Sunday, May 25, 2008

Advice for the Book Expo

Are you going to Book Expo America (BEA)? Need some helpful hints? Here’s what I learned from this wonderfully enormous book trade show. (For an overview of the conference, check out this post.) See below for advice about how to get free books, meet authors, and not break your back. If you’re looking for tips for authors, they’re at the end of the post.

Plan ahead
Make a list of the authors and publishers that you're the most interested in. Don’t be embarrassed to bring a spreadsheet (your friends will only make fun of you for a few minutes, and then they'll start using it.)

Authors sign books in two places… in the official autograph area and in their publisher’s booths. The advantage to the autograph area is that you can see several authors in a short period of time without running around the convention center. The advantage to the in-booth signings is that you can be walking around the exhibits and stumble upon your favorite author. It’s also a good way to discover an interesting book. Both formats work fine.

To make sure that you see all the authors you want to see, make a list before the conference starts. BEA has a variety of autograph schedules on their website that are vital to the planning process. I typically rely on the ones sorted by date and time, and the Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday schedules at a glance.

Go through BEA’s list (it will take a little time, but it’s absolutely worth every minute) and create a spreadsheet. Write down every author that sounds interesting to you and list the day, time, booth numbers (both for the booths in the autograph areas and the publisher booths) and the title of the book that they’re signing. If you’re using Excel or a similar spreadsheet program, when you’re done with your list you can sort it by day and time, so you’ll have a complete schedule of what booth to go to at what time. Even though you might have more authors on your schedule than you think you could ever see in a limited time period, put them all on your list just in case something else takes longer or shorter than you expect.

It’s important to know which book an author is signing because some authors autograph more than one book during the course of the convention. You want to know which book you’re standing in line for. BEA is not the place to bring previously published books for authors for to sign. The authors and publishers are there to publicize this year’s books, not last year’s.

It's also a good idea to make a separate list of all the publishers that you're really interested in. Sort this spreadsheet by booth number, so that you'll find the publishers as you walk up and down the endless aisles. Book Expo has pavilions, which are essentially groups of similar publishers. For example, all the travel publishers will be in the same general area. This isn't to say that all the travel publishers will be there, but if there's a pavilion on a subject you're interested in, that's a great place to start.

As you write up your publisher list, you'll notice that some large publishers seem to be sharing the same booth. This typically means that a publisher has multiple imprints (see this post for more about what an imprint is). You'll find that these publishers have one huge booth but are displaying many different catalogs and books because their company owns several smaller companies.

Get there early
There are a few high-profile authors that you need tickets for in order to attend their signings. As soon as you arrive (even before the exhibit hall opens) go immediately to the ticket booth in the lobby. The tickets are free and you can get up to four tickets per day (meaning 1 ticket for 4 different authors). They run out quickly, so be sure to get to the ticket booth early.

Don't take everything you see
There are tons of free handouts available at the BookExpo. Take only what you're interested in (or what a friend or colleague who didn't get to go would be interested in). If there's a free book or an ARC (advance review copy) that you already have access to, or have absolutely no interest in or use for... leave it for someone else. The same rule applies for fliers, tote bags, pens, and all the other freebies you'll see. Don't worry; you'll still acquire tons of free stuff.

Books are heavy
Obviously, you already know this. But, after you cram 50 free books into a tote bag, you'll realize that you can't physically stagger around the conference center anymore and you'll start judging books by weight, not quality.

Here's a tip for how to avoid breaking your back. As soon as the exhibit halls open on the first day, find the mailing center. It's usually in the back of the exhibition area and you can use it for directly mailing books home from the convention center. There are lots of empty boxes available. Write your name (or the name of your bookstore, library or organization) in big letters on the outside of the box and put it somewhere you'll remember it (like next to a pillar). Every few hours, come back to the box and dump out the books you're lugging around. At the end of the conference, mail the books home directly from the mailing center.

What if you live in the city where the Book Expo is being held? Shouldn't you just drag the books to your car instead of paying for postage? Nope. I tried this the first day of the Book Expo I attended which was in my home town and it was impossible, even with a personal courier service (my husband and his car) parked just outside the exit. I lugged 3 (or maybe four) BOXES of books across the convention center (the mailing center was in the back of the exhibit hall... nowhere near the exit). I didn't have a dolly or a cart (because they’re not allowed in the exhibit hall) and it was awkward, painful, and incredibly time consuming. The next day, I mailed the books home... and it was worth every penny not to go through that again. If it's not in your home town, don't even think about it. Just mail the books home.

