Saturday, May 29, 2010

A wonderful week for a book lover . . .

As you may know, this was the week not only for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, but also for BookExpo America. I attended both, and am very glad that I did.

I share Emily P. W. Murphy's take on the Indie Book Awards. The setting, the people--and the medals--made for a wonderful evening. It was well worth the round-trip bus ride into New York from eastern Pennsylvania to spend time with a roomful of winning authors, editors, publishers, and illustrators. It is a hackneyed saying that a writer's life is a solitary one. It is one reason many of us choose to be part of a writers group. And it is another reason that events, such as this awards ceremony, are so beneficial--giving us a chance to mix with the many talented people brought together for an evening. We exchanged cards, promotional materials, and congratulations, for everyone there had something to celebrate.

The next day, I went to BookExpo for my first-ever visit. After a three-hour drive into the city (rush hour adding at least an hour to the trip), three author friends (Emily P. W. Murphy, Sally Wyman Paradysz, and Ralph Hieb) and I arrived at the Jacob Javits Center in New York--a five-block long building with over 675,000 square feet of exhibit space. I've always been impressed with the architecture by I. M Pei, but until then, I had only seen it from the outside.

Once inside, the BEA folks had a beautifully efficient registration process. BEA issued online registrants a barcode. All we needed to do was print it out and bring it to the convention center, have it scanned, and pick up our nametags. Mine was labeled "Published Author," but I saw many that listed (for BEA) much more important roles in the industry: Librarian, Bookseller, Publisher, Literary Agent, Reviewer, etc. If I had harbored any illusions of importance after the Indie Award ceremony, they were dashed at BEA. While one might argue that without authors, the rest of these folks would be out of a job, the reverse is also true. Any authors who were not signing books to give away were definitely not the stars of this show.

No--the BEA is designed primarily for booksellers to connect with each other, learn about new trends, and discover new titles and services. Don't get me wrong--a lowly published author can still have a blast. I stood in line for autographed books--lots and lots of books. Among the four of us, we filled my trunk with loot!

There was a lot of energy in the room, and people were almost universally friendly. Book people. Gotta love 'em. And as the day went on I learned how to survive BEA.

The hard, convention center floors were covered with a thin carpeting. Since we spent nearly the entire day on our feet, either walking back and forth across the convention center or standing in line, my feet soon felt desperately in need of better shoes. And I'd worn my most comfortable walking shoes. Some exhibitors, such as the Spanish Language books area, had brought in very plush carpeting. It was wonderful to have the extra cushioning as the day went on, so even though I cannot read Spanish, I seemed to find many opportunities to walk slowly through that area.

Many places were clearly expecting to handle substantial orders from bookstore owners and librarians. They had set up tables and chairs for salespeople to help buyers pour through their catalogs. But, if there were no buyers around an empty table, even a published author was allowed to rest for a few moments. The kind salespeople even apologized when evicting us to make a sale.

Some exhibitors offered lunch in their sales areas--but only for book buyers. I couldn't blame them. There were other areas in the Expo where one could find food. But the day was hot and, despite air conditioning, the Expo floor was humid. So, I learned that the best place to go for refreshment was the lemon ice stand. (I hope they have it every year.)

There was a large corner of the exhibit floor dedicated to book signings. They set up half-hour or one-hour time slots for authors to sign free books for attendees. I was glad I'd done my homework, deciding which books I most wanted, before going to BEA. For the most popular authors (e.g. Sarah, Duchess of York, Jan Brett, Gary Trudeau, and many others) you needed to go very early and stand in line to get a ticket to be allowed to stand in line later for an autograph. It's Darwinian. And, living in Pennsylvania, I did not get there in time to get one of those coveted tickets. No matter. There were lots of interesting authors for whom no ticket was required.

During book signings, most authors took their time with each person, chatting, and making them feel special as they personalized each book. But the lines for autographs could be very long, and the time allotted for book signings was limited. If you didn't get to the line early enough, they could run out of books--or out of time--before you got to the author's table. So, I learned to prioritize. I chose the authors that were most important to me, and got in their lines first. If the line moved swiftly, I might still be able to get another book signed during the same period from an author with a shorter line. And even if the lines were too long, as for James Patterson and Rick Springfield, I had the pleasure of seeing them signing books.

I was especially happy to get books signed by Scott Turow, Len Berman, and the two Ghost Hunters: Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. Scott Turow and I talked about how many of us lawyers have gone into other pursuits while he signed my copy of Innocent. I told the Ghost Hunters they made me wish I had a haunted house just so I could call them in. (Grant said he did, too!) I asked Len Berman how many of my beloved Red Sox made it into his book, The Twenty-Five Greatest Baseball Players of All Time, due out in September. He said two: Cy Young and Ted Williams. (I reminded him that we could also claim the Babe!)

It was great fun, but as you accumulate those books, you need someplace to carry them. (No wonder you get more tired as the day goes on!) I found a backpack to be very useful, since the show rules forbade rolling suitcases. The old back started to ache, and it was a bit warm, but it was a very efficient way to get through the show. I didn't need to bring any canvas bags--although I had. Vendors gave them out all over the floor, in addition to the BEA bags available at the door.

While standing in line--which takes up about half your time at BEA--it was fun to talk to the others in line with me.  I was glad I carried the promotional materials for my most recent book--and my business card. You never knew who might be standing next to you.

I came home exhausted, but looking forward to going to BEA again. Perhaps one day I'll be signing books as well--who knows? Maybe I'll see you there!


  1. BookExpo America was definately worth the trip to NYC in ninety-degree heat, but driving in with Carol, Ralph, and Emily, made it fun. Having no idea that Carol was an experienced NYC driver, I was amazed at her ease of finding the perfect parking spot.
    Thanks for the memories!

  2. sounds great, sorry I missed it.