Book Expo America: Why BEA Doesn’t Matter to Me (and Why it Does)

For those of you not working in the publishing or writing worlds, BEA is just another alphabet soup of an acronym, (although a far pithier one than SCBWI, as I wrote about here). But for those in those worlds, BEA falls somewhere between Dante’s seventh ring, a candy shop, and a vital business meeting with several thousand of your closest colleagues and competitors.

It can look like this:

(source)

Or it can look like this:

   

And for me, it looks a lot like this:

Yes, I went and got ALL THE BOOKS.

BEA is a trade show, a place for Big Six publishers and independent publishers and self-pubbed authors and academic presses and everyone in the business of creating books to meet with librarians and booksellers and book promoters and book bloggers and everyone in the business of selling books. And it’s batshit crazy for sure.  For a newcomer it can be like walking into someone else’s 50th family reunion when you know nobody: lots of air-kissing and “remember-when”-ing and inside talk about the industry and the next big thing. For authors, as a veteran writer told me, it’s a place where you’re either being promoted by your publisher or resenting that you’re not being promoted by your publisher. It’s where you might sulk over the massive line for a big name book signing, or cringe at the look on the face of an author sitting at a deserted table for another signing. For bloggers and newbies, it’s also a time to grab ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies, of books publishers are giving away before their publication date, to build up interest. (The pursuit of these ARCs can lead some of us *cough cough* to bring a large wheelie suitcase to fill with books, while our few clothes reside, wrinkled, in a tiny satellite duffel).

It’s totally overwhelming.

And here’s the thing: as an unpublished author I really didn’t need to be there. Unlike the aforementioned NESCBWSOISDFUIDFDPGIPDFOISDF Conference, this is not about writing. It’s about selling books. And as of yet, that’s not the business I’m in. So while I did get to say hello to a few editors and agents (largely thanks to my authorial mafia of aunt Elizabeth Levy and cousin Robie Harris), I’d be lying if I said I was there to further my career.

Really, I was mostly there to get ALL the books.

So in a lot of ways, BEA didn’t matter to me. I was tremendously interested to hear both Young Adult and Middle Grade editors talk about the books they most wanted to promote for the fall. (Still some dystopians, in the YA world, for those who say that trend is over…). And it was great to grab new work by authors I enjoy like Mike Mullin and Saci Lloyd. But on a business level, it really didn’t matter to my life.

However, there was a Children’s Book Author Breakfast. And there I heard the adorable Cris Colfer, the hysterical John Green, and the truly magnificent Lois Lowry speak, among others. And wow.

John Green, who writes some of my favorite contemporary YA books, spoke about how writers and publishers should not get distracted by the interactive, the multi-functional, the shiny world of e-books. “Story trumps all,” he told us, then quipped, deadpan, when the crowd cheered: “Well, saying that in this crowd is kind of like being in a room full of elephants, as an elephant, talking about how great elephants are.”

And Lois Lowry spoke of her newest book SON, and how it closes the quartet she started close to twenty years ago. It was a series that began when her son, an Air Force pilot fighting in that Iraq war, asked, “why do people do such terrible things to each other, and how can we stop it?” She spoke of trying to answer that in her award-winning book THE GIVER. And about how the questions left unanswered led her to write BECOMING BLUE, then THE MESSENGER, and finally SON. And though all the books, how the ultimate question kept repeating itself: Why do people do such terrible things to each other? Sometime during her writing of this quartet, and thinking on this question, her son was killed in service.

And as she spoke of this, and of how, in her book SON, she was able to create a happy ending, it was suddenly clear to me that BEA does matter to me. Because stories matter. And sharing the stories with the greater world matters. And inspiring others to write, and to work hard to make sure kids are finding and reading books…well, that matters too.

So I did get ALL the books. And a shot of pure adrenaline in the arm to boot. Now it’s time to get back to writing…just as soon as I finish reading one more page.

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