Warning: this is an incredibly long post.
The 2015 BookExpo America (BEA) was a 3-day conference held annually by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) for publishers, booksellers, librarians, media (including Book Bloggers) and other individuals connected with the industry. This year’s conference was held in New York City at the Javits Center.
Earlier this year, I joined ABA as a provisional bookseller as I plan to open a bookstore in Fall 2015. I just quit my corporate job the week prior to the conference, so I can concentrate 100% of my efforts on this endeavor. So, my goal for attending the conference was to establish networking opportunities with other booksellers and develop relationships with publishers and other book industry vendors. In addition, I picked up catalogs of the Fall 2015 book releases and advance reading copies (ARCs) of upcoming releases. Of course, having some of my favorite authors sign my books and discovering new authors was a big plus.
Preparing for and Traveling to BEA
In preparation for BEA, I read several blog posts written by veteran attendees on what to expect and how to prepare. Even though BEA provided an app and Show Planner to help me develop an agenda for panels, author autographing sessions, and exhibits I wanted to attend, the best advice, by book bloggers, was to develop a color-coded schedule using an Excel spreadsheet. My schedule can be downloaded from Google Docs. The spreadsheet included everything I wanted to attend and I used color coding to prioritize the conflicting events. Not only did I have a printout of my schedule, I also had it available as a PDF on my iPhone and iPad through Adobe Reader. Because Day 1, Wednesday, was my lightest day, I was able to attend most of my high priority (green) events. The second most valuable piece of advice was to bring an empty suitcase to the Javits Center to hold the books you receive. There were 3 coat check areas to check suitcases, allowing you to return throughout the day to offload your booty.
My sister and I traveled from Durham, NC to NYC leaving Tuesday morning at 5 am. As 30-year residents of the DC area, we knew we would be arriving at the height of the morning rush hour and that would probably add travel time to our expected 7.5-8 hour trip. Well that time estimate was blown out of the water. When we stopped for gas off the Ladysmith exit in Virginia, my car refused to start. Thank goodness for AAA and a tow to a nearby Cadillac dealership. Despite taking my car in for maintenance service a few days before embarking on this trip, my battery had died. Just as an aside, the Onstar button does not work when your car’s battery is dead. After the 6-hour delay of the tow and repairs, and navigating DC’s evening rush hour, we finally arrived at the hotel 16 hours later at 9 pm. Luckily, I hadn’t planned any sightseeing activities for our first day. However, I did miss the Penguin Random House reception held at the hotel. I opted to chill out and prepare for the first day of BEA.
I chose to stay at the Grand Hyatt New York (ABA’s host hotel) located in mid-town Manhattan. Except for the smallness of the room and lack of a microwave, it was a great choice for service, quality, location, and convenience to New York’s vibrant landmarks and amenities. One escalator ride down provided plenty of shopping (Mac, Origins), restaurants (Junior’s Restaurant), and the convenience of Grand Central Terminal. There was also a 24-hour market in the hotel’s lobby. Daily travel, by shuttle, to the Javits Center was free and provided by ABA in front of the hotel.
DAY 1 — 2015 BookExpo America
I arrived early at the Javits center and quickly registered via the VIP line. I also received my tickets for the 4 Ticketed Author Signing sessions as part of the Avid Reader Pass packet I purchased (Al Roker, Ellen Datlow, Neal Stephenson, and David Baldacci). Additionally, as part of the Avid Reader Pass packet, I received 1 Disney-style ‘head of the line’ pass. I also picked up Publisher’s Weekly PW Daily which provided all of the event information for each day.
Since the Exhibit Halls did not open up until 1 PM on Wednesday, I attended 3 Book Blogger Con panels. The first was the Keynote panel State of Blogging and Books. This panel featured several well-known book bloggers who have subsequently become authors or now work in the industry. The moderator was Thea James of The Book Smugglers, with panelists Patty Chang Anker, Author, Blogger and Speaker; Ron Hogan, Literary Evangelist; and Kameron Hurley, Author and Blogger. I found this panel to be the least valuable panel of the week as the bloggers freely admitted that because they are now busy in their new careers, they rarely blog. Since this was a panel for book bloggers, it would have been more useful to have insights from current bloggers on the state of blogging. Also, I did not expect a panel but an individual speaker as this was designated as Keynote event. However, a few panelists did give shout outs to the Book Riot bloggers who were in attendance — that was pretty cool.
