Ladies and Gentlemen! Children of all ages! Welcome to the greatest book show on earth! A weekend of thrills! A weekend of reading fun! A weekend at BookExpo America in New York City!
This year's edition of our industry's annual Big Top extravaganza will take place May 29-31 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, perched beside the glittering waters of the Hudson River, otherwise known as the auxiliary runway for U.S. Airways Flight 1549. (We recommend LaGuardia, Newark or JFK airports as preferred arrival venues.)
But unlike Ringling Bros., BEA's circus won't be limited to three rings. There will be dozens, spreading in concentric arcs from a nucleus on the convention floor throughout the city, encompassing hotels, restaurants, bars and more. Business will mix seamlessly with pleasure and the workday will run from dawn to dawn.
So welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends . . . until Sunday.
BookExpo really does have a little something for everyone--ringmasters and stagehands, high-wire artists and tightrope walkers (financially, anyway), clowns happy and sad, literary lions and tigers and bears.
But what about that big ol' mean-looking pachyderm lurking in the corner? Could it be the future of publishing? A rogue elephant in the center ring? Maybe if we're lucky, we can nudge it into the spotlight and make it stand on its hind legs for a few days, balance precariously on a huge ball, hoist a publicist into the air with its trunk. Maybe, just maybe, it will think we're the ones in control.
Are you going to the book circus this year? We'd love to hear about your strategies and memories.
I love BEA. I'm a trade show junkie. My first book event was the 1993 ABA show in Miami. I attended Booksellers School there and had my initial glimpse of center ring--the exhibition floor.
At some point that weekend--as I attended a lush, downtown rooftop garden launch party for Oprah Winfrey's autobiography (a book that never hit the presses, as it turned out) and a suitably spooky dinner for Anne Rice at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables; or as I walked on Miami Beach wearing a suit and carrying my shoes in socks, like a beached mobster--it occurred to me that this was a pretty damn good perk for a frontline bookseller from Vermont.
Sixteen years later, I'll resist the temptation to imagine Bookocalypse Now. The economy stinks. The publishing industry may not be underwater, but it's definitely paddling real hard on the surface. Booksellers have to measure every penny spent and their decisions about attending or not attending BEA are more challenging than ever. And how can one not speculate about a virtual BEA for E-books in the "distant" future, held exclusively on Twitter and Facebook? Okay, we can resist that last one for awhile.
But just a couple of weeks from now, the circus will come to town. There are logical, businesslike, serious reasons for me to attend BookExpo, but I never forget why I really want to be there. BEA is the bookseller's Big Top extraordinaire--all those energetic attendees and performing exhibitors. (Watch me pull a bestseller out of my hat!)
When I was a full-time bookseller, my prime directive at BEA was to find the unexpected book, the one that might never cross my desk otherwise. Finding that unexpected book(s) was pure pleasure, and good business.
It almost doesn't matter how many years I've been going to this thing or what the current state of the industry might be; BEA always makes me feel that the coming year will be a good one. I used to leave the show wanting to hit the ground (aka the bookstore's sales floor) running and sell the hell out of the autumn list.
For a registered member of the International Society for Cynics and Fatalists, that's one amazing side effect. As we approach this year's BookExpo, fending off the logical realization that our collective heads may be in the collective lions' mouths, the reader and bookseller in me still expects inspiration to happen there.
I'll wander the aisles at BookExpo like a fisherman on the riverbank looking for the flash of something--a jacket, a title, a familiar author's name--that tells me I should pause and cast a line here, or here, or there.
But fishing is a quiet sport, and we're talking Big Top here (or "Over the Top," as Ringling Bros. modestly claims). So, tell me, are you running away to join the circus, too?