BookExpo 2018: A Convention of Readers

Ever since Bas Bleu mailed our first catalog in 1994, readers have asked: “How do you find these wonderful books?” The truth is our editors are always on the lookout for books we think you’d like, perusing magazine and newspaper book reviews, exploring recommendations from friends and customers, browsing local libraries and used bookstores, even skimming authors’ and book lovers’ blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter threads. One essential resource for us is the publishing industry itself, staffed by passionate bibliophiles who spend their days creating and promoting books. We’re in contact with our publisher sales reps throughout the year, but every spring we get the chance to meet in person at BookExpo.

A Simon & Schuster employee marked the front of the line for readers waiting to meet thriller writer Ruth Ware.

As America’s largest annual book trade fair, BookExpo (BEA for short) is a multi-day celebration of books attended by booksellers, librarians, publishers, literary agents, authors, and other members of the wide book world. Launched in 1947 in Washington, D.C. as a convention for the American Booksellers Association, BEA is most frequently held in New York, the heart of the U.S. publishing industry. In recent years, BEA attendees have flocked to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, to meet with sales reps, attend publishing and bookselling workshops and author panels, line up for book signings, and collect literary swag. Bas Bleu’s editors attend BEA every year, and we decided it was high time we give you a glimpse inside the big event!

BookExpo Swag

It took several tries to snap this pic at the Chronicle Books booth, because people kept diving in to grab a tote bag!

Two things readers love: free books and free tote bags. At BEA, there are plenty of both! So many, in fact, that rookie attendees quickly find themselves weighted down with them, along with other souvenirs like buttons and bookmarks. Publishers often create exclusive tote bags just for BEA, emblazoned with book covers, author caricatures, publisher logos, or bookish slogans. Those bags are perfect for hauling around ARCs (advanced reader copies), softcover versions of soon-to-be-released books that are provided in advance of publication to reviewers and booksellers. Bas Bleu’s editors learned long ago to request ARCs be shipped to our office rather than weigh down our suitcases, and this year we had a strict “no totes!” rule, because we literally have totes full of totes at home. But the goodies are certainly tempting! (One of our editors still has a swag handkerchief from the New York Review of Books, featuring a map of Manhattan, circa BEA 2002.)

Navigating the show required detouring around long lines of booksellers, librarians, and other readers waiting to have their books signed by their favorite authors.

BookExpo Celebrity Sightings

Between author panels and autographing sessions, BEA is a veritable who’s who of contemporary authors and published celebrities. Just a few of the writers on this year’s schedule were Barbara Kingsolver, Jill Lepore, M. C. Beaton, Ruth Ware, Brad Meltzer, David Levithan, Deborah Harkness, Gary Shteyngart, George Pelecanos, Kate DiCamillo, Mary Higgins Clark, Nicholas Sparks, Melissa de la Cruz, Nicola Yoon, Rick Riordan, Tomi Adeyemi, and Robin Carr…not to mention actors, politicians, and comedians such as Al Roker, Congressman John Lewis, actress Ellie Kemper, Bernie Sanders, actors Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, and talk-show host/comedian Trevor Noah. The showroom floor was scattered with long lines of readers waiting to have their books signed, chatting with one another and sharing their thoughts on books. “You make line friends,” one attendee said, trying to explain the bond formed between strangers waiting side by side to meet their favorite authors. We’d hoped to meet Ruth Ware, whose novel The Death of Mrs. Westaway is featured in our Summer 2018 Beach Reading Bundle, but her line of fans was very long, and we had to run to a meeting. Which brings us to…

BookExpo Publishers

Nearly 500 exhibitors attended BookExpo this year, the vast majority of which are book publishers. Though we certainly are not proof against a good tote bag or being starstruck by an author, Bas Bleu’s editorial team attends BEA for one main reason: To meet face to face with the sales reps we work with throughout the year. Eleven meetings over a day and a half made for an intense BEA schedule, but we’re fortunate to work with enthusiastic, knowledgeable sales teams who are (almost) as wild about Bas Bleu as we are. Some of the reps are new to Bas Bleu, and eager to learn more about our catalog and our amazing customers. Others, like Bianca Miele of Penguin Random House, have been working hard on our behalf for nearly twenty years. In our appointments, our reps shared information about upcoming releases, helped us brainstorm how to get out-of-print and lesser-known books into our readers’ hands, crunched sales numbers…oh, and shared funny stories about their kids and helpful advice about navigating the F train to Brooklyn! We’re biased, but book people really are the best people, and our publisher reps’ enthusiasm for literature and Bas Bleu’s unique place in the bookselling world was apparent even at the end of a long day. (The abundance of candy dishes in their booths didn’t hurt either.)

Our Penguin Random House rep, Bianca Miele, has spent years cultivating her “Bas Bleu radar,” helping us to select just the right books for our catalog.

If asked to sum up BEA in a single moment, it would be 9 a.m. on our first day at the show: Hundreds of people were lined up to enter the exhibit hall, and when the doors opened, a cheer went up from the crowd. We’re hard-pressed to think of another trade show with that level of enthusiasm and passion. Until next year, BookExpo!

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