Obviously I didn't do my BEA homework well enough, because despite my plans and goals for the event, I spent most of the time wandering around the LA Convention Center, hopelessly lost. Spending time at BEA is a lot like spending time on the internet. You intend to do research on a particular topic, say Beverly Hills shoes, but you start clicking on other links and exploring more sites and before you know it two hours have passed and you now know everything there is to know about South-East LA weather patterns. I missed all but one of the workshops I'd signed up for and missed every author signing I was interested in. Attending BEA became a test of Zen.
However, I don't think it was a complete waste of time. I did get a glimpse of the bizarre and somewhat elusive book industry, and I was pleasantly surprised by how polite everyone was. Not once did I get mowed over or ignored. Even rep's at the Simon and Schuster pavilion were cheerful and chatted about books with me. They graciously accepted a flier about Laura's book while offering me a pre-release book of their own, some of which I accepted. That's one thing about BEA I learned very quickly: say no to an offered book or you'll quickly spend the day hauling around 30 pounds in your bag. But behind the smiling reps at Simon and Schuster and Random House is where the real purpose of BEA is. At numerous tables in each pavilion sat well dressed men and women making deals and taking book orders. Their heads were bowed close together as they looked over contracts and papers, speaking in quiet voices, and finishing their discussion with a firm handshake. I heard snippets of conversations: "that's not very many units..." "he doesn't know what he's talking about..." "I'm not sure about these numbers..." "this display alone cost one thousand dollars." I felt that I had wandered into a secret society's secret convention and the secret members were speaking in a secret code. They even had secret handshakes.
I also learned that I was under-dressed. Despite the fact BEA is a convention, people were dressed in black suits and sleek dresses, and most wore impractical, high-heeled shoes. Because I'd been warned over and over to wear good shoes, I noticed people's feet. 60% chose style over comfort. In my jeans, Medusa's Muse t-shirt, and red Keens, it was obvious I wasn't an "insider." Several times I was asked if I was a librarian. I guess librarians like to be comfortable.
Speaking of librarians, I couldn't find any. The American Library Association booth was abandoned and there was no "library section." I spent all Saturday morning hunting for them, eager to hand out free copies of Traveling Blind. No luck. That was the same time I lost my cell phone, so by lunchtime on day two of BEA I was ready to sit on the floor and cry. Happily, an exhibitor found my cell phone and when I called my number I found them. Thank you so much, Interlink Publishing! After the cell phone fiasco I found librarians in a workshop called "What Librarians Wish Publishers Knew." An interesting talk, and I'll go into more detail in my next post. I gave free copies to two of them and handed fliers to the rest.
I did manage to find the Independent Publishers Section and Writer's Row, both located in the very back of the West Hall, about as far from the Main-South Hall as you can get. All I can say is these people are brave. While walking up and down the two aisles, I got very depressed. There were table after table of writers and publishers, practically leaping into the aisle and thrusting a book into my hand, as if begging me to take one. I took too many, and while a few were poorly produced in my opinion, I did find some treasures, especially a book by Simhananda published by Orange Palm and Magnificent Magus Publications. I will write about more Indy publishers I met at BEA in a later post.
The highlight of the event for me was the 20 minutes I chatted with Gordon Burgett while drinking champagne during the PMA Fortieth Birthday bash at their booth. He wrote one of the books that helped start Medusa's Muse: Publishing To Niche Markets.
The other wonderful, as well as humbling moment, was when I found Laura's book on the PMA shelves. At first, I couldn't find it, but then, hidden amongst the other biography/autobiography books, was Traveling Blind.
Overall, I'm glad I went, but I'm not sure I'll go again. Or if I do go when it returns to California, I'll just buy a day pass. And I definitely won't go alone! Jane was planning to come with me, but circumstances kept her away, so I had to go solo. I'm not a naturally outgoing, gregarious person and a shy person at BEA doesn't stand a chance. I'm sure I would have had more fun if I'd been there with a pack of friends and we schmoozed our way into some of those after-hours parties. Also, I would dress better. Nicer outfits, skirts with stockings, but I'd still wear my comfy shoes.