So, this will be my second trip to BEA (I headed to NY in 2014), and I thought it would be good to share some of the wisdom I gained from going last time. I realized that there will be a lot of newbies headed to BEA this year, since some people who haven’t been able to make it to NY will be able to make it to Chicago.
BE PREPARED TO WAIT (AND CHAT WITH PEOPLE)
BEA is mostly waiting in lines. I just want to set this expectation for all you newbies. You will be waiting in lines for autographing, waiting for galley drops, waiting to get tickets for autographing sessions … 99% of what you will be doing at BEA is waiting. For really popular authors or signings, lines start forming an hour and a half ahead of the autographing time. Even for galley drops, lines often start an hour ahead. You’ll start out sitting down in line and eventually stand up once the lines start moving.
But wait! That doesn’t sound fun at all! Why would I want to do this to myself, you ask? What makes the waiting fun is the people you’re going to meet (or meet up with) in those lines. While you’re sitting there for an hour and a half, you’ll have plenty of time to chat with the people around you. Trust me, you’ll bond. You’ll leave BEA with some great blogger friendships! (Here’s a shout-out to Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows and Tonya @ Lilybloombooks, who I met at BEA in 2014 and still “hang out” with very regularly – and I could give you a laundry list of LOTS of other people who I met who I’m still in contact with a bit more sporadically.)
THE BUDDY SYSTEM
Don’t do BEA alone. Even if you’re going alone, arrange to meet up with other bloggers while you’re there – be intentional about this. You’ll probably bump into them, but why leave it up to chance? If you haven’t already, sign up for the BEA Blogger Dinner that Octavia over at Read. Sleep. Repeat. is organizing!
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
This one’s a bit more controversial, but you’ll also want to buddy up with people for the lines. There will often be multiple galley drops and autographing sessions going on at once. Oftentimes, you’ll want to leave a friend in one line and head off to another for a little while. For the most part, this should be fine. Just try not to have one person hold ten spaces in line – that will start to aggravate people. Either way, there could be someone who will argue that you’re cutting – but I never had a problem with that. It was mostly understood that people would hold your spot in line for a while – just don’t be gone the entire time and then show up two minutes before the autographing. Some people might frown on that. (By the way, even if you don’t know the people around you in line, feel free to ask one of them to hold your spot for you while you run to the bathroom, etc. People are nice and will almost always say it’s fine.)
WHAT TO WEAR
Most people dress something akin to business casual at the conference. Make sure that you’ve got comfy clothes that you won’t mind sitting on the floor in, but don’t wear your plain jeans and a t-shirt. I think I read somewhere someone called it comfy chic, and I thought that was a perfect name for it.
Make sure that you wear comfortable shoes!!! Don’t use BEA to break in that new pair of heels (or even flats) that you just bought. Your feet will be weeping by the end of the first day (metaphorically – but actually, probably literally too because you’ll have weeping sores from all the blisters that have formed). You would be AMAZED at the amount of time you will spend standing and walking around at BEA. You think you understand this, but you don’t really. You won’t understand it until you’re ready to collapse at the end of the day.
Okay, people, Chicago weather is insanely hard to predict. It is now April – yesterday was over 80 degrees here and today it’s only 50. I’d love to tell you that’s an unusual swing in temperatures, but it’s really not. My instinct is to say that by mid-May we should have pretty warm weather, but … yeah, I can’t really tell you that. The best thing I can say is to bring layers so you’ll be prepared for anything. (Layers are also great because, even when the weather’s warm, sometimes conference centers are chilly!) Also, check the weather reports right up until the day before you come, in case the weatherman decides he was totally wrong when he told you it was going to be bright and sunny all week long.
Lots of them. And water too. Here’s what’s going to happen – You’re going to plan to grab lunch somewhere, and then, at around 2:00 or 3:00, you’re going to realize that you never did … and you’re starving … and you have a headache. (Bring pain relievers in your bag too!) I brought power drinks and granola bars and trail mix and pretty much survived on them the entire BEA. Finding food just wasn’t worth it during conference hours. (Just eat a good dinner! And something for breakfast before you go into the conference!)
