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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My First BEA

This post was originally published on May 31, 2012.

BookExpo America, as seen by your guardian angel

BookExpo America, as seen by your guardian angel

It’s that time of year again: time to just avoid destroying your computer (and perhaps a window) out of frustration with the BEA website; time to deliberate over which of your comfy shoes you look most professional in; time to save up so you might just be able to afford one Javits-priced coffee. Well, for some of us it’s that time “again,” for others, it’s the very first time. This year will be my own second BookExpo America; but here’s some “first-timer perspective” you might not find elsewhere.

1. Your first BEA…feels a bit like showing up at someone else’s high school reunion. If you go to industry events at all, you know what this feels like: people who’ve worked together since Gutenberg was their supervisor, thrilled to see each other again, talking inside baseball. For BEA, multiply this times 600. Everyone is bouyed by the knowledge of how big this is, by how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other, nerves about business, etc. That’s OK. Just because you feel like an outsider doesn’t mean you don’t belong here. If not you, who else is going gossip loudly over piles of galleys 10 years from now?

2. Your first BEA…might cause sensory overload that verges on physical distress. (For all I know, that’ll happen to me this year, too.) You know that feeling: “the opportunity of a lifetime just passed by 5 times in 3 seconds, and my reaction time just isn’t that good!!”? That stretches on for hours, whether you’re walking the exhibit floor or looking at the program of panels. It’s true–the majority of it is awesome, and lots of it you’ll miss. But let that feeling drift over you for a little while before you pounce on any one opportunity, because pouncing’s a hard habit to break, and you’re not the Energizer Bunny.

3. Your first BEA…is an incredible place to eavesdrop–pardon me, “to casually overhear things in your environment.” And casually overhearing things in your environment forms understanding and context and models for for the way you might want (or not want) to do things one day like nothing else I know. That’s all I have to say about that.

4. Your first BEA…is a place where most of the things you plan to do will not happen. This only makes you a bad professional if you don’t take in all the other things that come your way instead with a keen eye and an open mind.

5. Your first BEA…is a great place to find the people you admire and just straight up thank them for being so admirable. This is the best part of every conference I’ve been to thus far in my professional life. The publishers whose booths I make priority are the ones who have given me something as a reader, or set me an example as editors or marketers or whatever that is so compelling, it’s just impossible to feel embarrassed about going up and saying “________ was incredible. I’m still thinking about it. Thank you so much for bringing that into the world.”

In closing:

Keep every business card, no matter how useless it seems  

Plan to meet up with a friend or mentor to combat those feelings of alienation  

Say hi if you see me there! 


  1. Melissa says:

    Great tips! Thanks for putting it all in a bit of perspective!

    • I’m so glad you liked them! Have you yourself had a “first BEA” experience in recent years? Or are you an old pro? 🙂 Either way, I bet we all have some great tips up our sleeves that we don’t even realize could be hugely helpful to others.

      • Melissa says:

        This will be my 1st time and I am looking for all the tips I can get 🙂

      • Peter Murray says:

        Hello Elisabeth

        I am an “old Pro”… I bet you haven’t seen books like mine at BEA!!??

        I stopped exhibiting because I found so many people taking photos of my books attempting to copy me!

        Good luck to you young one

        All the best from Australia


  2. Great post! It will be my first time and I’m already a little overwhelmed, this helps me to put it all in perspective. Hope to see you there. :o)

  3. Teresa Rhyne says:

    Thanks for these tips. I’m attending for the first time this year and #4 was particularly helpful for me! I’ll be there courtesy of my publisher (Sourcebooks) and since this is my first book, just about everything is overwhelming! All I know for certain is that I’ll be at the Sourcebooks booth Wednesday from 10 to 11 signing ARCS –the rest of the time I expect I’ll walk around mouth agape desperately searching my schedule for what I meant to be doing. Can’t wait!

  4. Lisa says:

    Great tips! I wish I read this before my first BEA. I went in 08 (LA) and 09 (NYC.) If you are lucky enough to attend BEA pay a visit to the small publishers with booths- they are more likely to give away books and you have a better shot of meeting an author of two. Stick around for the last hour on the last day- often publishers are trying to unload books, displays, posters, etc. before packing up! Good luck!

  5. […] Floor layout, and this is only one small section of it, at the Book Expo of America in the Jacob Javits Center in NYC. (Picture via […]

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