I made my first trip to BEA last year, and it was quite an incredible experience. It can also be a bit overwhelming. For you first-timers, especially, I hope I can pass along some tips to help you make the most of it. I decided not to go this year, but I’m hoping I can make it next year!
1) PLAN, PLAN, PLAN: This is the only way to stay on top of all of the author signings and galley drop times. I printed out hard copies of my schedule (make several, because you may lose them – this happened to me because I was constantly taking it out to reference it), and I also had various schedules on my phone. The BEA site has a decent app that allows you to create a schedule. You will also need to prioritize, because there are likely to be overlaps in your schedule.
2) This is not the time to bust out your cute new shoes. You will be walking MILES every day, and you will want to wear the most tried, trusted pair of shoes you own – cute or not. I might have a skewed idea of how uncomfortable all of that walking can be, because last year, I injured my foot quite badly just a couple of days before I flew to NYC. I was wearing one of those blue orthopedic sandals with the thick sole on one foot and a ballet flat on the other. So, I was already uncomfortable even before I spent several days walking with a crooked gait due to my crooked shoes. But I still think my feet would have been hurting at the end of each day, injury or not.
3) Speaking of feet, consider buying some or all of the following:
– Moleskin – this stuff is a lifesaver. Even your most comfortable shoes might have areas that rub against your foot. A bit of moleskin applied around the inside of the heel or on the underside of straps will take all of those problems away.
– Band-Aids – I always have a couple of Band-Aids on hand in case I end up getting blisters from doing a lot of walking. For me, it’s usually my pinkie toe.
– Insoles – Most of the Javitt’s floor is concrete. It doesn’t feel bad until you step onto some of the areas with thick, carpeting, and then you realize that you don’t want to step off.
4) You’re going to be tempted to ship your books using USPS Media Mail, because it’s ridiculously cheap. But you also might remember many people having horror stories from last year where their boxes never showed up or showed up damaged or with missing books. I even remember one person tweeting that all she received was one side of the box containing her mailing address. I paid $20 to ship a 40 lb box of books using Media Mail, which is an incredible twice. However, as the days passed, I became increasingly anxious as I saw these stories posted on Twitter. My box DID get here, but there were several large holes ripped in it (maybe someone ripped it open to see if there was something worth stealing?) and the whole thing was SOGGY. Fortunately, I was home when the mailman dropped it off, so I was able to open it immediately and get the books out of the wet box.
But I’ll tell you – I will NEVER AGAIN use USPS Media Mail (probably not even Priority Mail) to ship boxes of books. I’d pay double or triple with UPS or FedEx, just to have some peace of mind. Even better, consider shipping your books home in a suitcase, even if you have to pay a checked bag fee. It might not be more than you’d be pay for UPS/FedEx, and you’d have your books immediately. Plus, you don’t have to deal with buying packing materials, finding the shipper, standing on line, etc. You could try to pack a duffle bag or a smaller suitcase inside a larger one, so that you only have to pay the airline fee one way.
Here’s what my box looked like when it arrived last year:
5) As you’re wandering the floor of Javitt’s, keep in mind the difficulty that some people face in getting their books shipped. Ask yourself, “Do I REALLY need all of these?” I will be honest – I went nuts last year. I brought home too many books, and many of them are still sitting unread on my shelves, and I still feel guilty about it. Think about how many books you read in a year and about how many you might get from publishers or that you might borrow or buy. There might be someone at BEA who truly covets a particular ARC, and it might be better to leave it for him or her and just concentrate on the ones that you know you want to read. Which brings me to…
6) How are you going to haul all of those books around all day? Many people, including me last year, bring an empty suitcase and leave it in a designated, monitored area (similar to a coat check) of the conference center. You pay a small fee for this, and you’re able to pop in and out to drop off your books during the day. I would absolutely do this again, because if you plan to pick up more than a few ARCs, you might not want to haul them around all day.
Many of the publishers hand out tote bags, so you really don’t need to worry about bringing one of your own. I did see some people wearing backpacks, which I thought was a smart idea, particularly for anyone who might have back problems that carrying a tote on one shoulder would exacerbate.
7) Bring an external battery (or two) to charge your phone. There are NO outlets at Javitt’s, so if your phone dies, you’re out of luck.
8) Bring a few snacks and drinks. While there is a fast food court at Javitt’s it’s not very good, it’s overpriced, and you may have a difficult time squeezing in time to get there, depending on the author signing schedules.
9) Now for the fun part: You got on the autograph line for your favorite author two hours early, and now you’re at the front of the line! Now is the time to tell her all the things you’ve been wanting to tell her, to ask her about her latest book, to chat about the weather, etc. RIGHT? Well, NO. Keep in mind that the autograph times are VERY structured. Authors have either 30 or 60 minutes to sign, and when that time is up, the author packs up so that the next one can move in. Sometimes, ARCs will run out before the signing time is over. At other times, the line will be cut off as the end of the scheduled time nears, even if there are plenty of ARCs available. Even though you might be dying to have a conversation with the author, remember that you could be preventing someone else from even having the opportunity to get on line. You will have a few seconds to greet the author, he or she will sign the book, and then you can say a few more words, but then it’s expected that you’ll step aside so that others can have their chance. There will be a publicist/agent-type standing beside the author to help move things along, but don’t make them be the bad guy.
10) Here’s a little trick I learned on my third day of BEA. This will not work with all signings, but I was surprised at how frequently it DID work. You should already have your prioritized schedule, and for those authors you MUST meet, by all means, go and get on line an hour early. But, you may see some lines that look enormous and think, “I have no shot at that one.” But here’s what I figured out – these lines may be huge at the start of the signing, but if you swing back when there are around five minutes left, you may find no line or just a very short one. Four authors this worked with were Richelle Mead, Elizabeth Wein, Susan Dennard, and Kat Zhang. I only wish I had tried this one day one!
And here’s one more bonus tip for you to keep in mind for next year: When I was debating whether or not to go this year, I decided to apply for a press pass. I didn’t think there was any chance I would be accepted, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. It took about five minutes to fill out the application. It asked for my blog stats as well as whether I had attended previously, and if so, it asked for links to any BEA-related posts and reviews that I had written. I provided the links that I include at the bottom of this post, and to my shock, I was approved. I assume that writing posts helped, because I can’t believe they approved me based on my stats. So, if you are paying the blogger fee this year, keep this in mind for next year.
Even though I won’t be there this year, I cannot wait to see all the pics, tweets, and posts from those who are going! Have fun, and I look forward to experiencing it vicariously through you. 🙂 And if you have any questions, let me know!
If you want to read more about my BEA experience and see pics, you can check out my posts from last year here.