If you are an author and you haven't heard of Book Expo America, it's time to crawl out from behind your computer and attend the largest international publishing trade show this side of Frankfurt.
Most years, the show is held in NY (as it was last year), but this year, it will be in Los Angeles. BEA will be back in NY in 2009, D.C in 2010, and Vegas, baby in 2011.
Angela and I attended last year and we will be on the convention floor again this year, promoting WOW!, visiting with the agents and publishers we've met over the last two years, and looking to connect with our readers. If you plan to go, drop us an email--we'd love to meet you.
I have a few tips for those of you who plan to attend the show to seek an agent or a publisher. These are little things I noticed at the event last year. I'll refer to the people you will meet at BEA in the big house booths as publishers through my list of observations; although, many of the people there are from the marketing department, sales team, acquisitions editors, etc.
First thing--if you want to be taken seriously by the publishers, don't look like a walking billboard for your book (or your manuscript). Dressing like your main character--waaay too much. Book cover t-shirts--too much. Book cover buttons--borderline too much; although, certainly not as bad as the previous two ideas. It makes you stand out like a desperate writer and doesn't draw the kind of attention you want. Treat the experience like you would if you were trying to meet an agent at a writer's conference--be casual, but professional. Think of it like this, if you had a meeting at their office, you wouldn't show up wearing a body bag to promote your murder mystery.
Take more business cards than you think you will need. After you get a business card from someone you meet, step away and write notes on the back about what was discussed. This is crucial. By the end of the trade show, you won't remember unless you take notes.
Don't monopolize the publisher's time when you approach them. Have your elevator pitch boiled down to 30 seconds (and I seriously mean, 30 seconds). If you talk for longer than that, they will be looking over your head for a way to escape. Think of it like a party full of popular people. They want to be talking to the in-crowd, not a boor who is droning on and on about the plot to their story. You want to pique their interest. If they are interested, they will ask questions. If they aren't, they won't. Either way, get in, get out, and thank them for their time.
Find out who you should be talking to before you launch into your elevator pitch. You may be talking to a receptionist. Although, from what I noticed, many of the people wo-manning the booths are in filter mode, no matter what department they work in. They will determine if you have anything of interest to the right people. If you do, you'll get the introduction, if not, you'll get the brush off.
Your goal should be to get them to request that you send your book/manuscript to them. That being said, it's highly unlikely they will. The majority of publishers don't want to waste their time on an unknown writer (whether self-published or seeking traditional publishing). They will tell you to submit to them through an agent.
If you have already self-published your book and are looking to have it "picked up" by a major house, have your important facts on the tip of your tongue--how long it's been out, how many units you've sold, what kind of reviews it's getting, any awards it's received, what you are doing to market it, what kind of platform you have, etc.
And here's the catch 22 of the whole thing--most publishers don't want to talk to you on the first day. It's an industry trade show--they are catching up and networking with their peers from other houses and also promoting their recently released list and upcoming releases. On the second day, most publishers don't want to talk to you then either. They are conducting serious business* and most are completely booked with meetings. *If you see people sitting at a table in the booth chatting, DO NOT approach them. That is a meeting in progress. On the last day, it's pretty settled and much quieter--the initial excitement has died down, everyone has gotten a chance to see and talk to everyone they wanted to. The booths are at half-staff and there are considerably less attendees.
Have a plan. Get a map of the convention floor and target who you want to talk to. But don't forget to wander around and check things out at the different booths. I found a great vendor for novelty items in the small press area. So, keep your mind open to meeting people who you can work with or use the services of at a later date.
One observation about the small press area. While walking down the aisles in Siberia, Angela and I felt like fresh meat that had just wandered into the lair of starving cannibals. It's the only place in the trade show where people are leaping into the aisles, grabbing your arm, and trying to get you to take their book or postcard or bookmark. Sadly, that is the way most writers approach the publishers too. I watched that happen all around us in NY.
You may be tempted to collect every advance reading copy and recent release being handed out. Trust me, there will be a ton. And they are all free. My personal rule--I don't take a book unless I'm totally interested in it and plan to write a review. I picked up one book last year. Some people collect them and they try to sell them on Ebay. (Please don't be one of those people.) And a comment about the women you will see loaded down with bags of books--most of them are librarians picking up books for their libraries. It's a wonderful opportunity for them to get things they don't have a budget for.
Bring a Cliff bar or other energy bar to tide you over. There is so much going on that you may not want to take a break to eat. You may even want to tuck a sandwich into your bag. The food lines are long (as are the lines for the restrooms) and there are few places to sit, so you'd better be ready for a marathon day on your feet.
Speaking of feet... WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES. I can't stress that enough. It was hot last year, almost stifling, so I wore sandals and was very glad I chose a pair of cork wedges with soft straps.
Overall, it's a great experience, even if you only go for one day to check out the action. The floor is buzzing with conversation (it's deafening in there); it's wall-to-wall people, and everyone is excited about what they are promoting. It's a place to see the trends (keep an eye out for great marketing ideas), be seen (make a good impression on everyone you meet), and network (meet as many people as possible). BEA is not a place to sell; it's a place to make connections for future business.
Have fun with it!