Monday, March 24, 2008

Should you go to BookExpo America or ALA?

There are two huge conventions coming up for people in the book industry:
Should you go to one of them? Both? I've been to both BookExpo and ALA and here's a comparison of the differences between the two that might help you decide.

The biggest question I have for you is: what's your reason for going?

To get free books.
BookExpo, hands down. There are certainly free books at ALA, but nothing compares to the sheer quantity of books you'll stumble away with from BookExpo. Someone once told me that they associate Book Expo with physical pain because of how many books you end up carrying around. To give you an idea of what they're talking about: at ALA, I walked away with bags of books. At BookExpo I walked (and dragged) away boxes of books.

To attend sessions, workshops and programs.
ALA definitely wins out on this one. BookExpo is a trade show and the exhibits are the main event. ALA is an enormous convention, and the exhibits are only one part of it. ALA has every kind of program, awards ceremony, discussion group and meeting on the topic of libraries and books you can imagine. There are programs at BookExpo too, but they take up only a few rooms in the conference center. The programs at ALA take up the meeting rooms of nearly every major hotel within five blocks.

To network with colleagues.
It depends on who your colleagues are. Booksellers? Go to BookExpo. Librarians? Go to ALA. For everyone else... such as bloggers, teachers, authors, the answer to this question is a little more fuzzy. If you want to talk with people about literature, then ALA is the place for you. BookExpo tends be more focused on the business aspect of things.

To meet authors.
This one is a tough call, but I think that BookExpo wins out in terms of sheer quantity. Here's a sampling of authors I met, spoke to and got autographed copies of their new books in ONE DAY at BookExpo. They include: Marc Brown, Tomie DePaola, Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Eoin Colfer, Lane Smith, Andrew Clements, Marc Teague, David McPhail, Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Ann M. Martin, Jon Muth, and Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket). The scary thing? That's only about half of the authors and illustrators I talked to that day.

In all fairness to ALA, there are an enormous number of authors there, too. If you're looking to hear authors talk, ALA is the place because of the plethora of fantastic and unforgettable speakers. They appear in workshops, give keynote addresses and beautiful award acceptance speeches. Plus, they're signing books all over the exhibit hall. You certainly won't lack for authors to meet at either conference.

To see every publisher in the known universe.
BookExpo. People who have only attended ALA may find this hard to believe, but there are even more exhibits at Book Expo than at ALA. How do I know? Both conferences were held at the D.C. Convention Center within the last two years. The ALA exhibits took up three ENORMOUS exhibit halls. The BookExpo exhibits took up all five exhibit halls.

On the other hand, I don't think that this really matters. Just about every major and minor publisher has a booth at both conferences. You'll see all the same publishers no matter which one you go to.

Are these conferences worth going to?
Absolutely. They're both wonderful, enriching and exhausting experiences. You'll meet more people (including famous authors) then you could have dreamed possible. You'll talk with countless people who love books as much as you do. You'll walk away with a ridiculous number of free books, pens and totebags. You'll get a terrific preview of the upcoming year in the book world and you'll feel prepared and on top of things as new books get released.

Which one should you go to?
That's a question you have to answer for yourself. It depends a great deal on where the conferences are located (in relation to where you live) and what your goals are. If you are a book lover, and in the book industry (or write reviews)... I'd recommend going to one per year, budget permitting. Alternate which one you go to each year, if you can. And if you're a librarian who has never been to the BookExpo, or a bookseller who has never been to ALA, give those conferences a try. You won't regret it and you may start looking at your industry from a different perspective.

Unfortunately, this year, both ALA and the BookExpo are in Los Angeles, only a few weeks apart from each other. This is great for people who live on the West Coast, but pretty depressing for the rest of us.

Plan ahead
If you can't go this year, go next year. Here are the upcoming locations for both conferences:

2009: BookExpo in New York City, ALA in Chicago.
2010: BookExpo in Washington DC, ALA in Washington D.C.
2011: BookExpo in Las Vegas, ALA in New Orleans.

ALA actually has all their convention dates planned between now and 2014, but even I can't think that far ahead.

In the next few weeks, I'll post specific advice for each conference.


  1. This is great timing! I'll plan for the ALA conference- thanks for the advance advice!

  2. Yeah for 2010! That's going to be MY year, baby!

  3. Thanks, Anne and Anastasia!

    Glad it was helpful, Nancy. I'll see you at ALA!

    MotherReader- Exactly. It's all about 2010.

  4. The only other piece of advice I can add is the rolly bag. You can't take it on the floor, but you can check it. Then getting to the subway/bus/cab won't be as likely to result in back injury!!! :)

  5. 2010 has both in town?! WAHOO!!!!

    I have to find a better way to deal with the books I pick up though... hmmmmmm...Maybe I should just suck it up and drive into town and make frequent trips to my car trunk?!

  6. i hope you come to NYC for next year!

  7. Susan,
    that was completely USEFUL. Thank you! I still have some homework to do, but I needed that overview.