Last year after Book Expo America (BEA), Kimberly and I offered up a number of posts about the how-tos and we offered tip sheets to make the experience as good as it could be. This year, I think I’m just going to give a look at the highs and lows of this year’s show in hopes of making it clear why this convention is more about the people than the books. I went out for a week this time and did a lot more than last year.
Saturday, May 21
- Since I didn’t get to my hotel until almost 7 pm, the only thing I had the time/energy for was to grab dinner with people who were both known to me and totally new to me. I met up with Michelle (GalleySmith) and Lenore (Presenting Lenore), both who I hadn’t met before, as well as Liz (A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy), my co-blogger Kimberly and her boyfriend/our periodic contributor Matt (A Walrus Darkly). We went out to dinner at HK, and it was totally clear how exhausted we all were from traveling that day. A quiet night, but it was fantastic to put faces to names.
Sunday, May 22
- All of my roommates were around now, and it was nice to meet Sarah (YA Librarian Tales), Alea (Pop Culture Junkie), and Gail (A Ticket to Anywhere).
- Liz, Michelle, Lenore, and I went to Books of Wonder for a signing with Casey Sciesza and Steven Weinburg (To Timbuktu), Julie Chibarro (Deadly, which I ended up buying), Elizabeth Scott (Between Here and Forever), Amy Ignatow (The Popularity Papers), Megan McCafferty (Bumped), and Melissa Kantor (The Darlings Are Forever). They all talked a bit about their books and why/how they got into writing, though I have to say that it was Megan McCafferty who really captured my attention. She discussed the satire of her story, and I quite enjoyed hearing her talk about reader reaction to her book. Before the signing, the four of us grabbed lunch at Good Times Diner, where we got to talk about blogging, authors, books, and other bloggers. Great conversation with three very intelligent ladies.
- After our adventure, I went back to my hotel, then met up with Kim and Matt again to have dinner together. We had Thai food at Thai Select and discussed super secret blog things.
- Kim, Matt, and I ventured to New York City’s infamous STRAND bookstore. We spent quite a while wandering the stacks — most of the 18 miles of them — but all we walked away with was a tea mug (for me). I was quite impressed with their YA selection, as well as their graphic novel section.
Monday, May 23
- In the early afternoon, the roommates, along with Kim, Matt, Michelle, Lenore, and Liz, all journeyed to the offices of Simon and Schuster for a Book Blogger Preview of their upcoming fall titles. It was a bit crowded, as S&S invited 60 bloggers to the event. We got to hear from Elizabeth Miles talk about her new book Fury (which I mentioned earlier is the first book out of Lauren Oliver’s Paper Lantern Lit), then we had boxed sandwich lunch (something that was a little too common and challenging for someone who doesn’t eat mayonnaise to tackle this week), and then we heard from Ellen Hopkins, who read from her forthcoming Perfect. Between Miles and lunch, we got a preview from the publicist of their fall books, and the vast majority were sequels or companions to other books.
- One of the things that the reps talked about was the repackaging and retitling of Robin Wasserman’s Skinned trilogy. I popped the image here for you to look at. For me, this is extremely disturbing. There were lots of oohs and aahs from the audience, but Kim and I looked at each other in shock: look how unnaturally thin that model is. Look at how it also seems to objectify the female body. For me, this is really quite disturbing. I can’t say it’s a repackage I’m at all excited about.
- One of the other portions of this event was a publicists-asking-the-bloggers question period, and it was then that Kim and I really felt like strange people. Lots of the bloggers offered answers to questions that we are of completely opposites minds about, but it sort of proved to us that we are confident about what we’re doing and are comfortable with how we approach things. An interesting discussion of book trailers/countdown widgets (which we don’t use), along with what felt like a lot of, well, entitlement to free things. There were no single culprits, but as a whole, it was a little uncomfortable to hear how much bloggers believe they deserve free things. All and all, I was a little let down by the preview — I’m entirely grateful to have been invited, for sure, but the books discussed didn’t get me as excited as they got other readers and the discussion didn’t get me fired up. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of being tired of the series books or being pretty familiar with the audience we reach here at STACKED.
