Friday, April 10, 2009

BEA-- Here we come!

If I haven't already mentioned it, I love book conferences, LOVE them. I can't get enough of them and I've reached the point of annoying my bosses with the ever-persistent question -- can I go, can I go, can I, can I?!

Last year, when I found out I would be missing the September NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association) conference, I was bummed for days. The reason I was missing the conference was because I was going to be on my honeymoon, and yet the thought of postponing the honeymoon to the following week almost, almost, crossed my mind. I did not, however, take my book addiction that far and my husband and I had a marvelous time in Italy. Yes, my husband is fully-aware of my addiction and, thank god, finds it endearing. Bless his heart.

For independent bookstores, there are three big conferences a year. In the Fall are the regional conferences. In our case, NEIBA, as previously mentioned. In the winter, the American Booksellers Association offers a free weekend of educational classes for booksellers where we meet to talk about new industry trends and how we can all work together to keep independent bookstores thriving. This past year, the conference was in Salt Lake City. Next year, it's in San Jose, CA.

But, the third, Book Expo America (hereafter referred to as BEA), is the biggest and the most ostentatious. For many booksellers, the sheer size of the conference is enough to deter them. Thousands upon thousands of booksellers walking the floor at the same time -- many of them clamoring to get to the same booths at Random House for that must-have galley -- and I admit, it can be entirely overwhelming and very, very stressful.

But, here's the thing...I don't care; I LOVE IT!

I don't know what this year's conference holds for me, so I'll give you the details of last year's conference and with any luck, you'll see why this is so exciting. If I fail in this endeavor, please see Bookdwarf's blog and search for her BEA posts. That should do it.

Day 1: For independent bookstores, the first day of the conference is usually the "Day of Education." Here, booksellers attend hour-long "mini-classes" catered to different aspects of book-selling. Since I work as the events coordinator for the Odyssey, I attended the majority of the sessions focusing on publicity, e-marketing, blogging, social media networking, etc. In general, these classes are incredibly informative, though at times, I felt like either I was a) already doing the things mentioned or that b) the ideas were catered to stores with more than 50 people on staff and while I'd love to implement some of them, I'm only one person and I have no assistant.

Lunch lecture was given by Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now!"(amazing).

Awards ceremony that evening included meeting Khaled Hossieni whose novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, won that year as the indies' favorite work of fiction.

After the awards ceremony, Joan and I caught a cab to a very swanky Hollywood hotel (where the seating/lounging area included beds instead of couches or chairs) for a cocktail party with Dennis Lehane to celebrate the upcoming publication of The Given Day. I had finished most of the novel on the plane ride to L.A., but admittedly was reading the last 20 pages in the cab ride over to the party. In short, it was an excellent shin-dig where I got to meet oodles of terrific booksellers from the west coast, many of whom ended up in one car, piled on top of each other, on our way back to the hotel for dinner.

Day Two: The Conference Center
Walking into the Los Angeles Conference Center was like walking into heaven with serious traffic problems. Booths upon booths upon booths of books as far as the eye can see and no way to get to them. Instead of "Dead End" and "No Left Turn" signs, crowds of people blocked your way --- effectively serving the same purpose. Nevertheless, Joan and I plowed through, making a few people angry along the way, I'm sure.

We walked for what felt like miles (maybe it was) among the different publisher's booths, meeting with publicists and marketing coordinators to talk up the Odyssey and the store's strengths and ask them about up-and-coming authors to possibly send our way. And, of course, grabbing galleys. Joan is much better about galley grabbing than I am. She'll politely give the marketing coordinator her card and ask her to mail the copy after the conference is over. I, however, think to myself, "but what if I want to start reading it tonight" or "what if I have a few spare minutes between meetings and I need something to read?". I say this to myself with every copy and it doesn't matter that I already have twelve in my bag. Maybe I'll want #13 the most, and I know, I know, I'll want to thumb through every single copy when I get back to the hotel. Therefore, I carry more than my frame can handle and am in pain after two hours. Worth it? Heck yes.

That day's lunch, hosted by the ABA, gave us the opportunity to have lunch with old and new authors coming out with books that Fall. Joan got to talk with Jennifer Haigh (Mrs. Kimble) while I got to see Dennis Lehane, again, who told some marvelous stories about the time when he was a bookseller.
Evening: Joan and I were extraordinarily lucky to be invited to the Knopf cocktail party and dinner. We met Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, Nam Le (one of my new favorite writers) and some other tremendous book people.

Day Three:
Walking the "floor" on Day 3 was much like walking the floor on Day Two. More meetings with publicists, more galleys in my bag, more meeting great booksellers/contacts from around the country and getting new ideas for the store! That afternoon we met John Hodgman and he promised to come to our store!

Evening: This final event of BEA (for us anyway) was hosted by HarperCollins in the Fox Studios movie lot. Simply getting to the party itself was more difficult than getting through security at the airport. They check your ID before you get on the shuttle and then again before entering the lot. Not on the invite list? You are escorted out by some seriously large dudes with what I can only assume to be real guns. Harper hired some unknown actors to "act" as though we were the movie stars coming in on the red carpet. It was cute, but I can't help thinking the money they spent on this could be better used, you know, promoting their books.

The highlight of my evening was spending time with the great, wonderful, David Wroblewski. We had already selected his novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, as our First Edition Club pick for that June, and keep in mind this was before the book was officially published. Independent booksellers were in a tizzy about this one, and I got to have a wonderful conversation with David and his terrific agent, Eleanor, who (wouldn't you know) went to Colby College and took classes with Jennifer Finney Boylan and my dad. Small world. It was a great end to a great conference.

So, can you see why I might want to go again? I'm counting the days until the end of May when I pack my bags (and an empty suitcase) and board that train headed for New York with Joan, Vanessa and Rebeeca, and I can take in the literary treats galore!!!

Emily R.

1 comment:

Emily Crowe said...

Sigh. Reading your post is sadly making me full of envy. Alas, it's not my year to attend but I can't wait to get the full report from you, Joan, and our first timers. Lordy, I remember my first BEA and my eyes glaze over anew--too much to take in, but in a good way!