Yesterday I did something I’ve wanted to do for years: I went to Book Expo America, also known as BEA. I’ve wanted to go ever since reading Isaac Asimov’s mysteryMurder at the ABA, which is what BEA used to be called. Every year I read coverage of ABA, then BEA, in Publisher’s Weekly and Locus and Publisher’s Lunch and I just wanted to see it for myself. So yesterday I got up in the wee hours, and few to New York for the day to attend.
Of course, I have been to NEBA/NEIBA and NAIBA both regional variations on the them, so I figured I was ready. Besides, I knew it that this year’s edition the big show it has been in year’s past, where I’d read about photo ops with half-clad cover models like Fabio, and free-range celebrities, and stacks of free books and galleys. It couldn’t be that big.
Ha! As soon as I stepped inside the door, I was overwhelmed by the size and scope of the event. It’s HUGE. If it had been at full strength, I’d probably have hyperventilated and been found sitting in a corner somewhere, breathing into one of those really nifty tote bags Harlequin was handing out.
I made my way to the Mystery Writers of America booth, ruled over by the freakishly capable executive Margery Flax. I don’t know Margery’s official title–let us just say that she keeps the MWA running. She had done most of the organizing for MWA’s presence at BEA, including setting up the signing schedule. I wasn’t due to sign for several more hours, so I dropped of my stuff, and went to wander.
I would like to say that I worked the crowds, made important professional connections, and ensured higher sales for my books. But mostly I rubbernecked, and checked out upcoming releases from authors I read, got books signed, and just had a good time. (I did meet up with wonder agents Joshua Bilmes, of the JABberwocky Literary Agency, and Janet Reid, of Fine Print, plus the always charming Mary Smith of Thorndike Books, but since I already knew them, I don’t think that counts.) Some high points:
- Having my hand shaken by the Amazing Kreskin, there to sign his memoir.
- Getting the comic version of the Wizard of Oz signed by Eric Shanower.
- Chatting all-too-briefly with fellow mystery writers Karen Olson, Meredith Cole, Mary Jane Maffini, Alexandra Sokoloff, Heather Graham, Tim Maleeny, J.T. Ellison, Reed Farel Coleman, Frankie Bailey, Ken Isaacson, and Hank Philippi Ryan. Plus others I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
- Meeting a couple of really nice librarians in a signing line, one of whom commented on how nice it was to be at a place where everybody had the common bond of loving books. (Except maybe the two feather bedecked Samba dancers–there to promote something, no doubt, but heck if I know what.)
- Getting a “Don’t Panic” bar towel promoting the new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book.
- Meeting a costumed Olivia from the childrens’ book series. I love those books, and I love that pig.
- For overall weirdness, seeing a trio of storm troopers from Star Wars walk by.
At 1:30, I went to do the one thing I was officially there for: sign and hand out copies of The Curse of the Kissing Cousins. Berkley Prime Crime had generously supplied two boxes for me to give out, and I was inordinately pleased that they were all given away. We MWA members accidentally benefited from the show being less swag-heavy. Since people weren’t having nearly so many free books and ARCs thrust at them, they were delighted to get our books. According to Margery, every singe one of our authors handed out every single one of their books. (Giving away books may not sound all that remarkable, but I got dragooned three times yesterday to accept a signed book from somebody who was having trouble finding takers.)
On a purely personal level, many of the people I gave books to weren’t familiar with my stuff. Okay, bad for the ego, but good because I’ve now reached nearly fifty new readers, and they’re the kind of readers who share their knowledge. People liked the pirate rubber ducks I was giving away, too. (They were in honor “Skull and Cross-Examinations,” my Anthony Award nominee for Best Short Story.)
There was time after my signing shift for one final spin through the exhibit halls before I caught a cab back to LaGuardia, and a plane back to Boston. I was so tired I fell asleep during the safety announcement on board the plane.
So having been at the center of the book business today, I feel as if I should have wisdom and/or knowledge to impart, other than the aforementioned, “It was HUGE.”
- The big publishers are indeed watching their pennies. This was obvious in the more modest amounts of swag, and the publishers who didn’t have a booth at all.
- The big publishers are still doing lots of business. The booths for the big guys, including my publisher Penguin, stayed busy, and they were doing business. Ditto for all the big guys, really. Harlequin and American Girl, particularly, were extremely popular.
- The small publishers are also watching their pennies, but there was such an wonderful variety of small presses and niche publishers.
- Writers are working hard to sell their own books, too. In addition to the MWA, the Horror Writers of America and Romance Writers of America had booths to promote their members. In fact, writers were everywhere: at the main signing area, giving out books at booths, speaking at the various stages, and just networking. (Or, if they’re like me, rubbernecking.)
- The times are changing. There were a lot of e-media and bloggers around, plus the Espresso machine demonstrations to show how bookstores can pop out books in minutes.
- Some things never change. When push came to shove, what the booksellers wanted were galleys and books and catalogs. Okay, and tote bags to put all that stuff in. Books are still the name of the game at BEA.
- It was HUGE. Not just the show, mind you, but the book industry. Publishers, booksellers, book packagers, book scouts, librarians, authors, editors, agents, cover illustrators, designers, publicists, marketing people, comic book artists, printers, typesetters, bloggers, reviewers, content providers… All people who somehow help provide books and stories to the world. It makes me humble to been a cog in the machinery of it all, and proud to be a part of it.
So boiled down, was it worth it? I mean, I’m sure I missed opportunities, and I know I didn’t come close to seeing the whole show, and I think I misspelled at least one of the names on the books I signed. I came home footsore, and even without staying overnight, it was an expensive trip.
And I can’t wait to go again.