- After the S&S preview, Michelle and I made our way to the Mulberry Street Library for the Teen Author Carnival. The program was crammed in much too small quarters, and the basement of the library was sweltering. Michelle and I snaked our way into the back of the room for the first panel, Otherworldly Adventures. After we snagged standing spaces in the back, it got entirely too hot for Michelle, and she snuck back out. I wanted to leave, but after what was a cab ride from hell to get there, I was going to tough it out. Before the panel started, I ran into Melissa Walker, and I finally got to meet Michael Northrop, who I had a delightful conversation about level two noodling with. Standing for the hour long panel in such a hot room was less than wonderful, but the group of authors who spoke on this topic were interesting to hear from. After that panel, I decided I couldn’t handle the idea of getting out of that room and I waited to grab a chair from a departer, and I ended up sitting in on the panel of debut authors. It was interesting to hear from them, and after their discussion, I went and introduced myself to Kirsten Hubbard (who, along with her cobloggers at YA Highway are co-sponsoring the ALA YA Blogger Meetup) and to Nova Ren Suma, who you’ll be hearing from a little later this week on the blog. The signing room got way too crowded, hot, and disorganized for me to handle, so as soon as the second panel finished, I got out of there and headed back to the hotel to relax the rest of the evening.
Tuesday, May 24
- Book Expo America officially opened. I met up with Kim and Matt again to hit the exhibition floor all day. To be perfectly honest, day 1 was a letdown. The publishers seemed to be really only pushing a small number of titles this year, as opposed to last year, and there seemed to be hours between new books appeared on the floor and new discussion emerged about exciting titles. This was also the day of the LJ Librarian’s Lunch, which Kim and I RSVP’d to. When we got there, they had nothing to drink (we’re talking not even water pitchers on the table), and their lunch option was a sandwich in a box (with, again, no indication of whether sandwiches were slathered in mayo or not). We were really disappointed and ended up not sticking around because it would have been two more hours of being unable to eat.
- We didn’t make a plan for the floor that day, except for one: I wanted to meet Tyra Banks at Random House. And, after waiting in a “not line” and then an official line for an hour, I got my brush of fame. Check out her posing for my camera! After that event, we were ready to call it a night.
Wednesday, May 25
- This was, by far, my favorite day of BEA. Janssen finally arrived, and I was excited to see her since I haven’t seen her since I graduated from Texas in 2008. She, Kim, Matt, and I waited in line to get into the convention center early, and then we also met up with Tiffany (@TiffanyE). The floor was insane that day, but we made a schedule this time and got to meet a number of authors/books we wanted. It seemed like there was more to look at and hear about on Wednesday, though still, there were only so many times I could ask the reps their favorite titles for fall and hear the same two books over and over. Neither of which really clicked for me.
- Perhaps one of the highlights of the entire event for me was grabbing a snack with Melissa Walker. We’d run into one another at the Teen Author Carnival, but we wanted to talk a little longer and made a date to connect here. When we got the chance to, we also heard from Michael Northrop, so he joined in. It was a fantastic discussion about books and reading, as well as sports, teens, and book blurbs. This really got my mind going on some career-related stuff, and it was a wonderful chance to talk books with people who really know them, too.
- After BEA, Kim, Matt, Janssen, and I hit up Cafe Andalucia Tapas Bar, where we each had one appetizer and probably each consumed a pitcher of water. Again, great conversation about books and blogging. We were invited that evening to a Blogger Appreciation Event by Harper Collins, but we decided in lieu of another too small venue with too many people event, we’d hit up Pinkberry. It was a great choice.
- I went home and began my first BEA book: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler.