Even if you decide not to mail the books... you should still set up a box in the mailing center so you have a place to put the books during the convention. If there's something extremely valuable (like a signed first edition by your favorite author that you don't want to lose under any circumstances) you may want to keep it with you. But, as the day goes on and your tote bags get heavier (and you pick up a surprising number of signed first editions by your favorite authors), you'll probably end up putting more books in the box (or boxes) than you expect.

How do you get free books?
You've walked up and down several rows in the exhibit hall and you don't see any publishers giving away books. You can't seem to acquire even two or three books... let alone the boxes I've mentioned above. Here's how:

Go to the booths of the large publishers. You'll find multiple copies of books laid out on the floor or on tables in big stacks. You can take these... and if there's a publisher that you're really interested in, you might want to check back at their booth later during the conference, because they'll put out different books on different days. Smaller publishers are less likely to have the funds to do this.

Ask for them. Publishers bring tons of books with them, but don't have the quantities to put every book out in a stack for everyone to take. If there's a book you're dying to read, find out who the publisher is, go to their booth and tell them what book you're looking for. If they don't have a copy with them, they may be able to send you one after the conference is over. Or not. But, it's always worth it to ask. And, even if you don't get to walk away with one, they'll probably have a copy on display that you can take a look at (which is particularly useful for picture books).

Go to the autograph sessions. The books being handed out (both in the autograph area and the in-booth signing) are free. Plus, you get the author's signature and a chance to talk to them. If an author has no line in front of them at an autograph session, and their book sounds interesting, go up and meet them. You may discover something special. I found this was a great strategy to find new picture books I hadn’t heard of.

Talk to the vendors

Don't just look at them as a source of free books. The Book Expo gives you a chance to share your opinions with the publishers and ask them about your favorite and forthcoming books. They may know an interesting detail about an author or the creation of a book that will help you "sell" a book when you get back home (in a bookstore, in a library, in a review, etc.) And they'll be interested to hear your feedback about their books and products. And ask them any questions you have. They know a lot more about their books than what's in the catalogs.

Talk to the other attendees

The book industry is fully represented on the floor of the convention center. Talk to the people that you're standing in line with and sitting next to at lunch. BookExpo is a great melting pot of booksellers, librarians, publishers, authors and anyone else you can think of that has an interest in books. It's a great place to get advice and new ideas.

Advice for authors

I’m not an author, but here’s what I would do if I were one. First, if I were anywhere remotely near the town the BookExpo was being held in, I would make it my business to go to it regardless of whether my book was being published this year, next year or last year. Once there, I would go out of my way to meet everyone connected with my publisher.

Authors already know their editors, obviously. But, as a book buyer, I don’t meet with editors, I meet with sales reps. (For an great description of what a rep does, see Alison Morris’ excellent post at Shelftalker.) The reps are the ones on the front lines doing the selling, and they’re also the people standing in the publisher booths talking to passerby during the conventions. Introduce yourself to them. If you’ve had a book published recently with that house (or it’s forthcoming in the current season), they probably already know who you are and have most likely talked to tons of buyers about your book. Talk to them and listen to their feedback. If every book buyer hates the cover of your book, or loves the main character, they’re the ones that hear it. Don’t neglect to talk to the publicists either, who are another crucial part of selling your book. Basically, if they’re part of your publishing house in any way, get to know them.

Be nice during the autograph sessions. Remember that the people waiting in line to see you are (for the most part) booksellers and librarians. Each one has the power to get your book into the hands of hundreds of people. Don’t be rude to them. They’ll remember. As a bookseller, I can tell you that when a customer loves a particular author’s books, it’s a real treat to be able to say that the author is just as lovely in person.

Don’t be discouraged if nobody is in line to receive a free autographed copy of your book. There are so many books and authors at the convention that sometimes even famous authors can have little to no line in front of them. Every person who does get a copy of your book, (no matter how many or few that number may be) has a chance to discover your work, so enjoy talking to the people who do come up to you. And remember, that it takes a little time to get established. Two years ago, I saw a big stack of free copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney available at the BookExpo. A few people took them, but I passed the stack several times during the conference, and it didn’t move much. Now that Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been on the bestseller lists for a while, I’d imagine those same books would go in a heartbeat today.