I also attended two other book blogger panels. Optimizing Your WordPress Blog was moderated by Ashley Evans, Blogger & Web Developer with bloggers Cialina Ngo, Rhys Jones, and Brittany. They offered great recommendations on how to speed up your blog, obtain more followers, search engine optimization, shareability, security, backup, organizing and scheduling content. This was really the only panel that featured a PowerPoint presentation that could be downloaded from the Nose Graze blog. There was also a handout of recommended WordPress plug-ins. The only suggestion I would make is to see how some of the plug-ins are used in actual blogs, using screenshots. However, this section was very informational and I can’t wait to implement several of the recommendations on my own blog. Also, the Nose Graze blog has regular book blogger tips and I have signed up for the newsletter.
The Tactics to Create Killer Content Fast panel was moderated by author Nina Amir and featured speakers Maura Sweeney (Podcaster), Kate Rados (Director, Community Development, Crown Publishing at Penguin Random House), and Kate Tilton (Founder, Kate Tilton’s Author Services). Each speaker offered their 3 tips for creating content faster. Techniques mentioned included podcasting, using Evernote to organize blog ideas, scheduling and planning post, using templates, and working with social media via Twitter chats and Pinterest boards.
After lunch, I made my way to the CIROBE Remainder area and the ABA Member Lounge. While waiting for Jonathan Franzen’s autographing session for ABA members, I met Lauren Gaines who is a bookseller for Christ Church, which has 2 locations in New Jersey. Her inventory focuses solely on Christian fiction and since this is a genre I will be selling in my own bookstore, she will be a valuable resource. We also discussed the #BlackLivesMatter movement and what was currently happening around the country. My second networking opportunity came as I lined up for the Franzen signing of Purity. I was standing behind Erica Merrell, owner of Wild Iris Books, the only feminist bookstore in Florida. She also happens to be on the Board of Directors for the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA). She provided a lot of information on what SIBA offers to booksellers and how she manages a small (400 square feet) bookstore.After having my book signed by Franzen, I headed over to the main Exhibit Halls and attended the Best in Fall 2015 Graphic Novels panel. This panel featured 4 graphic novels: Trashed by Derf Backderf, Little Robot by Ben Hatke, Curveball by Jeremy Sorese, and Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash. The panel was moderated by senior news editor, Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly. I was sitting next to the Sorese’s publishers and they provided me with a galley of Curveball, though at the end of the panel, they had a box of galleys they handed out to all of the attendees. Trashed was a fiction/non-fiction is a story of a trash man and all of the hilarious and poignant true adventures that Derf experienced being a trash collector for a year. Derf also provided statistics and information about how much trash each person generates on a daily and yearly basis. Showing this in graphic format drew stunned gasps from the audience.
Little Robot by Ben Hatke features a little girl who finds a robot and activates him. She then has to defend him from the bigger, badder robots. Think E.T. Curveball is a graphic novel in the hard sci-fi genre. The use of percussive energy bouncing off buildings generated a lot of interest and follow-up questions from not only the panelists but the audience. Honor Girl is the true story of Maggie’s time spent at a summer camp when she was a teen and her feelings for her same-sex counselor. After this panel, I went to stand in line for my first ticketed autographing session, Al Roker signing The Storm of the Century about the Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900. Before leaving for the day, I stopped by several vendor exhibits and picked up catalogs, business cards, ARCs and galleys, etc.
Fitbit Stats for Day 1: 7,615 steps (3.18 miles) I was really surprised I did not hit my 10,000 steps but I guess standing in long lines and sitting in panels had an effect.
