A Book Lover’s Paradise-Remembering BEA

In Chicago, BEA 2016 is coming to a close.

I wasn’t there. While the biggest names in publishing were descending upon McCormick Place, I was sobbing into a galley I’ll never read as I stared at a year-old photograph of me, the Harlequin booth, and its blaring slogan, Whatever You’re Into.

Whatever You're Into
The subtle posters in question. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Well, I’m into books, and that means a golden ticket to Book Expo America is as sexy as it gets.

Even though I didn’t get to go this year, I thought I’d give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to work BEA. Not as an editor, agent, or publicist, but as a volunteer—because let’s be real, that’s way more fun.

Back up. What is BEA? If you’re reading this post, chances are you already know. If you don’t, here’s the pitch:  authors, bloggers, and industry professionals meet to make deals, promote their books, discuss the state of the industry, and get a ton of free stuff.

Oh, yes. You want to read that book. “Free stuff” = great hook.

Last year, I wasn’t an author, blogger, or industry professional, but I was kinda sorta an industry-professional-in-training, and that’s how I got the chance to volunteer via the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.

BEA 2015
The Temple Halls (Photo courtesy of the author)

For me, walking into the Javits Center was a religious experience. A few weeks prior, I had been denied a government job that had been in the works for months and I was having an identity crisis, but seeing the Big 5 banners, I suddenly believed in the Old Gods and the New. I was here. In New York City. At BEA.

I was assigned to work the author signings. Cool, right? Very cool. In theory, I was rubbing elbows with the likes of David Baldacci, Jon Sciezska, and Meg Cabot. In theory. Really, I stood at the entrance to ensure that eager fans formed orderly lines and coordinated with the publicists to make sure their authors had enough Sharpies.

That was Day 1.

On Day 2, I died.

Not literally, but I hyperventilated a little when I found out I would be working the Green Room. The Lounge. The Magic Place Authors Hang Out Before They Sign Books.

Did I do that much? No. Essentially, my job was to make sure that authors knew which booths they were going to and when—but authors are inherently smart, so they didn’t need me. Mostly, I said hello, then worshipped from afar (but I did work up the courage to ask Kenneth Oppel for a selfie).

Now that I work in publishing, I won’t get to volunteer again, but if that’s an option for you, I highly recommend it. It’s a unique experience: you aren’t a guest aiming to pack in as many panels and signings as possible, but you’re not quite a professional, either, and so you don’t have to worry about meetings. It’s also a great way to get a feel for the industry if you’re considering a career in publishing (and to explore options outside the Big 5).

Also, free stuff.


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