The One With the Electrodes

Going to Book Expo America (BEA) without a plan is like going to a Jimmy Choo sample sale. You might get a pair of $400 shoes for 20 bucks, or you might get a stiletto to the throat when you’re taken down by a Carrie Bradshaw look-alike. I discovered this the hard way.

It was early morning and BEA had reconvened for day two of its annual trade show. I was chatting with the good folks at Globe Pequot Press about e-books. What I didn’t notice is someone lying in wait for me one booth over.

I grabbed a business card and a few samples and stowed them in my bag, which was already getting heavy. A book nerd like me finds it difficult to rein in the urge to take more than she can carry. There was a long day ahead and hundreds of booths to visit. In fact my shoulder already ached, so I switched my bag to the other side. Right on cue:

“Books get heavy!” said a man wearing a spiffy suit and tie. “Too bad we’re not in the feather business.” He threw back his head in a hearty chortle.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this comment, so I nodded, already heading to the next aisle where Bloomsbury had their booth.

“I have just the thing for you!” he said.

This was starting to feel like a bad infomercial. Made even worse by the fact that it was in person and it wasn’t two a.m. Suddenly I felt two little cool patches at the base of my neck.

“What is that?” I asked, still not as alarmed as I probably should have been. BEA is overwhelming and this just felt like part of it.

He showed me a small device that looked like an iPod. “Now I just turn it on.” He clicked a few times and the little patches began to pulse. “It’s a mini massage!” If this guy’s existence were a punctuation, he would be an exclamation mark.

The pulses were getting stronger and my right shoulder began to twitch involuntarily. It was not an enjoyable sensation. It was weird and it was starting to hurt.

“Oh, I forgot to ask,” the guy said, shaking his head and smiling as an afterthought. “You don’t have a pacemaker, do you?”

I wished I could have channeled Bruce Lee to give this guy a swift roundhouse kick to the head. “Turn this thing off.”

He made a feeble attempt by jabbing at the device. “It’s only $200! Doesn’t that sound like a bargain?”

“Get these things off.”

“Okay. For you $150.”


“Two for $150! Share with a friend.”

Here was where I shouted a few expletives and ripped the little patches off my shoulders.

Apparently I fell into the carefully laid trap of the “massage” guy because I didn’t have a plan. I thought I’d just wander around the booths, stopping to talk to people I knew and generally taking in all the excitement. And there was a lot of excitement. BEA is always held in the Javits Center which is four city blocks long on the west side of Manhattan. There are hundreds of booths, each one vying for your attention. Subtlety is not an asset here.


Um, where?

But, like getting the great deal on those Jimmy Choos, sometimes not having a plan worked in my favor. I was walking past a long line of people when I overheard someone ask if this was for the Colm Toibin signing. Colm Toibin? Here? I hopped on to the end of the line. We snaked through the aisles. Before long the woman in front of me waxed poetic about a book as people tend to do at book shows.

“Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? It’s one of my favorite books of all time,” Lorraine said.

“You are the second person to say that in as many days.”  (Read Jennifer Lyn King’s review here.)

“Oh, and this one.” She held up an advance reader copy of Painted Horses. She went on to describe the story and the beautiful prose. Lorraine was also kind enough to give me her exhibit hall map and clue me into her BEA strategy, which was three pages long.

When I got to meet Colm Toibin I told him how much I enjoyed his book, Brooklyn, and that I was looking forward to the movie coming out this fall. Granted, it wasn’t as exciting as when I scratched David Sedaris’s back, but at least I didn’t make a complete fool of myself (which I usually do).

Here is an entertaining clip from Colm Toibin’s speech at BEA. He says that if you’re a writer, the best thing someone can do for you is to tell you half a story. Half a story can live in your imagination. You can turn it over in your mind, expanding it and molding it.  Half a story allows you to ask, “What if?”  What he says at the end about the promises writers make to readers in the space between the words is wonderful.

Without further ado, a photo round up from the day:


Creative advertising


Excuse me, Mr. Stormtrooper. Can you tell me where to get a sandwich less than $12?


This banner is bigger than my apartment.

Hey, girlfriend! I haven't seen you since the 1100 block.

Hey, girlfriend! I haven’t seen you since the 1100 block.

Booths for some of the larger publishers.

Booth for Wiley, one of the larger publishing houses.


Author autographing area. Sorry this one is blurry -- people were on the move.

One of the author autographing areas. Sorry this one is blurry — people were on the move.

Have you ever been to BEA, or a book conference? What did you most / least enjoy?

Have a great weekend, everyone!




  1. This post was right on time – am off to the Madrid Book Fair (or some such thing) tomorrow, hurraaaah! My plan is not to buy anything, but to note town as many book titles and authors I might potentially like and download them onto my Spendle* later.

