Getting the Most Out of BookExpo America

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BookExpo America (BEA) draws thousands of exhibitors and attendees from around the globe each year. With multiple floors and hundreds of booths and exhibits, BEA can be difficult to navigate. At Winter Institute 8, veteran booksellers Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction in Missoula, Montana, and Bill Cusumano of Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan, joined Other Press Associate Publisher Paul Kozlowski and BEA Event Director Steve Rosato for a discussion on how booksellers can get the most out of their time at BEA.

Theroux, who has been attending BEA since 1972 (back then, the ABA Convention), explained that it took her several years to arrive at the point where the trade show was an ideal experience. She met with people each year, developed stronger relationships, and understood the industry better each time she attended. “It takes time to evolve,” Theroux said.

Cusumano also affirmed that the benefits of BEA build over the years, and for him it started by learning the floor and doing the footwork and talking to anyone he could, regardless of how high up on the chain they were. “I don’t care who you see in that booth,” said Cusumano. “That 22-year-old publicist is going to grow in the job. They’re going to remember you. Make that face-to-face contact.”

From the publisher’s perspective, Kozlowski said, “The number one reason to go to BEA is to talk about books with booksellers. If anything gets in the way of that or impedes that effort, we tend to grouse about it.” So, he advised booksellers: “I want our booth to be open to you. If two of us are standing there talking, you can interrupt us. Interrupt what we’re doing, because that, to us, is BEA. We’re spending the time, the effort, the money to connect with you.”

Publishers do have an agenda at BEA: to sell books, to get some good press, and to do business in rights and distribution, explained Rosato, and booksellers have their own agenda: to discover titles, to attend educational sessions, and to network. But the goal common to both groups is that publishers want to meet with booksellers, and booksellers want to meet with publishers.

The panelists agreed that the most important thing to do to prepare for BEA is to plan ahead. By formulating an attack plan, using all available resources before and during the show, and remembering the little details, booksellers can coordinate a successful BEA experience. “You guys are the heart and soul of the show,” Rosato told the session attendees. “Planning is probably the most important thing you can do.”

Formulate a plan of attack:

Booksellers should decide who they want to meet with ahead of time and either schedule appointments or draft a list of who to see in the order of booths on the show floor. Going into meetings with a concise, bulleted list of topics to cover and bringing supporting materials (be it a marketing kit or photos of events) is very helpful. Kozlowski suggested making up a one-page document that outlines the store’s highlights, from visitor numbers to special programs to how far it is from major cities and airports. Cusumano explained, “Don’t overwhelm with information, but bring anything that’s going to be very concise to what your needs are. You want to be remembered.” Cusumano also uses BEA as an opportunity to meet with his main wholesaler each year. “So much of our business is tied to them. You can really do some productive things there,” he said.

Choose a limited number of goals to accomplish while at BEA. Plan out the top two or three goals you have for BEA, suggested Kozlowski, be it getting an author tour stop planned or meeting a specific person at a publishing house — and then make sure you get those things done. “If in preparing for BEA you are passionate about something, do it. You’re only going to do three, four, or five things, so if it’s the most important thing, make sure it happens. Just don’t try to do ten things,” said Kozlowski.

Being on the floor is important, but don’t forget the rest. Theroux recommended paying attention to the off-the-floor programming, be it an educational event, an author buzz, or even a party after the show closes for the day. These events are useful for education and networking. “One thing that has really evolved for me has been some of the outside programming that happens, that takes me away from the floor,” said Theroux.  “I will never miss an Editors Buzz.” Theroux also keeps her schedule clear on the last day of the show, so she can simply walk around and look for any last thing she may have missed.

Check out sidelines and gift options, suggested Rosato. Take a look at these displays between meetings or when exploring the floor, and consider the ways in which these products can augment or differentiate a store.

Use all available resources:

BookExpo America website: BEA offers the BEA Show Planner, which allows you to highlight publishers and their booths on an interactive map, add events and appointments to a master agenda, and print or email a custom-made schedule. The BEA Mobile app features the exhibitor list, author autographing schedules, event listings, show updates and alerts, and an interactive map. BEA also sends out newsletters counting down to the show and directed at specific groups of attendees, including booksellers. A helpful video on the website details useful tools for coordinating BEA plans.

Regional Associations: Carrie Obry, executive director of Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, welcomes calls and questions about BEA from stores within her region and is happy to pair booksellers who have little BEA experience with booksellers who have lots, so they can discuss tips and ideas ahead of time. She suggested booksellers in other regions contact their regional associations to request the same.

Publisher sales reps: Booksellers can also tap into their sales reps as a resource, to find out whom they should be talking to at that publishing house, any title highlights to look out for from the imprints, and any events the reps may know of that would be especially relevant to the store.

Industry publications: Bookselling This Week, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness actively report on BEA before, during, and after the show. Reading all of the newsletters, bulletins, and articles — and making notes — can help build up a robust and detailed schedule. These organizations also have great social media presences and can be helpful to follow.

And finally, don’t forget the little things, the panel recommended. Keep the trade show floor plan handy, wear comfortable shoes, drink water, and always have a stack of business cards on hand. It can also be helpful to dog-ear catalog pages when progressing through meetings or visiting booths, and always walk the entire show floor to make sure you don’t miss anything. “The only other thing I would tell you about planning for BEA is get the earliest flights you can possibly get at LaGuardia,” said Cusumano. “Time’s the most precious thing you’ve got.”