DAY 2 — 2015 BookExpo America
Initially, when I was planning my schedule, I thought Thursday, Day 2 of BEA would be my toughest but Friday turned out to be just as brutal. I started Day 2 by attending the Ten Years of Independent Thinking panel. This panel featured Michael Reynolds from indie publisher Europa Editions, independent bookseller, John Evans, of Diesel Books, Greg Cowles, a NYT reviewer, Todd Berman, VP at Penguin Random House, literary agent Julie Barer, and Europa Editions author Jennifer Tseng. This panel discussed indie publishing from differing viewpoints and was very insightful for a potential bookseller. I actually left this panel a little early to get in line for Kwame Alexander’s autographing session but when I arrived at the line-up, he had changed his time to later in the afternoon. So I headed over to the line for Jon Scieszka’s autographing of the anthology Guys Read: Terrifying Tales. To be honest, I was really there for Daniel José Older’s autograph as he is a contributor to the anthology and he had mentioned on Twitter he would be at the signing. But, lo and behold, in addition to Jon and Daniel, 5 other contributors were there to sign the book including Rita Williams-Garcia and R.L. Stine — WHAT!! Score. After this, luckily I went back to check the schedule for Kwame Alexander and noticed he had now cancelled entirely. Whew, glad I double-checked. One of my recommendations for the BEA app is to push more notifications of changes for the autograph signing schedules. However, the volunteers at the autographing area were extremely helpful throughout the 3 days. Even though it looked like chaos, the lines were incredibly organized.Next up was the Tor: The Next Generation! panel moderated by John Scalzi. After having each author describe their upcoming book, John had each author come up and play “Would You Rather”. The list of questions and answers can be found at Tor’s website. The session was light-hearted and fun. I then headed over to the panel In Search of Diverse Book Buyers which featured luminaries from the world of African-American publishing and bookselling. Wade Hudson, co-Founder and CECO of Just Us Books, Inc. moderated the panel featuring Marva Allen, founder and CEO of Hue-Man bookstore, Troy Johnson, owner of the biggest online book club, AALBC, and Vanessa Lloyd-Sgambati, founder of the African American Children’s Book Project. The full video of the panel can be found at the AALBC website.
The rest of the day was spent in the author autographing lines, picking up ARCs from publishers, and obtaining more publisher catalogs and business cards. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks autographed Father Comes Home from the Wars parts 1, 2 & 3 which won an OBIE Award for Excellence Off-Broadway. She took time to really engage with each person waiting for her autograph. Charlie Jane Anders, one of main contributors to sci-fi blog io9, was signing All Birds in the Sky. When I told her I follow her on Twitter, she asked for my handle and promised to follow me. And she did. While I did not get to the signing by Leonard Pitts, I did pick up a copy of Grant Park from the publisher’s booth. I also received autographed books by The Atlantic contributor Ta-nehisi Coates, anthologist extraordinare Ellen Datlow’s The Doll Collection which features dark stories about dolls, and Neal Stephenson with the sci-fi epic Seveneves. I used my front of the line pass for Stephenson because by this time, my feet were screaming and I was ready to call it a day and head back to the hotel.
Fitbit Stats for Day 2: 7,479 steps (3.12 miles)
DAY 3 — 2015 BookExpo America
By Day 3, I’m really tired but pushed through. Mental toughness, ignore the pain. I attended the panel The Diversity of Success: How Publishers Create Captivating Stories which featured 3 success stories of publishing diverse stories. The panel was sponsored by the Children’s Book Council (CBC) Diversity Initiative. David Gale of Simon & Schuster talked about the book Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The book relates the true story of two male penguins raising a baby penguin and is one of the most challenged children’s books. Melanie Chang of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers discussed Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward which is set before and during Hurricane Katrina. Rhodes wanted to focus on how this disaster affected children of New Orleans. I have read Rhodes’ adult fiction but have to add her children’s fiction to my library. Mark von Bargen of Macmillan Children’s Books presented Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol with its focus on an immigrant (Russian) experience and body image challenges. The panelists discussed how each of the books were marketed, awards received, etc. Simon & Schuster also provided a few copies of the 10th anniversary issue of Tango Makes Three.