Go to the booths of publishers that produce books in the field you work in. If you’re a writer of cookbooks, check out other cookbooks and see what other people are writing. If you write early chapter books, pick up a stack of early chapter books to get an idea of the current state of the genre. Talk with other authors and publishers who work in your genre to get advice, feedback and share tips.

Above all, have fun. It’s wonderful to meet old, new and potential friends, colleagues, and fans, to get to know your publisher, to interact with other authors in your field and make wonderful discoveries.

And, if (like me) you can’t go to the Book Expo this year, don’t worry. There’s always next year. If you have any helpful hints, I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments if you have advice for Book Expo attendees, and I’ll be sure to try it out next year when the convention is back on the east coast.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Scholastic is releasing a special 10th anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. There's new cover art depicting Harry looking into the mirror of Erised, as well as additional artwork from Mary Grandpré. Plus, there's a tantalizing comment in the press release about bonus material from J.K. Rowling. To see the new cover up-close and personal, plus a beautiful illustration of Hagrid and the first years sailing across the lake, go to Scholastic's website.

I love the new cover, particularly the way you can just barely see the shadows of Harry's parents in the mirror. I'm not quite sure why there's a skull and a glass eye on the right hand side of the illustration.

My husband recently made an interesting point about the cover of the American edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There was such an unbelievable amount of secrecy about revealing the plot of the book before the publication date. And, yet, the cover of the book shows the absolute climax of Book 7 and the whole series.

It was right under our noses for 3 1/2 months and nobody picked up on it. I've got to give Scholastic a lot of credit for being gutsy.

There are two new polls up on the sidebar about the new edition. One of them asks if you like the old cover better than the new one. Here's a picture of the original cover of the American edition so you can compare:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poetry Friday: Freedom Again

For poetry Friday today, I'm celebrating the end of another semester of graduate school. In honor of the occasion, I'm repeating an original poem I posted in the fall.

It's going to be a short-lived break, though. Summer school starts in two weeks.

The Poetry Friday round-up today is at Two Writing Teachers.

Free from papers to write
Except for grocery lists.

Free from assigned books to read
Except for bedtime stories.

Free from homework to do
Except for work around my home.

Completely free.
Utterly free.

Until next semester.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Goodreads update

A few months ago I wrote a post about Goodreads, a social networking site for booklovers that I had just joined.

I've been using Goodreads for a few months, and it's really been surprisingly useful and fun. A lot of my Goodreads friends are kidlit bloggers who I admire and respect and it's great to see their ratings and reviews of books. The reviews are generally a cut above the reviews on Amazon, while still letting you see a wide variety of opinions. And I've been having a lot of fun with the "compare books" feature, where you can see what book ratings a friend has in common with you.

Plus, it's helped me keep in touch with friends and trade recommendations with them. About a month ago, I was at an event with a friend I hadn't seen in a few years. But we both knew everything the other person was reading, thanks to Goodreads. It felt like we'd been having a long conversation over many months about our favorite (and not so favorite) books.

As I've mentioned before, I read lots of picture books in F&G (fold and gather) format to prepare for meetings with publisher reps. The final books won't be published for several months. For example, the books I read tonight will be coming out in September through December. I'd love to hear other opinions on these books, but I haven't found a good forum yet to discuss advance copies.

So, now I'm trying an experiment. I've added to my Goodreads list all the F&G's I've read in the last few weeks. There will be more to come as I have more meetings. It's very odd to review and rate books that no one has commented on yet, but it also lets me be completely honest, precisely because I don't know what everyone else thinks yet.

I'm also hoping this will help me remember all the books months later when they're released. If you read advance copies because you're a book buyer, a reviewer or an extremely lucky person, I'd love to hear your opinion about any not-yet published books. If you're curious about which books I'm talking about, look at the Goodreads box in the sidebar or click on my Goodreads profile to see very brief reviews.

