by Katherine Erlikh
This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Book Expo America 2013 at the Javits Center. While I have previously attended comic book and anime conventions both big and small, this was my first time at a book convention. It was certainly a very startling and different experience. The BEA is the largest book trade convention in the United States. Publishers, authors, booksellers, teachers, librarians and dedicated readers flock to the expo annually, seeking the panels, new readers, autographs and freebies.
I had very few expectations, but I was thinking it would be similar to New York Comic Con (which also takes place at the Javits). Even though it was quite different, and at times I felt a little lost, I had a great time at the event.
The first thing I discovered is that in terms of BEA, I was great at finding out about awesome things after they happened. Amongst those things were book signings, giveaways and the chance to meet Grumpy Cat and/or Ann Romney. (From all reports I’ve heard so far, Ann Romney had far less security around her than Grumpy Cat did.) Granted, I’d probably have gone for Grumpy Cat, had I known it was happening. Not sure how a cat signs books, though – that alone would have been worth seeing.
The majority of the panels that took place during the weekend were aimed at the publishers, writers and sellers who attended the convention, rather than book aficionados. If you wanted to learn about the best way to promote your upcoming novel via Goodreads.com or the current state of self-publishing, you’d be set for the entire weekend. There were, however, a few panels that would be intriguing to geek culture; the BEA’s choice of this year’s best Sci-fi and Fantasy authors, and a panel presenting the New Graphic Novel are great picks for comic book nerds or sci-fi fans. On Saturday morning, Neil Gaiman of "Sandman," "Coraline" and "Doctor Who" gave a short talk and gave out 500 autographed copies of one of his novels. If you would like to watch the event, a video is available on the BEA website, along with recordings of other panels that took place during the week.
The atmosphere was certainly very different; majority of the attendees and exhibitors were attired in professional clothes and heels, not cosplayers and shirts with geek references on them. Even on Power Reader Day, the only day that the BEA is open to the public, very few of the fans who attended wore casual clothes.
Those attending BEA next year are advised to wear sensible, comfortable shoes to the event – even with my most comfortable shoes on, by the end of the weekend my feet were screaming and pleading for mercy.
The majority of exhibitors distribute free advance copies to the attendees at one point or another during the event, and no matter what you do and where you go you will amass at least a tote bag’s worth of books. I mean, free books, who turns down free books? People who don’t read, that’s who. Fortunately for my handbag, several of the exhibitors also handed out attractive, eye-catching tote bags. The attendees were very friendly and polite to one another; a great number of the congers stopped each other to inquire where one or the other had acquired a specific bag, or a certain book, or which line was for which signing.
While BEA was mainly a maze of booths, books and publishers, it held a great deal of stuff to be excited about for a geek like myself. If you are a "Star Wars" fan, you’d definitely want to check out DeAgostini Publishing’s "Star Wars" paraphernalia – including a chess set, action figures and even a miniature Millenium Falcon. On Power Reader Day, the Downtown stage played host to a number of events dedicated to Star Wars Reads day, with giveaways, author discussions, panels and more. In the meantime, dedicated Whovians squealed in excitement over a chance to meet Dave Thompson at the signing of his book Doctor Who FAQ on Friday and the Unemployed Philosophers Guild’s impressive Doctor Who merch display.
Harry Potter fans also had things in store for them. In addition to the unveiling of the second in a series of new book covers, several Harry Potter-related books were on display at various booths, and the aforementioned DeAgostini Publishing had an impressive, detailed Wizard’s chess set on display, along with a wand and a time-turner.
Trekkies also had a couple surprises waiting for them at the show. At the IDW booth, a large number of Star Trek comic books drifted around, glossy and inviting, with a large banner advertising tie-in comics for the new "Star Trek: Into Darkness" movie, alongside content from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Pony franchises.
To my surprise, when I looked closer at the variety of comic books displayed at the booth, I spotted… an actual Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover. The exhibitor proudly informed me that it was, indeed, licensed creation, and not fanmade. Keep this in mind, everyone – not only is Wholock canon, but so is Whotrek. It’s a thing.
Across the aisle and a few booths over, Dark Horse Comics had a booth promoting their lineup of manga and graphic novels; along with “I <3 Manga” buttons and Dark Horse lanyards, they gave out postcards advertising the upcoming graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, centered around the iconic band’s first manager, who was responsible for the band’s meteoric rise to superstardom and cultural icon status. I was even lucky enough to drop by on the day they had signed postcards at the booth!
If you were looking for general literary-minded merchandise, your best bet was probably the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, whose booth displayed passport notebooks from various fictional lands alongside puppets of famous authors, mugs emblazoned with Shakespearean insults and the aforementioned shelf of Doctor Who paraphernalia. If buying all the Daleks was not on your BEA itinerary this year, you could always do what I did, and get a GlitterToo shaped like a fantasy creature. I currently have a pair of sparkle unicorns galloping across my arm and zero regrets.
As I previously mentioned, a large number of booths were giving out promotional copies of upcoming books to attendees. I don’t think I picked up as many as others, as I’ve seen the same people with four or five stuffed to the brim tote bags trudging along the main floor every day, but it was a large haul. I mainly picked up science fiction and fantasy books, as those are my interests. The YA market was certainly very large this year, with a great number of new young adult novels debuting. Dystopian fantasies are currently very fashionable, it seems, as I’ve found myself in possession of at least three different ones.
In a nutshell, BEA is a great time if you’re a hardcore book lover, publisher, writer or bookseller. I certainly enjoyed myself, and I am looking forward to reading the books I’ve amassed. However, if you do not have a particular interest in books, it might not be the expo for you to visit. I do recommend Power Reader Day for hardcore readers, as you will inevitably acquire at least a month’s worth of reading material. Unless you are a book industry professional, the panels likely will not hold much attraction for you; the books, however, are worth all the troubles in Heaven and Earth, because books are happiness, and the Javits Center full of books? Why, I do believe that’s heaven.