Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Adventures at My First BEA

For years, I've been hearing authors talk about the BEA. What is it, you ask?--the same way I did the first time I heard those letters. BEA stands for Book Expo America, but what it means is that every publisher in America, and many from around the world, get together in a huge warehouse like convention center, set up booths and give away (free) lots of copies of their soon-to-be-published books to booksellers and librarians from every city and hamlet in the country.
Originally, I thought I would get to sign my new book. But about a month before, my publisher (Running Press) said they weren't going to get them in time so that was out. But I went anyway and I'm so glad I did. Talk about feeling like a kid with free rein in a candy store!
We (Kathy Carmichael met me there) arrived on Thursday afternoon and ran down (Washington DC Convention Center) to check things out. Everyone (publishers, distributers, writers organizations, people selling ad space and book related promotional items) was putting together their booths and big fork lifts were driving around, delivering pallets of books and tables and who knows what else to everyones' booths. It looked like a huge construction zone. And it looked like a challenge, just getting everything to the appropriate people and places. (At the RWA booth, Allison and Nicole were tracking down their boxes and hoping the people in the know would find and deliver them in time for them to get things put together.) We wandered for a little while, kind of getting our bearings, but didn't stay long since it looked like a dangerous place to just hang out.
We took the Metro back to our hotel and got ready for dinner with a fun group of RWA board members Kathy served with while she was on the board, and Robin, daughter of a friend and a buyer for Ingrams and Beau, her cutie husband. Besides a lot of talk about our various pets, we compared notes on who and what we were going to see and which books we were on the hunt for. As a buyer for Ingrams, Robin was invited to a special showing/movie preview of "The Da Vinci Code." (I think that was sponsored by Warner Books.) I swear, it was the last time we got to sit down for the next two days.
Bright and early the next morning, we headed back to the convention center. (You can't imagine how big this thing is until you try to picture this: both the C-Span and Ellora's Cave had huge buses as their booths and they didn't stand out more than anyone else's booths.) Everything was lined up like a little city with the rows numbered like addresses. (There were huge banners with the 'row' numbers--and advertisements from some of the bigger publisher beneath them--hanging high from the ceiling so that if you knew what you were looking for, you could actually find things. I'd found the Perseus/Running Press address the night before so I was off to the 4300 block. (We'd decided the day before that if we needed a place to meet up during our time there, we'd meet at the corner of Ingrams and RWA, or beneath the 800 row banner.) I found the 4300 block (started seeing the big Perseus sign long before I got there) and expected to have to hang around, reading names tags to find my editor and publicist since I hadn't met either of them before. The first name tag I read was Seta, my publicist. And she must have read my name tag about the time I read hers because she greeted me with a big, "Alfie" and then grabbed a book and handed it to me. "Guess what I have!" It was my book and I will never get over that thrill of holding one of my books in my hot little hands. (No, I didn't feel *like a virgin*, JoAnn. It always feels like a miracle to me and I want to sing the Hallelujah Chorus--and I'd much rather have that running through my head.)
It was a 'bindery run' copy, she said--whatever that is. I assume that's the same thing as an arc, but having never gotten an ARC before (Advanced Reading Copy), I don't know.
Seta seemed surprised that I was so excited. I told her that I was always that excited and the only thing different this time was that I wasn't going to have a chance to sit down and read it immediately, the way I usually do. (Usually, everything stops while I do that but in this case...)
She had to go back to work at that point; they were doing a signing with one of their authors and returned her attention to helping him. *He* was Joseph C. Phillips, the super-hunky actor who was Lisa Bonet's husband on The Cosby Show, among other things. His book is *he talk like a white boy, Reflections on Faith, Family, Politics and Authenticity* and I immediately got in line and got my own signed copy. (Yay! My very first book from the candy store. Can't wait to read it.) When Seta had another chance, I found that my editor, Lisa Clancy wasn't around yet so I said I would check back until I caught her and went my merry way.
Kathy and I met up again and when we turned our first corner, ran smack into a couple of sweet young things, handing out copies of Debbie Macomber and Emilie Richards' new books. They invited us into the Harlequin booth to have them autographed. So we met and greeted several authors, booksellers and editors we knew, caught up with bits of news while we waited in line. (Harlequin had a terrific bookbag they were giving out, thank goodness. I hadn't brought one and it looked like I was going to need one badly!)
