Book Expo America 2014 (convention review).

Held annually in the publishing mecca of New York City, Book Expo America is the convention for book lovers. The focus is wide – covering all genres – and the convention is designed for all levels of interaction. It is for publishers, authors, publicists, agents, editors, retailers, librarians, press, bloggers and readers.

There is something decadent about a convention devoted solely to something you love. You can smell the books the moment you enter the exhibition hall, but even before then, you are diverted by posters the size of a suburban house, all bearing the smiling faces of the New York Times bestselling authors and their latest offerings.


The posters aren’t all tease, many of those faces wait inside, at the end of long queues of adoring fans, stacks of freshly printed books arrayed around them, pen scribbling furiously. The entire back wall of the hall is devoted to autographing events, which are scheduled hourly, all convention long.

Those who plan ahead can get an early place in line. The autographing schedule is posted on the BEA website weeks in advance. There is also a mobile app for keeping track of convention offerings. Many authors and publishers present panels and workshops and are also scheduled to appear at certain booths. Tracking your marks throughout the convention can be a bit like a treasure hunt.

Upon entering, I immediately paused at the Image Comics booth. I’m a fan of both ‘East Of West’ and ‘Saga’. The first issue of many of their popular offerings, including my favourites, was available for the taking. With Comic Con coming up in the fall, I breezed past – actually, I lingered a moment, needing to touch all the comics, then I breezed past. I had an appointment at the autographing area.

It’s hard to walk past all the books without stopping, even knowing they’ll all be there all day. I had hours to loiter beside each booth. Still…books.

I did make it to the autographing area in time and I met Charles Gannon and Eric Flint. This was the highlight of my visit. I had reviewed Mr. Gannon’s ‘Fire With Fire‘ last year and having loved the book, was quite eager to meet the author. To my delight, he remembered me and after an enthusiastic greeting and handshake, Mr. Gannon personalised a copy of his and Mr. Flint’s latest collaboration ‘1636: Commander Cantrell In The West Indies’. We did not chat for long, as quite the line had formed behind me. I did take a moment to inform Mr. Flint of his status as legend, which he took rather gracefully, commenting it had been a while since anyone had said so. For shame.

I floated away from the autographing area on a bubble.

Had I the patience – and two slaves to carry my loot – I could have waited to meet hundreds of authors and walked away with a signed copy of one of their books. Some of the bigger names required tickets, but the vast majority of signings were free. Donations for literacy were encouraged.

Though I enjoyed the rest of my visit to BEA, meeting the two Baen authors was definitely the highlight. Few other publishers of speculative fiction were properly represented, which I understand. NYCC (the New York Comic Con) is their preferred east coast venue. But it’s always nuts there. Comic Con is for the fans. As a reviewer, I prefer the quieter, more professional atmosphere of BEA.

I did have the chance to sit down with Meghan Quinn, a publicist for Prometheus books (PYR), and enthuse about upcoming releases. It quickly became obvious that Meghan was as excited about the genre as I was and we had a great time leafing through the Prometheus catalog. My mental to-be-read list grew by about fifteen books (don’t ask me when I’m going to read all these) and we took a moment to discuss the direction of speculative fiction in general.

Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna
Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

The book I’m most excited about is one Prometheus is also putting a lot of effort into promoting: ‘Falling Sky’. At first glance, it’s my kind of book. Here’s a glimpse of the blurb:

“Ben Gold lives in dangerous times. Two generations ago, a virulent disease turned the population of most of North America into little more than beasts called Ferals. Some of those who survived took to the air, scratching out a living on airships and dirigibles soaring over the dangerous ground.”

With an apocalypse (of the plague-born variety), a futuristic setting and airships, ‘Falling Sky’ is going to appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Other forthcoming titles can be viewed at the PYR website.

I also had a chat with a publicist at Hachette, the publisher of Orbit books. Once again, I found someone to enthuse with as we poked through a single sheet display of recently released titles. Neither publisher had any authors scheduled to appear, however. But, I would not have had the chance to sit down with either publicist at NYCC. It’s just too crowded and the focus is different. It’s all about the fans.

I wandered past a few of the independents. I regularly slake my thirst for romance at the websites of Dreamspinner and Samhain. They both publish a wider variety of speculative romance books than traditional publishers, in my opinion. Dreamspinner had popular author Andrew Grey in attendance, whom I was delighted to meet, and a selection of print books for fans to take away. Samhain also had scheduled appearances.

At the Romance Writers of America booth I met Cora Carmack and Jennifer Armentrout, who signed a copy of LUX: Beginnings for me. I’m excited to read this one.

The crowds (Image courtesy of BEA)
The crowds (Image courtesy of BEA)

The big booths – Harlequin, Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin – all had a revolving door of authors and signings. The lines for these events wrapped the booths several times over. Many of the books given away here were ARCs – advance review copies – which make nice collectables.

Book Expo America is primarily for industry professionals, but they do cater to the bloggers and readers. This year marked the launch of BookCon (formerly the Power Reader event). This event, held on Saturday, is aimed at the readers, or book lovers in general. Those who attend for the books, rather than the business.

BookCon (Image courtesy of BEA)
BookCon (Image courtesy of BEA)

BEA is held annually at the Javits Convention Center in New York, NY, and it is not an inexpensive enterprise. Beyond travel and accommodation, ticket prices are steep, which is another reminder that this convention is aimed at professionals. Tickets range from $75 for a single day (for book buying professionals, purchased well in advance) to $399 for a four day pass (for book industry professionals and authors). A reader, blogger, or book club leader can purchase a single day ticket for $99. Some events (such as author breakfasts and workshops) are extra. The BEA website lists all events and pricing.

Next year’s convention will run from Thursday, May 28 through Saturday, May 30.

Kelly Jensen

June 2014

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