Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 Book Expo America is in the Books

Reading is one of life's greatest pleasures.  A good book can transport you to places unknown, inspire you to reach for new heights, challenge you to consider different perspectives, or provide a much needed escape from day-to-day life.    So to spend three days at the convention that's all about books is pretty much nirvana for me.

I was first introduced to Book Expo America (BEA) by my friend Wendi, who's been attending for nearly ten years now.  BEA is primarily an opportunity for publishers to promote their soon-to-be-released books to book sellers.  Other people with a connection to the book industry can attend, though, such as librarians, educators and people who work with non-profits with a focus on literacy.  My first BEA experience was purely a fluke--it was being held in Washington, D.C. when I was visiting friends there, and Wendi had an extra ticket for the final day.  The only hitch was that I was recovering from a severely sprained ankle and I wasn't sure if I was up to the rigors of the experience.  Curiosity won out over sensibility, though, and I hobbled my way through the morning, coming away with an armload of galleys to share with my friends and to read myself. 

This week was my fourth BEA, and it was as crazy as ever.  When the doors open at 9:00, there's a rush of hundreds of people to get into the convention center in search of the free galleys.  It's a bit like the running of the bulls in Pamplona except the "bulls" are other eager readers.  Veteran attendees bring tote bags with them so they can immediately scoop up galleys, dump them in and be on their way.  There's no time to consider "Hmm, does this book sound interesting to me?" or "I wonder if so-and-so would enjoy reading this?"  You make a snap decision and keep moving or run the risk of getting trampled by the masses.  (Who knew that reading could actually be a contact sport???)  You have to have a bit of an eagle eye as you're rushing through the aisles because some of the galleys are piled on the floor, tucked up against makeshift walls or podiums.   When you have weighed yourself down with as many books as you can physically carry (being a lifelong schlepper is a definite attribute), you head down to the shipping area where you can get a box and deposit your finds to be sorted through later.

The rest of the day is dedicated to getting books signed by their authors.  These books cannot be found by roaming through the aisles (at least not until after the signings), so the only way to get them is to stand on line.  There is an autographing area with 25+ lines where authors sign their books for 30 minutes or an hour, depending upon popularity.  Some authors have enormous queues and you can wait over an hour to get that prized book with its signature (and have a couple of words with the author as a bonus).  Tickets are given out for a few of the "hottest" authors starting at 6:45 on the day they are going to sign.  Two years ago I left my house at 5:45 a.m. so that I could get a ticket to have Lee Child sign his latest book.  (I'd do it again in a heart beat--he was charming and despite the long line took the time to ask about Literacy Volunteers and comment on the importance of adult literacy work.  Plus I loved the book!)   This year there weren't any ticketed authors that interested me enough to get there that early, so I picked a few authors from the 775+ in attendance and got their John Hancocks.   It's always interesting to see what books have the longest lines--vampires seem to be hot again this year--and sad to see some authors sit by themselves waiting for a reader to ask for their signature.  (Having said that, I didn't feel bad enough for the author of "The Medium Next Door" to get her book.  My friend Lee's commentary was that it was good that the author can talk to the dead because she certainly didn't have any fans to talk to!)  

Then there are the signings in the publisher's booths.  Again, some authors are quite popular and you can wait for their books in a line that snakes up and down the aisles for an extended period of time.  (Luckily, you always have reading material available!)   I got two of the books I'm most excited about reading this way--Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers (Macmillan) and Lisa See's Dream of Joy (Random House).  Sometimes there are other little give aways as well.  James Patterson was signing yet another book that he penned with a fellow author called "The Christmas Wedding" and you could get a piece of wedding cake with your galley.  After all, you have to keep up your energy after all that running around! 

At the end of the convention, it's decision time--which books to bring home with you and which to leave behind in the shipping area.  Being incredibly cheap, I don't actually ship books--I just use the area as a holding pen for my finds.  This year I was limited by my strategy of bringing books home in one roller bag that I will check on the plane (plus what I can physically carry with my other luggage--again, the schelpper thing!)  My checked bag can only be 50 pounds unless I want to pay $100 for overweight baggage, so I had to be discriminating.   At this point, opening my bag when I get home will be like opening a present on Christmas morning--it's a bit of a blur after three days of frantic acquisition.  One thing I do know, though, is that I have lots to look forward to on the reading front this year.   

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