"...there is more to BEA than free books."
“It’s great to finally meet you in person.”
This is something I heard all day at my first Book Expo America (BEA) in New York a couple of weeks ago. From tweeters to journalists, from bloggers to writers, I realized that this would be the only time all year that so many publishing personalities would get to chat in person.
Even though I spent most of my time manning the Book Country booth with my colleagues, I still got to put Twitter handles to faces. (No joke: many people had written their Twitter aliases on their conference badges.) And I still can’t stop laughing when I think about how many people – not
just publishing people but also general attendees – came by our booth to
say hi to my colleague Colleen Lindsay (who has quite the Twitter
following) and ask her about her cats.
This may sound a bit dramatic, but I really felt like I got to witness the publishing world unfold in front of my eyes – it was a bit intimidating but also quite the adventure. Keep in mind that at this point I had been on the job for about six weeks, so my first BEA was very different from that of the seasoned professional with years of convention experience. I, of course, filled up several bags of galleys, the signature move of any newbie BEA attendee. You grab for free books as if print was going out of style! (Wait a minute...)
But there is more to BEA than free books.
Writer Andrew Shaffer poses with his new book.
Writer Andrew Shaffer (@Andrew Shaffer), who had been cracking jokes on Twitter about Fifty Shades of Grey just a few weeks ago, gave me a copy of his upcoming parody, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. I met young adult novelists Elizabeth Norris (@Liz_Norris) and Dan Krokos (@DanKrokos) and hung out with Book Country member extraordinaire and urban fantasy debut author Michael Underwood (@MikeRUnderwood). I felt a little bit star struck among so much talent, I’ll admit.
On the very first day, I even got to attend an amazing panel about genre definitions and the crossover between science and mainstream fiction. It was fitting, too, as I know a slew of English majors who decided to major in English after reading sci-fi masterpieces such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984. Both represent a happy union of science and literary fiction.
We toasted Ray Bradbury with only the finest bourbon.
When the news of Ray Bradbury’s death broke the next day, it spread around the floor almost instantaneously. Our team decided to pull together an impromptu memorial toast in his honor. More than thirty Bradbury aficionados – authors, bloggers, agents, librarians and book lovers – responded to our Twitter shout-out, gathered around our small booth, and raised plastic cups to mourn the great writer. It was an emotional and memorable moment.
Book Country member Mike Underwood hanging out at our booth.
Of course, I couldn’t get through the whole conference without a few nitpicks. For one, I wish I had seen more engagement from exhibitors. When it was my turn to walk the floor, I found exhibitors polite and ready to answer questions, but reluctant to initiate a conversation. I’m not looking for carnival barkers, but it’s pretty easy for new attendees like me to get intimidated, or worse, just plain bored!
I know that it was the first time BEA opened its doors to the general public, but it seemed like organizers and most exhibitors were simply unprepared. On the “General Public Day,” there were hardly any special programming, panels or author signings. The free books were promotional advanced reader copies, with a later publication date, so the general attendees most likely had never heard of these titles before. I felt like there should have been a more serious effort to get the general public excited and entertained at an industry event like BEA. Whether it is about having more celebrity authors or selling discounted copies of recently published books, organizers and exhibitors need to find ways to better engage the general public, and not make them feel like publishing party crashers.
So what's my biggest takeaway from BEA this year? Engagement matters.
About Nevena Georgieva
Nevena Georgieva is a writer, reader, and pop culture buff. She can be bribed with chocolate most of the time. Follow her on Twitter @NevenaButton.