To BEA or not to BEA

- by susanne dunlap

The first time I attended BEA was soon after the publication of my second adult historical fiction novel, Liszt’s Kiss (Simon & Schuster, 2007). I thought—naively—that my publisher would of course want to schedule a signing for me. My kind and thorough editor gently informed me that at BEA, publishers promote their BIG FALL BOOKS, and that mine, since it was already published (and read “small” between the lines) was not going to be promoted there.

Still, I was curious about this industry ritual, and saw that some authors I really admired were going to be featured at signings and at the breakfasts and lunches. And as a relative newcomer to the publishing world I was eager for an opportunity to mix with others of my kind. So I signed up to go independently, using the Authors Guild’s very generous discount.

Day one—completely overwhelming. I had no idea where to go, what to do, what was what or who was who. I mainly achieved sore feet and a backbreaking load of signed ARCs that I knew I might never read and most of which I wasn’t even interested in.

The lunch was entertaining. I had been looking forward to hearing one of my idols, Ian McEwan, talk about his new book. How disappointing to discover that he was a terrible speaker, and his idea of talking about the book was to give a synopsis of the entire plot—rendering it completely unnecessary to read.

By day two I’d figured out how to find the authors and signings I wanted to attend. But I hadn’t managed to locate any of the panels that were of interest to me and missed them entirely. I can’t remember, but I think I actually skipped day three, or just went for an hour or so.

My takeaway was that I was glad I went once, but never again. Unless, of course, my BIG FALL BOOK was being promoted by my publisher.

So what possessed me, you may well ask, to attend the compressed, 2-day BEA just last week at the Javits Center?

Several things: 1. I recently quit my day job and I could go during the week with a clear conscience. 2. I have made the transition to YA historical fiction within the last few years, and saw that a lot of YA was to be featured. 3. I know so many more people in the industry, and saw BEA as an opportunity to connect face-to-face with people I only knew virtually.

I was also armed with a better idea of what happened there, and how to negotiate it. I carefully scanned the panels beforehand to see what I wanted to catch, and didn’t bother to pay the extra for the breakfasts and lunches (although I heard that Jon Stewart was hilarious).

My second BEA experience was similar, in my mind, to giving birth to my second child. I was more in control because I knew what to expect. I had the gratifying experience of seeing genuine delight in the faces of authors I’ve come to know online and finally was able to greet in person. I was choosy about the ARCs I took home. And I got to some excellent panels that really revealed some things to me about the YA market.

I have a pile of new books that I really want to read (with one or two exceptions). Oh yes, I do have sore feet and an aching back. But I felt that my money and time was well spent.

Of course, I’m envious of the writers whose publishers think enough of them to give them a platform at BEA. But I’m satisfied with my progress in my career, and believe that my day will come.

One great bonus of this BEA was a Book Bloggers Reception at the end of day 2. It was a bit like speed-dating. I didn’t bring enough cards, but I have plenty of contacts to follow up with.

So, I was glad I BEA’d a second time, and will probably do it again. There’s nothing quite like mingling in a huge space where everyone is passionate about books and reading, where careers can start or not, and where it’s possible to meet your author idols.

2 comments

  1. I hope you go next year! It would be great to meat you, and i actually get to go next year I’m so excited.

    I loved your book Anastasia’s Secret!

    –Danielle

  2. Thank you so much Danielle! I’m intending to go next year, and we’ll have to try to meet.