Thursday, May 26
- BEA floor, day three. This time I got to the front of the line, since I didn’t sleep that evening and decided just to go when I was ready and read in line. We had a few signings we wanted to make, including one with Steve Brezenoff. He signed finished copies of Brooklyn, Burning which I really loved (review closer to pub date — you’re in for a real treat here). We then hit up a signing of Dinosaur vs. The Potty and a few others. At the very end of the show, the folks at Scholastic really treated me well and let me have first crack at all of the advanced titles they’d had on display vs. ones on the floor (which really means, their summer releases they brought only one copy of, rather than fall releases they had piles of).
- Janssen and I met up with the lovely Sarah Darer Littman at the conclusion of the show and chatted for a couple of hours. Again, it’s these sorts of discussions where so much value lies in BEA: what Melissa and Michael got churning in my head, Sarah continued. I’ve got something I want to pursue, I think. So while picking up books was a lot of fun, getting a spark for the future is invaluable.
- After BEA concluded, Janssen and I went up to the Scholastic store for their This Is Teen launch party, which included Libba Bray, Maggie Steifvater, and Meg Cabot. Before going in, we grabbed lunch (at 5 pm, we were able to still order lunch), and then we met up with Matt and Kim at Scholastic. When we got there, though, my name wasn’t on the guest list, despite knowing I RSVP’d because I sent my confirmation then sent the invite to Janssen (who WAS on the list). It was an incredibly frustrating experience to stand there and be told that the contact person I had heard from didn’t work there and couldn’t be reached and that security didn’t know what to do. So, I decided I was leaving — and that’s when someone chased me down and told me I could come. When we got up to the party, though, we didn’t get name tags and felt like we definitely didn’t belong. Again, lots of bloggers were there, and I had no idea what we were supposed to do, given we had no name tags…and we ended up leaving shortly after arriving.
- My roommates and I ended the evening back at Pinkberry. I cannot get over their green tea yogurt.
Friday, May 27
- Book Blogger Convention: keynotes from the blogger at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She talked about reading and books, and I couldn’t help but think about how little people who attend things like this understand about librarian conferences. There’s a misconception that librarian conventions herald the book and written word, when in my experience, it’s quite the opposite. An interesting conundrum I contemplated during the convention. We then heard from a panel of publicists and enjoyed a delicious lunch with a fantastic salad/sandwich bar (and no mayo!). It was during lunch I met one of the 2012 debut authors, Hilary Weisman Graham. She’s written Reunited, a contemporary ya novel. We had a wonderful bonding over contemporary titles, and I’m eager to read her book next year, for sure.
- After lunch, we hit a session on blogging ethics (which, unfortunately, many of the attendees needing to hear this had skipped for the other session), and we went to one on technology. I found all of the sessions a little lengthy and little new territory was really hit, which is why I haven’t expanded on much. For new bloggers, the learning opportunities here were huge, and it’s my only hope they walked away with something.
- I said goodbye to many friends today, and I spent the evening packing my stuff and, err, eating way more dessert than was necessary. I was ready to go home.
Impressions and Thoughts:
- I found this year’s BEA floor to be a real disappointment, with a lack of any attention for contemporary titles and a huge push on just a couple of buzz titles. Some of the buzz titles were in such high demand that many people acted like animals when they saw it available. Reading this PW article made me sick — the entitlement some bloggers felt they had to take, take, take really made me hurt a bit about what we’re doing here and being associated with people who act that way.
- Being on the floor this year and talking with publishers this year made me realize that what we do here on STACKED is what I love to do. A lot of people want answers to blogging — how to do it, how to write their reviews (seriously, someone asked the publishers how to write their reviews), how often to post, how they can ask for free stuff — and it made me realize that we have a good handle on what we’re doing here. We’re passionate about talking about all the elements of a book and reviewing it. And by that, we mean offering insights into what worked and didn’t work in a title, who it will appeal to, and whether it’s one worth sinking hours into or skimming. You know how we feel about a title, but that’s not the only thing you hear about. We’ll never simply post a like it/hated it from us. It’s incredibly time consuming, but it’s worthwhile. One of the questions someone asked at the Book Blogger Con really stuck with me, and that was how people find the time to keep blogging. The hard and simple truth is this: you find time for the things you are passionate about. Time is always on your own side when you love what you do, but there are sacrifices you sometimes have to make. There’s no magical answer except to make it your passion.