BRING BUSINESS CARDS
Make sure you have plenty of business cards with you. You’ll either want cards with your address on them (for publishers, etc) and cards without your address on them (for random other people) OR you’ll want stickers with your address printed on them that you can easily put on your business cards when you want to provide that info. Vistaprint is a great, relatively cheap resource for business cards. Bring lots of them! You’d be amazed at the number of business cards you’ll give out. Make sure that, at the very least, all of your cards have the name of your website and your Twitter name on them.
Here’s a pic of mine as an example. I got two sets of cards. The first picture is of the cards that have a blank back. It includes just my name, blog address, and Twitter handle.
This second picture is the back of my cards that have my address on them. For these, I took my Twitter address off the front of the card and added it to the back, along with my email address, phone number and address (both of which I blanked out, for obvious reasons).
One more fun piece of advice. Put a business card in your badge holder in the front of your badge so people can see your blog logo – lots of us know each other better by our blog logos than by our names, so that will help people recognize you. Also, put storing some of your cards in your badge holder is a great way to keep them handy!
BRING A PORTABLE PHONE BATTERY
You’ll want one of those little portable batteries along with you. Pretty much every conference center I’ve ever been in sucks cell phone batteries like mad (especially if your signal is low and it’s searching a lot).
MAILING BOOKS HOME
Media mail is definitely the cheapest option for getting all your books home. I know some people don’t trust media mail, but they do have tracking and insurance, and I’ve never had a problem with it. However, you can only send books that way, so don’t pack your boxes with random totes or swag – those will have to go in your suitcase. According to the USPS website, the closest post office to McCormick Place is about 3/4 of a mile away at 2035 S State St, Chicago, IL 60616. To me, that’s walking distance, but remember that you’ll be wheeling suitcases full of books along with you!
There will also be shipping options at the convention center, but those are guaranteed to be way more expensive than what you’d pay if you get yourself to a shipping facility (even if it is UPS or FedEx).
When I went to RT, I just brought along a bag that was way bigger than what I needed for clothes and filled it with books for my return trip. I also brought a smaller bag that I stuffed with books and carried on the plane with me. Remember, weight doesn’t matter for carry-ons, so you don’t have to worry about that. I just made sure the big bag that I checked wasn’t over the weight limit. I came home with something like 70 books and managed to fit them all in my bags without paying anything over the regular checked bag fee. This was WAY cheaper than what I paid at BEA for UPS and FedEx in 2014.
LINKS TO MORE ADVICE/INFO:
Other people have tons more advice – especially on things like organizing and scheduling (I won’t pretend to give advice on those topics since I’m horrible at it ALL and basically end up flying by the seat of my pants even when I plan to plan.)
In 2014, I collected all the Tips & Tricks posts I could find to help you us all out. Surprisingly, I had a much harder time finding them this year (at least current ones for 2016), but I DID start a list and I’ll update it when I find new posts.
My 2014 list of links – Lots of these will still be plenty relevant!
Once Upon a Twilight – Tips and Tricks (and lots of links to posts from last year that will be very helpful!)
It Starts at Midnight – Headed to BEA? Stuff Shannon Learned Along the Way!|
ISmellBooks – This booktube video gives great advice!
Riley Marie – Another booktube tips & tricks video!
FictionFare – BEA Tips & Tricks (and also a post on Chicago sightseeing)
The Book Addict’s Guide – Lots of info on Chicago sights you might want to see!
Bang Bang Books – Dawn and Elise share their schedule and Chicago info!
About to Read – Tiffany’s booktube video shares BEA and BookCon Essentials.
Polished Page Turners – Another Chicago specific post that focuses a lot on FOOD! You all need to eat Giordano’s Pizza!!!
Shelf Addiction – A podcast called BEA, Go Hard or Go Home with Tamara’s top ten tips for BEA (and conventions in general)
Ashley @ Nose Graze created this Floor Plan
BookExpo America Goodreads Group – Tons of great info here! Join!!
BEA Blogger Dinner – Sign up here!
MacMillan Galley Drops and In-Booth Signings can be found on the MacMillan site or on their #Bookbrag (the Bookbrag one has a nice sheet that’s a little easier to read and see the info, but MacMillan’s site has clickable links so you can read about the books).