I learned a lot from attending BookExpo America and BookCon this year. I really did enjoy it, and hope I’ll be able to attend again another year, but it’s unclear whether that will be the case. All indications are that next year, BEA will be back in New York again, which is a little too far for this Midwesterner to travel.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. I got to do a very little bit of Chicago tourism (mainly just wandering down to the lakeshore and looking around), enjoyed some local Chicago dishes (hot dogs, Italian beef sandwich from Al’s Beef, deep-dish pizza from Giordano’s), and got lost on the subway (several times) on my way to the bus home. And then there was the convention. It was pretty big. There weren’t as many panels as Gen Con, but there was still plenty of stuff to do.
It probably won’t be in Chicago again for a while. Still, assuming that it runs the same in New York, here are some potentially useful tips for future BEA/BookCon attendees.
Have plenty of business cards. They’re handy, especially if you’re representing someone (such as, for example, a blog), but even if not, they’re good for passing out so people can contact you, dropping in bins to receive free ARCs or enter giveaways, and for other purposes. If you don’t have any, you can whip up a passable design on Staples.com and order them for pickup within a few hours.
Get the mobile apps. Those things are useful, both in terms of offering maps and lists of attendees, and in offering events plus an agenda scheduler. They’re not perfect, though—they don’t always list all the events, and the agenda-scheduler on the BookCon app didn’t work right. Still, they’re a lot more useful than a paper pamphlet you’re going to misplace first thing.
Bring loot bags. Many of the booths will give you tote bags, but they’re by and large simply totes with handles—great for toting groceries home if you don’t want to waste paper or plastic, but not so good for hauling around all day full of stuff. For the amount of stuff you’re going to get, you want something with a good sturdy shoulder strap. A duffel bag or courier bag might be the best idea. You’re going to end up with lots of loot—especially ARCs and books, which are pretty heavy. (Too bad it’s not E-bookExpo America, isn’t it? Bags would be a whole lot lighter!) And on that note, also…
Bring a suitcase to the convention. Yes, you heard me. Bring an actual suitcase to the convention. If you can, a separate one from the one you used to pack your clothes. (Of course, depending on how you’re getting there, you may not be able to bring multiple suitcases. Some buses and planes limit you to one checked bag.) The reason for this is, the convention has a baggage check facility where, for a fee, you can check in a suitcase—and then you can come back and gain access to it again and put it back without having to pay again. This is very useful because of the aforementioned loot bags. You really don’t want to have to carry all that stuff around with you all day, do you? So bring it back to the baggage check every so often and dump it in.
Of course, that suitcase will get pretty heavy by the end of the day. Better use one with wheels and a handle.
Locate a good post office or shipping shop. Seriously, as heavy as all the swag you’ll be dragging is, you don’t want to have to manhandle it all onto a bus or plane if you can help it. So box it up and ship it home. Find a mailing shop near the convention center or your hotel, but not actually in them—the shops in the convention center or hotel will charge you a small fortune in surcharges if you want to ship something. You’ll save money by taking an Uber or taxi to a stand-alone shop. Perhaps you could do this on your way home—unload your suitcase into a shipping box, address it to yourself and send it off, and have your suitcase ready for the next day’s worth of swag.
This will also stand you in good stead if you find books that would be just perfect to send to someone you know. Ship ‘em from there rather than having to haul them all back home with you. Remember that if you’re shipping just books via a US post office, you qualify for the special cheap-but-slow book rate!
Enjoy yourself! What else is there to say, really? Be sure you have plenty of time to stop and gawk at unexpected things, such as Kenny Loggins singing or Jamie Lee Curtis signing her children’s book. Also, allow time for standing in lines, because any time you want to get a book autographed, especially by someone famous, there’s going to be a big one.
In any event, I can’t wait ‘til the next BEA that I can attend, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about some of the neat discoveries I made there this year.