Wednesday, May 17, 2006

BEA: This Year, It's Truly Monumental

That's actually the official slogan of this year's Book Expo America, managed by Reed Exhibitions (related to Reed Elsevier, which owns Publishers Weekly) and sponsored by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the American Booksellers Association (ABA). That’s a lot of big corporate and institutional money behind the event, yeah. But what it's all about, for me, (and really, isn't everything?) is the one-on-one stuff . The workshops and panels with authors, booksellers and editors I respect. The meetings with sales reps I've only contacted by email. The random encounters with fellow booksellers and other folks that I only get to see once or twice a year. The conversations. The reading copies (oh yes, the swag). And the parties (oh yes, the parties).

Not everyone is as excited about BEA as I am. For those on the publishing side, I can understand it completely – the expo for them means sitting in their publisher's booth for 9 or 10 hours a day, making cheerful conversation with anyone who seems remotely interested in their product, and rarely leaving the confines of the show floor. But some booksellers think of it as kind of a pain as well. Sure, the workshops can be interesting, and the free dinners are always nice. But if you're the sort of person who got into books because you're not especially social, and ESPECIALLY if you've been going to these conferences for years and years, spending three entire days (that's more than your regular eight-hour work day) doing business stuff isn't something you spend months looking forward to.

But then there are those of us who are relatively new to the business, and totally in love with it; who love talking about books almost as much as reading them; who are ravenous to learn more and more about how to be a better bookseller; and who would never turn down a free drink in the company of smart people. Yep, the Book Nerds. For us, BEA is something to look forward to all year, the big blowout learning/talking/enjoying/reading event that lights up the book industry calendar.

At the suggestion of Bookseller Chick and others, I had considered trying to "live blog" the event this year: posting entries each day about what I had seen and done at BEA. But for practical reasons (I'm switching hotels halfway through and can't carry the computer, and my schedule is so full I don't know that I'd even have time to post) that doesn't look like it's going to happen. But I plan to write up an exhaustive rundown of what I heard, saw, learned, and enjoyed after I return on Sunday.

So here I'll list some of the things I plan to be doing at BEA, just as a teaser. For those of you who are going to be there, you'll know where to find me. For the folks at home, you'll know what I'll be writing about when I get back. How excited am I about this itinerary!

Wednesday (today!):
- Leaving for D.C. around 12:00: my McNally Robinson cohorts and I are driving down together.
- 7:00 pm Emerging Leaders Conversation: a meeting of the passionate members of the next generation of booksellers, with a focus on making bookselling a feasible career option for those of just getting in to the business, and creating a network of folks like us for sharing ideas

Thursday:
- Morning – afternoon: Attending the ABA's Day of Education, with workshops on everything from "Creating Effective E-Newsletters" to "Handselling: Customer Service With Results." My coworkers and I still have figure out who's going to which workshop, but we'll spend the day learning.
- Thursday night: Dinner with Farrar, Straus Giroux: an event sponsored by the venerable publisher, and attended by some of the leading lights of the bookselling world. I can't wait to meet them!

Friday:
- Morning – afternoon: More workshops, including "Blog 2.0: How Blogs Continue to Re-define Author, Publisher and Reader Dynamics," and "Embracing the Short Story Collection," a panel moderated by Bridgid Hughes of A Public Space and including eminent critic John Freeman and one of my favorite authors Kelly Link.
- 6:00 pm Litblog Co-Op Party: a shindig sponsored by the best-known coalition of literary bloggers, where I hope to meet Bookdwarf and others of my blogging cohorts
- 7:00 pm Shelf Awareness Party: looking forward to saying hello to John Mutter and celebrating the great resource that Shelf Awareness has become.

Saturday:
- Morning: more workshops, and hopefully some time to explore the show floor (if I haven't been able to by this point), greeting sales reps I know and meeting ones I don't, and picking up catalogs and those delectable free reading copies. My carrying capacities are limited so I've promised myself to be extremely ascetic in choosing galleys this year, but it's so hard to say no to free books!
- 3:30 pm: Frontline Booksellers' Summer Picks (Room 201): My fellow handsellers and I will talk about four or five of our favorites from the summer lists, how we came across them and how we'll be promoting them. (Here's a sneak preview for you to decode: I'll be pitching the books I reviewed here in Reviews # 2, #14, #17, #21, and #22.) I'm only sad that several of the workshops/panels I was most hoping to attend overlap with my own; I'll just have to quiz others who attended for the skinny on Fiction Under 40, Bookstore Tourism, and Demystifying Comics Distribution.
- 6:30 pm: Independent Press Party, with folks from indie publishers from City Lights to Melville House and everything in between. These are some of my favorite people in the industry, and I can't wait to meet them too!
- 8:30 till ?: The PGW Party: the most notorious recurring party of BEA, sponsored by the huge coalition of small publishers distributed by Publishers Group West. It's always last thing on Saturday night and features a killer band – this year, The Brazilian Girls are playing. My former boss and mentor T (okay, Toby of Three Lives, who won't be at the conference, sadly) advised me "Go to all the other parties you want to go to first. Then show up at the PGW party around 1 or 2. It will just be getting good then." I finagled an extra night in D.C. partly because I didn't want to rush off after my panel, and partly because I couldn't bear to leave without seeing what all the fuss was about.

And that's the risk of looking forward to something like BEA so much: I run the risk of disappointed expectations. But that's true of books, and of life, isn't it? Anticipation is half the joy of it, and even if my dreams of education and glamour fall flat, I know there will be much to be gained from the experience. And who knows – I may end up experiencing great things I haven't yet planned on (there are a lot more parties going on…)

I'll let you know all about it after I make my weary way home on the train on Sunday afternoon. Hope you've all got something to look forward to this week – see you on the other side!