The Evolution of BookExpo America and BookCon 2015: BEA Survival Tips

by Sandy Smith

This is Smith Publicity’s 13th year exhibiting at BookExpo America (BEA), held again at the Javits Convention Center in New York City, Wednesday, May 27 – Friday, May 29, 2015.

According to BEA, their tradeshow is the “#1 book and author event that offers the book industry access to new titles, authors, networking, and education about the publishing industry.”

We are often asked by authors if they should attend and if so, what to expect. First, a short history. In the past several years, BEA organizers have shifted the hours, days and times of the show as they now try to serve two distinct audiences: publishing industry professionals and consumers. Historically, BEA was an event for the book trade industry. In the past few years, BEA has introduced the consumer book fan component called BookCon, which was held on the last day of the publishing trade event.

Depending on your point of view, adding BookCon was either a great addition or absolutely horrible. It was fantastic for authors and publishers looking to connect with hundreds of book lovers, fans and families. These consumers want to hear talks from favorite authors, and in the exhibit hall. While there is no doubt their energy and enthusiasm brought excitement to the event, for others it made the show claustrophobic as hordes of people, young and old, swarmed the aisles looking for free books and giveaways. For publishing professionals, their presence was highly distracting as they tried to attend meetings and talks, make book deals, and network with industry colleagues.

This year, the organizers separated the two events. BEA is now starting Wednesday afternoon May 27 through Friday, May 29, with BookCon starting Saturday, May 30 through Sunday, May 31.

In all honesty, therefore, I cannot advise on what to expect at BookCon as this is a completely new venue. However, as an author, if you attend, expect to see book lovers of every age, some dressed as their favorite characters, as they search for new books, glimpses of beloved authors, and free items to take home. Some of the trade show survival tips detailed below will also come in handy for both events.

Survival Tips for BookExpo America

Meetings. If you want to connect with a publisher, distributor, agent, or vendor, make an appointment starting weeks before the show. Use the exhibitor list with contact information. While there may be opportunities for walk up conversations, don’t count on it, especially this year, as exhibit hours are shorter than ever. Have a plan and position your book accordingly—a consumer, bookstore, agent or publisher, if interested, will want different information from you. Give yourself plenty of time to make it across the hall. It is an enormous event. To navigate, booth numbers are usually displayed on banners hung from the ceiling, use these as your guide. While BEA will give you a brochure with a floor plan when you arrive, map out your meetings ahead of time with the show planner.

Hotel. If you are staying overnight, try to get a hotel within walking distance to Javits. BEA offers shuttle busses to hotels around the city, and while some days they work beautifully, other times groups of us have waited more than 30 minutes and then all scramble to find cabs in order to make our first meetings. At the end of the day, the lines for the return shuttle busses are daunting. If you do take a shuttle bus, make a note of your route number. Best bet is to find a hotel and walk (the weather is typically gorgeous)!

Parking/Train. There is parking around the Javits. On non-show days, the parking fees are reasonable. During shows, the fees are steep. On nice days, it’s a pleasant walk from NYC’s Penn Station.

Shoes, Bags, and Layers. I cannot stress enough the importance of wearing comfortable shoes. You will be standing on a thin layer of carpet over concrete. There is a bag check, which we have found to be efficient and safe. BEA will not let you bring a rolling suitcase/briefcases during show hours unless you have a doctor’s note. The Javits is often chilly, so wear layers!

Food, Drink, and Bathrooms. Finding food and a place to sit is nearly impossible. Bring some snacks and eat off hours. Crepe carts are tucked into corners in the exhibit halls, but you may be sitting on the floor to eat. Bathroom lines, especially for women, are long. You can try another floor where panels are to find out of the way restrooms. Use lines as opportunities to chat with the people around you. I’ve met amazing people in these lines. Water bottles are crazy expensive. Again, bring a bottle of water if you can. One place I recently discovered is a food store/restaurant about two blocks away (leave Javits main entry, take a left, and it’s on the same side of the street). If you have 20 or so minutes, it’s worth a walk, especially on a gorgeous day when you’ve been in a windowless room for three days. The place is called Sunac Natural Market at 600 W 42nd St and 11th.

Enjoy. If you are an author, bring copies of your book (with your contact information stapled or stamped inside) to share as you network. Have separate business cards too as people simply have a ton of books to carry, but there is always room for a business card. Ask for business cards too and follow up. You never know who may be in line next to you. There are popular author events/breakfasts in which you need tickets—get them ASAP. There are authors autographing and giving away books. Plan in advance as you can briefly meet favorite authors and receive signed books are not available to the public for months (great for Father’s Day gifts). Choose panels to attend and learn about the latest trends. Plan on carrying home lots of great new books. Enjoy the excitement of this industry event!