Five Steps to Success at BEA: How to Make the Most of America’s Largest Publishing Conference

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

The BEA conference can be a blur. Here's how to make it a success.

The BEA conference can be a blur. Here’s how to make it a success.

If you’re headed to New York City to attend Book Expo America, you’re not alone. The conference is the largest gathering of publishing professionals in the United States—part trade show, part pageant, part professional development learning session. How you make the experience successful depends very much on your personal definition of victory as well as a little pre- and post-planning.

1. Set Your Goals

Before you wander the crowded, distracting aisles of BEA, spend a few minutes looking inward. What do you, personally and professionally, want to get out of the conference? BEA is a gold mine of opportunities, but in order to strike it rich, you need to know exactly what you’re digging for. Set yourself attainable goals:

  • If you’re searching for insights into ways the changes in publishing are going to affect your work, then give yourself a goal of having ten thoughtful conversations in which you ask, “What do you think publishing will be like in five years?”
  • Maybe your goal is professional networking for a potential new job? Make a list of companies you want to speak with, think about what you want to learn, visit the booth and ask current employees what it’s like working there. Be casual. It’s a research mission, not a job interview.
  • Maybe you just want to have fun, meet authors, and collect a whole bunch of new, free books? Well then, strap on a smile and get ready to wait in a few lines. (And bring a rolling carrier to save your back.)

2.  Calling cards still matter

In the days before our reliance on digital devices, calling cards were a must at professional conferences. With texting, email and easy internet searches, I find myself handing out fewer cards than I did in the old days. Does it make sense to stock up on cards for a conference in this fast-paced world? Yes. Your calling card gives others a way to find you. They may seem old fashioned but they’re still a quick, unobtrusive way to offer your contact info.

3. Be an extrovert even if you’re an introvert

Some people gain energy when they’re in a crowded room full of new people. Others deflate. I’m in that second category. Still, I make myself go to some after-parties and external events. I’ve found that if I don’t know what to say, I just ask questions and listen. For all those introverts out there, show up and stay as long as feels right. Don’t feel guilty if you leave early and go back to your hotel room to read a book. Isn’t that why we’re all here?

4. Schedule your way through walking the floor, attending the talks, getting the autographs

Both the showroom floor and the breakout talks have value. But there’s almost too much to do! In the quiet of your breakfast table before you head to the conference center, or a corner of the lobby before you go into the hall, make the hard choices of what you really want to do and schedule them in, so you don’t miss an opportunity.

The show planner is available digitally, so you can keep it in your smartphone. But last year my reception was poor—and there are virtually no power outlets at the Javits Center if your batteries run low. As a backup, bring a thin-tip permanent marker and write notes on your hard-copy catalog and map to be sure you get to the booths absolutely don’t want to miss.

When it comes to the talks and the autograph opportunities, mark the ones that sound interesting and be sure to note a “second choice.” If a talk doesn’t live up to its description, or if the line waiting to speak with that blockbusting author is way, way too long, walk out. There are so many opportunities and so little time, just move on to Plan B.

5. Follow up the next week

The conference isn’t really over when the doors shut to the Javits Center. The following week, spend a moment to go through the brochures, handouts, and business cards you gathered. Email the people you met and thank them for speaking with you. The conference will have a lasting impact—and be more worth the time and money—if you turn your chats into relationships.

In your follow-up email, mention something that seemed to interest both of you while you spoke. The people you met may pick up on that thread and email you back—the beginnings of a relationship. Or they may not respond. Don’t fret if your message goes unanswered. Write the messages anyway. You’ll never know what opportunities await if you cut off a friendship before it begins.

 What are your BEA strategies?

There are many ways to succeed at BEA. These are just a few strategies. What has worked for you in the past? I’d like you hear your tips. See you at BEA!


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