Saturday, June 15, 2013

BEA 2013, Day Three: Mission at the Exposition

The Book Blogger Convention was fun and interesting, but that was only the appetizer for the Big Show.

And Book Expo America is definitely a Big Show.

Thursday was the first official day of Book Expo America. The doors to the exposition floor opened at nine but excited people lined up in front of it long before then.

Inside, the exposition resembled an emergency shantytown built by creative but wildly impractical rich people. Walls of cardboard and plastic and wood and fabric divided the space into a complicated maze of stalls, booths, and pavilions. Believe me, no matter how tired you were, you could lean on nothing. No surface was trustworthy except for the ground - and even that was iffy. Depending on the financial solvency of the publisher operating on that particular square, the floor varied between concrete, astroturf, red carpet and deep shag.

Enormous signs, floating placards and even balloons (!) marked out the pavilions for the larger publishers, while the smaller ones had to make do with booths the approximate size and quality of a junior high science fair display.

Now, the first hour of the first day of Book Expo America can be fairly intense. The mental superiority that separates humans from animals wears especially thin at the prospect of Free Books - while most publishers spread giveaways and galley drops throughout the day, the highest concentration of Free Stuff is in the morning. I'm talking about literal piles of books, three to four feet high, with glossy covers and the future publication date printed in a bright ribbon on the spine.

When nine o'clock rolled around and the doors opened, you might have told yourself you'd be choosy. You might have planned to stroll casually into the area with your colour-coordinated Excel spreadsheet schedule and your printed map of the floor. You might have told yourself you weren't there for the books, but to calmly absorb the buzz and the information and the atmosphere.

But, let's face it, you didn't. At least I didn't. The glare of the florescent lights reflected in the posters for The Hottest Celebrity's Newest Vegan Cookbook combined with the smell of overpriced vending-machine coffee and the slap of my BEA badge against my chest triggered the predatory instinct in my brain and flooded it with adrenaline - for the thrill of the hunt, the spice of competition against my fellow bloggers, booksellers, and librarians. When those doors opened, I raced ahead with everyone else.

Sales reps handed out tote bags like cups of water to successful marathoners - while nervous assistants offered ARCs with outstretched fingers that retracted quickly, as if feeding starving predators who would just as gladly eat them instead. Flyers printed with the dates and times of galley drops flew off the shelves only to disappear and turn up wadded at the bottom of your fifth complimentary tote bag while you repacked your luggage back at the hotel. Business cards fluttered between hands. Publisher catalogues were snatched from displays in a frenzy of greed only to be covertly replaced once the attendees realized they weren't actually books.

The Hachette Pavilion served doughnuts. Several booths offered coffee. Pens. Candy. Lanyards. Bookmarks. Spencer Hill released a flock of Swag Fairies (for reals) wearing sparkly wings who distributed chocolates to the faithful. The pyramid-headed mascot of the For Dummies books wandered the aisles trying and failing to be Not Terrifying.

Yes, that first hour of Book Expo America is pretty much a real-life version of the Hunger Games - only everyone's a volunteer, nobody dies, and we're all going crazy over free stuff that has no actual market value yet.

Okay, so maybe we were more like the people who watched the Hunger Games and wore day-glow eyeshadow and threw up all the time so that we could eat more.

After that first hour, the feeding frenzy instinct died down and I resumed my intended schedule. This year, I intended to be a little more choosy about which books I grabbed and which lines were worth waiting in. Waiting in an enormous line for a book I was vaguely interested in by an author I'd never tried (Kendare Blake's Antigoddess)? Not worth it. Waiting in line for Alice Hoffman, one of my favourite authors of all time? Totally worth it. She has seriously written so many novels that I've loved - including two I would smuggle onto a desert island (The Ice Queen and The Probable Future), so it was such an honour to be able to meet her and abandon all motor function that didn't involve saying the most cliched of fan phrases, "I love your books."

For the rest of the day, I attended some more signings (Brandon Sanderson's Rithmatist, David Levithan and Andrea Cremer for Invisibility) and explored the different booths and publishers. Book Expo is exceptionally good at reminding you of all you take for granted about the publishing industry. Most people tend to think about it in regards to fiction or narrative non-fiction - but there are religious publishers, educational publishers, cookbook publishers, travel guide publishers, art book publishers, comedy publishers. The Bathroom Reader guys had a booth. Reader's Digest had a booth. There are so many types of books that we just forget about - but they all have publishers and editors and sales people.

The crowning moment of Thursday - aside from meeting the Utterly Awesome Alice Hoffman, that is - was meeting Mary Higgins Clark after waiting an ungodly amount of time in line. I've never actually read Mary Higgins Clark, but my Granny is a huge fan. She's as voracious a reader as I am and loves thrillers and suspense novels, so I decided to get her something really special.

As it turns out, the reason Mary Higgins Clark's line was so slow was because she took the time to speak to Every. Single. Person. Mary Higgins Clark was absolutely the sweetest woman and she took the time to tell me how much she loved Canada (especially when she visited Quebec while dealing with her French language publisher) while she signed a copy of Daddy's Gone A-Hunting to my grandmother. I really appreciated that someone who's been writing for such a long time, with a such an enormous fan base, took the time to speak to her fans instead of just handing them a free book and sending them on their way.

At the end of the day, I had two potential parties to attend - the Tumblr Party at Housing Works, or the Penguin Evening with YA Writers at the Barnes and Noble on Union Square. Instead, I wound up having a much more pleasant evening with my Magically Amazing Roommate Emily. We hit up a nearby deli for some quick eats and just chilled out in our hotel room, talking. I seriously cannot believe how well I lucked out with my roommate. Definitely a bosom friend of the Anne Shirley-Diana Barry persuasion!


  1. Oh this makes me happy to hear that Mary Higgins Clark is a nice lady :) When I was a teen, she was the first "grown-up" author I ever read and I used to devour her books. I got away from her when I was in college (and leisure reading stopped happening) - but I always enjoyed her books. I need to pick her up again.....

    1. Really? Awww. Yeah, she was super-nice.

  2. I love your descriptions of BEA! I've lived it, but you made me relive it all over again.

    I stood in a long line for MHC for my stepmother a couple of years ago. Worth it for the look on her face when I presented her with a personalized copy!

    1. Awesome! Yeah, my granny says she was bragging about it up and down the community.