By David Nilsen
As described here, here, and here, I attended and survived Book Expo America last week. So what are my thoughts about the big show? I’ve been trying to figure that out over the weekend while my body has recovered from the experience.
Overall, I enjoyed myself. Here were some of my favorite things about BEA:
- It was really cool to see the passion (and money) these publishers put into their work. Book publishing is alive and well.
- It was great getting to talk to the reps from some of the smaller presses at the show, like Graywolf, Coach House, She Writes, Akashic, Talonbooks, and University of Georgia Press. These were the booths I was most excited about before the show, and talking to these reps and hearing their excitement for the books coming out of their publishing houses was wonderful.
- Freebies! I came home with books, stickers, tote bags, and other fun stuff. My single favorite is a book of matches from Out of Print Clothing featuring the book cover for the (I think) Lithuanian edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. This is one of my favorite books, and I’ve had Out of Print’s matchbooks of the English version for a while, but these are a whole new level of cool. I grabbed one each day, which was probably against the rules.
- Without a strong incentive, I don’t approach strangers for conversation. The anxiety is too much. I’m mostly at peace with this about myself, but sometimes I am aware I am missing out on the chance to meet cool people. Having the common ground of books to talk about (and, let’s be honest, the chance for free ones) took the edge off this just enough most of the time to get me to start conversations (or allow them to be started with me). A rep from Graywolf and I had a fun session of gushing about their poetry offerings past and future, I had a great conversation with the endearingly awkward rep from Talonbooks, and I learned more about the cool publication model She Writes. I got a temporary tattoo at Litographs, got a tarot reading at U.S. Games, and relived the glory of Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Here were my least favorite things about BEA:
- The opening day Bloggers Conference was a total waste of time. The keynote speaker was irritating as hell, and the breakouts were poorly prepared and facilitated and largely uninformative. I can’t imagine anyone came out of this with much to help them in their blogging, though I’m sure the more enterprising attendees made some new friends.
- As cool as BEA is, it definitely represents the corporate side of publishing. Since my tastes skew heavily to the independent side of publishing, most of the new books being pimped were not really up my alley. It was still really cool, and I did find out about some cool upcoming titles, but I think an expo focusing more on independent publishing, such as AWP, would fit my interests more. So now I just need to get GPL to send me to AWP.
- This show, like any large industry expo, is gigantic and therefore exhausting. I planned well, wore comfortable shoes, carried a comfortable and durable backpack, and carried water and snacks, but I was still wiped out by the end of every day.
- Large publishers transact a lot of business at BEA. People who handle acquisitions for large bookstores and libraries attend BEA to work with publishers, and the booths for larger publishers have tables where meetings between well-dressed people are constantly taking place. This is perfectly fine, but if you aren’t there to transact such business on the spot, it can make some of these booths feel closed off.
I have attended Book Expo America, and I had a good time. It was cool to see how the publishing industry’s largest annual event works. I think in the future, an event focused more on my areas of interest in the book world would be a better fit, but I’m glad I went. I survived #BEA16 and lived to tell about it.