    (*I’ve had to give my Kindle a much more appropriate name).


    1. There were a lot of books for sale at BEA (with the advent of the credit card swipey things on iPads). But there were lots of giveaways, especially at the author signing areas.

      Can’t wait to read about your report from the Madrid Book Festival. I hope you get a lot of good swag. 🙂


  2. Hi Jackie, Your great post brought me right back to all the excitement of BEA this year. Wasn’t it something. And I’m so glad you mentioned PAINTED HORSES, due out in August; and ALL THE LIGHT YOU CANNOT SEE. Maybe we can meet up next year at BEA? Lorraine


    1. It was so nice to meet you, Lorraine! Would love to meet up again next year.
      In the meantime, I’ll be reading your lovely reviews. I can’t wait to read Painted Horses so we can discuss.


      1. I’ll be interested in hearing what you think of PAINTED HORSES — the prose and the powerful message. I signed up for you blog and found your business card so we should be able to connect next year at BEA. Lorraine

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, that place looks hectic!! I need a €200 electrode massage just thinking about being stilettoed 😉 And am I the only one who has NOT waited 25 years for a book on the Simpsons? 😉


  4. I’m so glad you wrote about this. I was wondering what BEA was like and having the pictures, too, gave me a good sense. I loved that you wandered into such a great talk! (Wandered to the line, you know what i mean.) And his advice was awesome. What a true concept about half a story.

    I’m listening to All the Light right now. It’s good, but hard to keep track of all the time and character shifting that way. I should have read it instead. I guess I still can . . . but I’m so far into the audio at this point.


    1. This was my first time at BEA, believe it or not. It was as hectic and overwhelming as everyone says it is — like Disney World for book people — but I had a great time. I enjoyed wandering around all the booths and getting a sneak peak at the this fall’s books.

      Though I have to admit, I like the Brooklyn Book Festival better. BEA seems geared more toward those in the book business and the Brooklyn Book Festival is more for readers.


  5. I went to my first and only book fair in D.C. and was completely overwhelmed. Two of my favorite authors were speaking at the same time! The lines for book signings were so long too. If I ever go to another one, I’ll have a map and a plan.
    I’ve been to a photo expo at the Javits Center and it is huuuuge. Luckily I was with friends who knew the places to go.

    Loved the talk by Toibin.


    1. You said it! For people who aren’t used to walking, navigating the Javits Center is like climbing Everest. You need provisions, sturdy shoes, a map, and a buddy.

      And I bet it wouldn’t surprise you to know that the women’s bathroom lines were so long. Longer than some of the author signing areas. 😛


  6. Hey I’m at the airport waiting to catch a flight west reading this post on my iPhone. It’s such a bummer but I can’t see the pictures! Your shots are always terrific. I so remember how sore my shoulder was – and my collarbone! But I had a lot of fun and so appreciated the free beer at the and of the day. That was one if the most refreshing Coronas of my life. As for meeting and greeting, I was over the moon to meet playwright Tony Kushner.


    1. If I remember correctly you went to the Book Con portion of the expo? This year, things were set up differently, from what a few friends told me. They closed off half the trade show floor which made Book Con very crowded. Plus, John Green was there so there were thousands (literally) of screaming fangirls waiting to meet him.

      Hope you have a great trip!


  7. I had so much fun at BEA. My first time as well. I’ll have a better plan next year. We were very frugal with our freebies but I walked away with a very good stash,especially for my teen. I really had no idea what to expect; it was a bit overwhelming. — sales people– yick.
    I need to look up the Brooklynn Book Fair you speak of.


    1. I’m glad that you had a great time at BEA. I thought I’d just go and wander about the booths for a while, but I can see how advantageous it is to have a plan — if only for my sanity. 🙂

      The Brooklyn Book Festival is in September each year. The focus is less on the book signings / giveaways and more on the author panels. It’s outdoors though, so definitely keep an eye on the weather. Best of all, it’s free! You can purchase books, but the panels and entry is no cost. Let me know if you get a chance to go this year.


      1. My plan is usually to get there early to walk around the booths. It’s cooler and there aren’t as many people. As the day goes on it gets more crowded so that’s when I like to get to the author panels. Do get on line early for the popular author panels though. Once the room is filled, they don’t let in any more people.


  8. Can’t say that I’ve ever been to a book conference. But that dude sounds like a jerk. Sorry to have been absent from the blogosphere recently. We were without internet for two weeks, and then I was in the US for nearly another two. Gosh, I’m glad to be home in Cuenca.

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    1. You’re spot on there! I usually pick up a map at the entrance to wherever I’m visiting and them promptly lose it, spill something on it or tear it in half. So much for the map. 🙂


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