After some more wandering, taking books people were handing us, seeing the sights, we met up with Diana Peterfreund for lunch. Diana got a lot of publicity when her first book was bought and it, *Secret Society Girl* will coming out in June. Besides having a wonderful lunch and interesting conversation, I got the feeling that Diana was a great example of an author publisher's expect to be BIG. She was scheduled to sign ARCs on Sunday so unfortunately, Kathy and I missed that since we left on Saturday evening. (See pictures of her signing at her blog. The pictures also give you a feel for what/how the various booths looked.)
That was an interesting aspect of BEA. Big name authors (and celebrities) were there signing, but there were lots of other authors, too. Some--like Diana--you got the feeling the publishers were putting the 'push' behind and expecting them to be big someday. Others, you got the feeling that their publishers wanted to use to draw people into their booths to promote their wide range of books, in general. (I'm not sure if that distinction makes sense, but there was a difference.)
After lunch, I went back to Running Press and--yippee--finally got to meet my editor. She was as wonderful and smart in person as she's been not in person. As usual, she wasn't at all the person I'd pictured in my mind. (She was younger, as usual. For someone who's worked in publishing for as long as she has, she was much younger.)
I met Kathy and Diana back at the hotel later. And then, after we'd hung out in the concierge lounge for awhile, I went to bed, exhausted. (My feet were killing me, my knees were killing me, my ankles were killing me--anywhere I had a joint was killing me; I actually had the beginnings of a blister on my *shoulder* from carrying that ever growing lug of books around all day. Did I mention that there seemed to be nowhere just to sit for a second, anywhere?)
The second day--we had until 3 in the afternoon until we had to head to the airport--was the day the first should have been. We got there early enough to figure out where the "traditional autographings" were. They had thirty long tables set up in a row upstairs--think RWA literacy signing--where every thirty minutes for some, an hour for others, the authors changed. I don't know but think publishers probably had to pay for those spots at the tables. They had arranged long aisles to each of the tables, leading both to and away from the authors. The Celebrity and BIGNAME authors had huge long lines. For some authors, Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson, Debbie Macomber, etc., you had to arrive at 7:30 in the morning to get *tickets* for their lines. I didn't stand in any long lines. There were too many books to choose from to waste time that way. (Not that I would consider any of you *famous* folks a waste of time, mind you...I'll just catch you another time.) The other thing Kathy and I discovered was a shipping area where you just went in, got a box and put your name and badge number on it, and dumped your books into it. When it was time to leave, you just went in, filled out a form and they closed it up for you and shipped it home to you. (We need that at RWA, btw.)
While we were hanging out the evening before, I went through the whole BEA schedule and highlighted the books/authors/booths I really wanted to see. Then I made a long list, in "address" order and by time so that when we got there that morning, we started at the low numbers and worked our way steadily to/through the places we wanted to be. (I only got through half my list, boohoo.)
I didn't manage to find where they were doing the workshop-like "sessions" they called Special Events. (I suspect they were down the hall from the place where they were doing the traditional autographings.) When I first looked at the schedule, I pictured myself going to at least a few of those. (Come to think of it, it would have been a chance to sit down.) There were things like Beyond the Code: Building the new Fact-filled Genre; Editor and Bookseller Buzz Forum Celebrating Five Years Featuring the Impassioned Voices of Editors; and Book Industry Trends 2006.
Outside the two block square convention center, several small cars--I saw three at once but don't know exactly how many there were--painted and decorated with Google stuff, continually circled the block with signs that said "free transportation for BEA attendees." They were never around when I was actually going somewhere. At the front of the building, six buses ran shuttles every fifteen minutes between area hotels.
Every time I slowed down for more than 60 seconds to catch my breath, I met someone interesting and (possibly) advantageous to my career. (Librarians, booksellers, book buyers for a couple of large chains, etc. One of the librarians asked if I'd come to an upcoming book fair in her city. We exchanged email addresses. We'll see what happens with that.)
All in all, I'd go again in a heartbeat. Only this time I would be wiser and have my plans set and mapped out before I ever left home. Going as a big name author might be a bit of a strain, simply because I suspect your publisher would have your dance card filled with places you had to be and things you had to do. And you'd probably have to fight off fans--these are mostly booksellers remember--recognizing you. Wouldn't likely be conducive to relaxing and enjoying. But going as one of the crowd? Priceless! Sign me up for next year.

P.S. Got my box of books this afternoon. Yay!

1 comment:

Colleen Thompson said...

Congratulations on getting your book! Can't wait to get my copy!

Thanks for filling us in on the BEA experience. It sounds daunting and exhausting and wonderful!