The last panel I attended was presented by #WeNeedDiverseBooks Diversity, Be the Change You Want to See. The panel was moderated by Ellen Oh (co-founder of WNDB) with WNDB VP and author Lamar Giles, authors Linda Sue Park, Matt de la Pena, and Tim Federle. The panelists discussed the success of WNDB, which one year ago, had challenged the lack of diversity on Bookcon’s panels. One of the things that stood out for me, was when Ellen Oh talked about how booksellers will say that they can’t sell diverse books because their community is not diverse. Ellen responded (which she admitted was not original from her) with “well, you don’t have Hobbits in your community either.” Amen. This rang so true to me, because just the night before as I left Day 2, I sat next to a bookseller from Vermont, on the shuttle, who had the same excuse for why she could not sell diverse books (there are few Blacks in her community and they don’t want to read books about gangs and drugs). Linda Sue Park addressed this mindset by saying if the words ‘diverse’ scares you, then use the words ‘variety’ and ‘choice’. They challenged booksellers and librarians as the gatekeepers of putting more variety and choice into their reader’s hands. You can view the panel in its entirety courtesy of C-Span.
My last networking opportunity came during this panel as a man tapped me on the shoulder before the panel began. He was Alan Bradshaw and I had noticed him from an earlier panel on Diversity. Turns out he is a publishing professional for Bliss Life Books which was started by him, singer/songwriter Amel Larrieux and her husband Laru Larrieux. He asked me if I knew Amel from the group Groove Theory. I played it cool and didn’t fangirl and tell him that Bravebird had been in heavy rotation on my iPod when it was first released. We talked a little bit before the panel began about acquiring inventory for bookstores and I received a follow-up email from him regarding the books they publish. Bliss Life Books produce several children’s books with most audio narrated by Amel Larrieux in the e-book format.
The rest of my Day 3 was spent in line for author autographs …. yada yada yada. Though I did pop into the VIP Lounge and ABA Member’s Lounge for respite. In the ABA Member’s Lounge I picked up Buzz Books 2015, Buzz Books 2015 Young Adult, and Reading Group Choices 2015. I’m glad they were available as I was unable to attend these Buzz panels. I also stood in the lines and picked up autographed books/ARCs from Paolo Bacigalupi (Water Knife), Scott Westerfeld (Zeroes), Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You), Richelle Mead (Soundless), Rita Williams-Garcia (Gone Crazy in Alabama), Daniel Kraus (The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch), Don Tate (The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton), and my last ticketed author, David Baldacci (The Keeper). As Celeste Ng finished signing my book, Mindy Kaling showed up at the next booth for her signing. I pushed my way through the throng taking pictures and lining up for her. Quite a madhouse. I left the Javits Center fairly early because I wanted to rest before going to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and for the Jacob Lawrence Exhibit.
Once my sister and I arrived at MOMA, we learned that the tickets were free and I was refunded the amount I paid for my online tickets. Sweet! The Jacob Lawrence exhibit featured Lawrence’s Migration Series of paintings entitled One-Way Ticket. The exhibition featured all 60 paintings about the Great Migration, the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. As we read the plaques for several of the paintings, my sister and I commented that despite the gains for African Americans, how much really hasn’t changed (as evidenced by the slew of police brutality cases and lynchings). In addition to the works of Jacob Lawrence, there was a haunting video of Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit. I have seen this video several times on Youtube. The exhibit also included poems by Rita Dove, Elizabeth Alexander, Terrance Hayes, and Yusef Komunyakaa, among others. There were also first editions by many Harlem Renaissance writers, including Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Robert Hayden, and Richard Wright. As a bibliophile I was humbled and thrilled to view these first editions. The exhibit also featured works by artists Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Aaron Douglas, Charles White, and Gordon Parks. An interesting aspect of the exhibit was the comparison of the 1941 captions of the original exhibit and the 1993 captions where the word ‘Negro(es)’ was changed to the more politically correct ‘African Americans’. The current exhibit went back to the original wording. I did purchase the MOMA exhibit book from the museum store as well as the children’s book Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. I missed Rhodes-Pitts signing this book at BEA so I was happy to pick up a copy at MOMA.
Fitbit Stats for Day 3: 10,054 steps (4.2 miles) Woohoo! Finally hit my 10,000 steps.
I had a great, though exhausting time at BEA and I look forward to attending again next year in Chicago.