Even though for 2016 Book Expo America is moving to Chicago (then apparently back to New York for 2017), there are still some pretty universal tips for surviving a massive convention like it. That’s why I’d like to share some nuggets of common sense and experience so that if you decide to attend the convention, you’ll have some idea of what to expect.
1. The convention is massive, so wear practical shoes!
You are going to be doing a lot of walking and standing at Book Expo America. The Javits Center in New York is massive and I imagine the Chicago venue will be similarly sized. But you would not believe the number of women mincing around in three or four inch high heels! Are you kidding me? I was wearing very comfortable sneakers with special gel inserts and my feet still wanted to kill me by the end of the day. So for goodness sakes, wear some practical shoes! Even with your dress clothes! Looking a little odd is a good trade off for still being able to walk at the end of the day and laughing at all the women (and occasionally men) sitting, applying bandages to their blisters because they wore good looking but uncomfortable shoes.
2. Bring your own food and water.
In New York food is insanely expensive period but within the convention centre the vendors have rather a captive audience and they know it. They’ll charge you $3 for a bottle of water, sometimes more. Your best bet is to go and buy a bottle of water from a pharmacy or corner store and bring it into the convention, along with some snack food and a main meal. If you don’t want to lug your food around all day, then your second best bet is just to go outside the convention centre and find a street vendor. Their food is just as good as the stuff in the main convention hall and it’s usually half the price. I’m not sure how things are in Chicago in terms of finding reasonably priced food, but if you go to the New York convention in 2017 you need to make plans to either bring food or bring a little money for street vendor food.
3. Bring business cards!
I can’t stress this one enough in part because so many people don’t do it and really, really regret it later. Even if you’re a blogger and don’t go to the BEA Bloggers Convention, you’ll still end up networking with dozens of people. And most of those people will have business cards they want to exchange. Business cards are really cheap to design online and get printed. I got 500 cards for just under $25 through VistaPrint and that’s including shipping to my remote little community. If you’re spending all this money and all this effort to go to Book Expo America, you might as well get something extra out of it and having business cards for when you network is really important.
Bonus tip: remember to pack your business cards. There’s no point in making business cards if you left them in your hotel room or in your house halfway across the country.
4. Talk to people; they don’t usually bite.
One of the things I noticed while waiting in line for various autographs is that very few people actually strike up conversations. I’m not a natural extrovert but then again, most people at BEA are also bookish introverted people. So go on, strike up a conversation with the person ahead or behind you in line! Who knows? You might get an interesting business opportunity or make a new friend. Or you might meet an author you admired but didn’t know what they looked like. One time while I was waiting for a Scott Westerfeld book I struck up a conversation with the short redhead behind me. She turned out to be Kellie Sheridan, author of Mortality and co-founder of Patchwork Press, an independent collective that I request a lot of books from on NetGalley.
Seriously, just talk to other people. You’re all here because you share similar interests anyway, so why not? Even in New York or other big cities, people don’t usually bite when you talk to them.
5. Only take galleys of books you’re actually going to read and review.
Don’t be that person that always takes books they’re not interested in just because they’re free. Or because they’re free and they want to use them in a giveaway on their blog. You’re going to get a ton of books marketed to you so I know it’s hard to say no, but you really do have to learn to say it. Otherwise you’ll end up with 50+ books and no practical, cost-effective way to bring them home. Besides, it’s not fair if you take books you have no intention of reading or reviewing and someone who actually is a fan of the author doesn’t get one because of that. I know it’s awesome to brag about how many books you got (I know I received quite a few books) but you really do need to just take ones you’ll actually read. It’s only fair.
6. Have fun!
Book Expo America is by its very nature, fun for book lovers. But some people take it way too seriously and think it’s a life-or-death struggle to get the most coveted ARC or talk to the most popular author. Spoiler alert: it’s not. You can have a plan for when you want to get in line for your favourite author signings, galley drops or panels but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t make some of these events. Just take a laissez faire attitude to the whole thing and life will be so much better for you. You have enough stress in your daily life! Don’t stress out over something that’s supposed to be fun.