- I’ve come to realize that YA Contemporary books are much like YA librarians: misunderstood and easily overlooked, despite the fact they make a huge impact on individuals. Sure, they’re not flashy, sure they’re not earning big bucks or garnering 6-figure marketing deals, but they impact the lives of people greatly. I wish it were easier to make this point and I wish it weren’t the case. But it is what it is.
- The back channel is important: I had some of the best book related conversations off the BEA floor via email and Twitter chatter with other authors and readers who weren’t able to attend the convention. Having these dialogs is so important for not only understanding what we do, but also for what I mentioned earlier about finding time for your passion. The more you talk about it, the more passionate you get and the more ideas you generate.
- People Matter: Did you notice so little of my talk about what stood out to me each day was about the pile of books I got? It’s because it wasn’t the key goal I had this year. I wanted to talk with people, generate interesting discussion, and feel pumped to do something. After a number of really powerful discussions, I feel like there is a huge opportunity for me (one I can’t talk too much about at this juncture) but one that excites me and energizes me. The more I talked, the more it became apparent.
- Some bloggers leave a stale taste in my mouth. The immaturity, the quest to take, take, take, and the lack of knowing some of the key forces in the YA world really blew my mind (though that goes back to the first point, I think). Kim and I have joked more than a little about being called elitist, but I think it’s because we come from a different perspective than many a blogger. We blog for our colleagues, who are other professionals (librarians, educators, etc.). We have different goals and aims than a lot of the bloggers who came out, and it was challenging to open up good dialog in that context. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate bloggers who aren’t professionals, because there certainly are, but rather, there are some bloggers who are clearly only in it for free stuff. And that was obvious left and right, and it was obvious when one of the publishers said, point blank, they were hoarding some of their books because bloggers were taking multiple copies, leaving none for librarians or book sellers. Yikes!
- It’s obvious that dystopia is still THE big genre right now. That, along with books about girls in car crashes waking up, books featuring older teens (18 and 19), and books with “fantastical elements” really stood out to me.
- Middle grade books look to be quite strong this year. This was the first time they held a middle grade buzz panel, and I noticed a lot of love for middle grade books.
- There were a lot of debut titles dropped this year, which is exciting. There were also a million and two series books dropped this year, which is less exciting for me. Where are the good stand alones? I think we need a renaissance in this arena.
- James Dashner must never sleep with the number of books he blurbed this fall.
- I’m not sure I’ll go to BEA next year. I had fun and met some wonderful people, but the atmosphere and the crowds, as well as the lack of total passion for the things I’m passionate about in the lit world, made me consider my reason for attending. I feel like I get a lot more out of the ALA conferences, both from the panel perspective and from the talking-to-publicists perspective. Do I think I’ll be envious of those attending if I choose not to go? I’m not sure. It seems that those participating in Armchair BEA had some great conversations and opportunities, too, and I think that might be enough for me in the future.
- Moving BEA to the first week of June next year only reemphasizes to me a point I heard for the last couple of years: BEA is not librarian friendly. June is the worst month to host a convention you expect librarians to attend, both from the fact it’s when summer reading programs begin and the fact that’s when ALA hosts their huge annual convention. Taking two weeks off in one month is impossible. I also think moving it to the first week of June will open it up to more people who may not be in it for the right reasons.
- Three books were read in my time in NYC: Karsten Knight’s Wildefire (a funny paranormal book that I enjoyed, despite being totally not my usual fair); Tracey Porter’s Lark (a short, slightly creepy story about a girl who disappears and her relationship to two other girls); and the Asher/Mackler book, The Future of Us.
- Finally, for those curious about my bold claim last year that I only spent about $1000, I’ll say I think I spent about $1000 this year, too. Which, for a week in New York City, I think is pretty impressive.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).