. I have wondered about the timing of this. It seems to me to be an effective way to keep a couple hundred people off the show floor. Why couldn’t this run parallel to the ABA Day of Education? The day looks so promising and I know half the people (myself including) going to the Institute will be running back and forth to the show floor for meetings or to actually place orders for books. To miss an entire day on the show floor is unrealistic.I know the kids’ day has a wait list and that’s great, but I suspect folks might like the option of doing the show floor and having education, not choosing between the two.
The offerings look excellent with lots of sessions focusing on what’s been going well. I love the idea of Best Practices where other booksellers share what actually works. So often trade show programming can tend toward doom and gloom: how to renegotiate your lease, how to maximize what little you have, succession planning for when you can’t take it anymore, etc. But something that says: this worked and we made money; made community connections, etc., is very exciting and gets me writing down ideas as fast as I can.
Speed dating and the Author Tea are lovely perks. Here, you finally get to meet some of the people whose books you sell day in and day out. New authors can pique your interest in a way maybe their debut novel couldn’t. But know that you’ve met them and spoken with them,  and more importantly, heard their story, their books will stand out all the more. I’ll never forget hearing Watt Key read part of Alabama Moon at a lunch and he got choked up reading an emotional scene. He explained about his dad and more about the genesis of the book. When Cecilia Gallante, author of The Patron Saint of Butterflies, explained before she read that she was raised in a religious commune and the book was about finding and using your voice, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. This enrichment is what makes the trade show special for me.
Of course there’s the auction. Ah, the fun of bidding against people like Mo Williams and Brian Selznick and knowing very quickly that I’m overmatched, but I  keep bidding anyway. It’s fun, silly and all for a great cause. Every year I set a budget, and I must say, except for one very weak moment with Ruby and Max and SkippyJon Jones, I’ve been pretty good.
Do I have my floor plan mapped out? Do I know where all the ABA rooms are? No, but that’s not really the point. Serendipity is what can make BEA so great. That tiny table of sidelines that you know will totally work in your store, running into a long-lost bookselling colleague, having a great conversation with a publicist about something you love, etc. These are what makes BEA great for me. I’m planning on getting a lot of sleep before I leave and just having a ball.

3 thoughts on “BEA Is Almost Here

  1. Vicki Jaeger

    So jealous, Josie! I’m missing BEA this year, for the first time in about 20 years, so am planning on living vicariously through the PW bloggers. Have a blast!

  2. Marika McCoola

    I agree that it would be nice to have the ABC sessions on Monday. Having one less day to schedule meetings and see the floor makes it difficult!


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