Have you been using Goodreads? Based on the huge amount of reviews I see whenever I log in, it looks like a lot of you are. What do you think about it? Do you check in frequently to see what your friends are reading? Does it help you get recommendations? See the new poll on the sidebar, which doesn't really ask any of those questions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Meme: 5 Things About Me

I was tagged for this meme by Sarah at The Reading Zone and by Stacy at Welcome to my Tweendom. (Wondering what a meme is? There's a good definition here).

The rules of the meme get posted at the beginning. Each person answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the blogger then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?
I was the facility manager at a children's theater and I was coordinating the company's move into a brand new building. I was dealing with movers, buying pianos, packing and unpacking boxes, and a million other details. I can't believe that it's been five years already.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
  • Finish my term papers for graduate school (which is the reason there haven't been too many posts here lately).
  • Read bedtime stories to my son.
  • Order books for the store I work at.
  • Look through book catalogs for upcoming publisher meetings.
  • Write my friend to thank him for putting me in the acknowledgements section of his book. His book just came out today, and when I got my copy, I saw that he had thanked not only me, but my whole family! That was a fantastic and incredibly thoughtful thing for him to do (and totally made my month). I should really tell him that.
What are five snacks you enjoy?
  • raspberries
  • strawberries
  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • tomatoes
What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
  • Buy books for everyone I knew
  • give money to libraries
  • give money to non-profit children's theaters
  • give money to struggling independent bookstores
  • endow scholarships
What are five of your bad habits?
  • Chewing my nails.
  • Not being as good a correspondent as I would like to be.
  • Buying too many books.
  • Having millions of books on my to-be-read pile.
  • Flipping ahead in a book to make sure a character I like is going to make it.
What are five places where you have lived?
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • California
  • Maryland
What are five jobs you’ve had?
  • Counselor at a boy scout camp
  • Receptionist
  • Box office manager
  • Director of a performing arts center
  • Researcher
What five people do you want to tag?
When tagging other people for memes, I pick blogs that are recent additions to my blog roll. That way even if they don't end up doing the meme, you can still check out their wonderful blogs.
Don't worry, I won't be offended in any way if you don't want to do it.

In no particular order:
  • Jenny's Wonderland of Books: a new blog from a librarian and a children's literature historian (and a fellow classmate a few semesters back).
  • No Want Decaf!: a blog written by an editor at a children's publishing company. I'm having so much fun reading this blog and seeing her perspective.
  • Destined to Become a Classic: isn't that a great name for a blog? This is a lovely blog about children's books for the middle grades.
  • Rosie the Ribbeter: a funny blog about fairy tales written by my friend Cate. I know she's mentioned starting a blog several times, but didn't know she had actually done it... so it was a nice surprise to discover that she had already written several posts.
  • Job Hunting Librarian: A great blog for librarians in the D.C. area seeking jobs. My guess is that if Jess does do the meme, it will probably be on her more informal I have a blog?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The day before

I just read a great post from Jen Robinson about her excitement for The Battle of the Labyrinth, the highly anticipated fourth Percy Jackson and the Olympians book. Jen, I hope you're not jealous that I've already handled the book. A whole box, in fact.

Publishers are very good about getting books to bookstores just before the release date. They want you to have enough time to process the book and get it in your computer system, but not enough time so that the booksellers can read the whole thing and post it on the internet. Also, they want to remove the temptation for the bookstore to sell it early.

What this means is that you get the book everyone is talking about a day before the book is released to the public. And, sometimes, even that one day can be tortuous.

A recent example is Mo Willems' new book, The Pigeon Wants A....
The object that the pigeon wanted was the subject of a huge publicity campaign. The book arrived at my store the day before the publication date, and I finally found out that the pigeon wanted a puppy. But I couldn't tell anyone. It was quite difficult to read speculation about it when I knew the answer. It was a relief when the next day arrived and I could put the book on the shelf, talk about it and write a blog post about it.

The worst of all was when Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was published. I was working at a large independent bookstore at the time. I helped carry boxes of the book into the store and couldn't read it. See this post for the rest of the story.

But, whatever discomfort it might cause me, it's very important not to sell books until the release date. For one thing, bookstores often sign affidavits. But, more than that, it's just not fair or ethical. As the sign on the Percy Jackson box said (or something to this effect): "Be a true Olympian! Don't sell until the release date."

The good thing, though, is that I only have to wait a day. The publishers have to keep those secrets far longer than I do.