This is part of the Bittersweet Book Launch case study, where Dan Blank and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore share the yearlong process of launching her novel. You can view all posts here.

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Even though I live in New York, I’d never been to BEA before; when I sold Bittersweet in February, I resolved that this was my year. Why on earth would I want to go to BEA? As the hilarious Jami Attenberg put it on her Twitterfeed, “UGH BEA WEEK.” It’s basically the same sentiment I’ve heard from other authors, one I recognize in myself; most of us are introverts, and I find that often makes us averse to reaching out to the business side of book making. But this coming year for me is all about building a bridge between the imaginary worlds inside my head and the real world that publishes and reads those worlds I’ve created. So it was off to BEA I went, if only to get to the bottom of Jami’s “UGH.”

I found an inexpensive admission ticket through the Author’s Guild, which is a great organization I’ve belonged to since first selling The Effects of Light. I invited some writer friends along, but their reactions ran the gamut from “we’ll see” to something along the lines of Jami’s sentiments. So I found myself a few days out, realizing I was heading to the biggest US book convention (one authors seem roundly terrified by) all by my lonesome.

Thank goodness for Facebook. One post and I had a few friends secured who’d already planned to attend, not to mention Dan, who was headed there for two days of exploring the floor. He insisted I join as his buddy, and so, on a ninety degree Thursday morning, I found myself entering the AC-chilly air of the Javits Center (where I had also never been, and came to learn was one of the main reasons for the “UGH”—freezing air, concrete floors, expensive food, fluorescent lighting). As overwhelming as the conference seemed at first, I began to realize there was something strange and wonderful about being in a place full of people dedicated to books. By no means were all of those people my people, but we all held something in common, the love of (and belief in) books. It’s rare that I’m in such company.

Dan and I spent much of our two days at BEA wandering up and down the aisles, talking between ourselves, and with others, about the business side of publishing, which I rarely get the chance to do. To tell you the truth, I found myself actually having a good time talking about the ins and outs of the business. More than a few people I met were shocked that a writer had come, voluntarily, to BEA, and I’m not sure I’d go again unless I had a signing to do or something like that. But if I do end up going back next year, here are a few reasons why (And a sidenote to Dan, who is always telling me to take pictures: I did take pictures, a lot of them, and then my iPhone broke and I lost them all. Yeah yeah yeah, I should be backing up to the iCloud. But one has to learn that lesson the hard way. In the meantime, these words shall have to paint the picture of all the fun to be had at BEA):

1) Swag. Do you know how rarely authors get free stuff? Usually it comes in the form of a friend’s book you’ve been asked to blurb/review. It was so fun to accumulate a stack of new children’s books I know my four-year-old will love, and come home with some books for me that weren’t by people I know. Not to mention the high-quality tote bags (canvas tote bags!) that I restrained myself from accumulating the first day and then gave into on Friday. My husband almost kicked the bags and me out of the house when he saw how many I’d brought home. But it’s my belief you can never have too many tote bags (book themed tote bags! That are free! Free!!!). And there were free Legos. Who can complain about that?

2) I got to meet Geoffrey Hayes!!! He’s a children’s book author my sister and I adored when we were little; his four picture books, starred a rambunctious bear and his mother and such lines as: “Patrick, act your age!” “I’m only four,” which has been quoted in my family ever since. Anyway, I just happened to be wandering the BEA floor and then, boom! There Geoffrey Hayes was in the flesh, wearing an adorable little cap, signing a reissue, no less, of the Patrick books. It was so, so, so amazing to shake his hand and thank him for creating a character who has been so important in my family. He even penned a picture of Patrick on the title page.

3) Meeting the extraordinary Gabrielle Giffords. My friend Lauren Grodstein and I wandered the floor together before her signing in the Algonquin booth for her new novel, The Explanation for Everything (due out in September). When we got back to the booth after shoving our faces with popcorn, we found none other than Gabrielle Giffords standing in the middle of the Algonquin booth, holding Lauren’s book, no less. It was extraordinary to meet someone with such grace doing such important work on behalf of gun control; as mamas of little boys, Lauren and I were so moved to meet her.

4) Overhearing great lines like: “He was a terrific writer. But he was also a crackhead and a murderer!” You can’t make this stuff up.

5) Seeing my friends rock even though they’re a little out of their comfort zones. Lauren Grodstein signed The Explanation for Everything wearing some fabulous high heels. My neighbor Rachel Urquhart signed The Visionist with a smile on her face even though she’d confessed to me the day before that she was terrified. It’s lovely to be able to give a high five or a hug to folks who’ve been working so so so hard on their writing, and are finally showing it to the world.

6) Unexpected meetings. I got some great tips about tote bag-nabbing from Jeffrey Lependorf of CLMP. I ate some delicious Mo Willems pigeon cupcakes with Colleen Lindsay, whom I follow on Twitter but have never met. And when I went to get Elizabeth Silver’s The Execution of Noa P. Singleton signed in the Random House booth, I was recognized by Crown’s director of marketing, Jay Sones, which was impressive and blush-worthy.

7) Booth designs and cushy carpets. I loved seeing what each publisher put into getting their “brand” out, into how they wanted to be perceived; from the playful banners to the luxurious carpeting to the sleekly designed booth walls.

8) Grumpy Cat, Chip Kidd, et al. Even though I walked right through Julianne Moore’s signing, and stood a few inches from Gabrielle Giffords, the only time I was ever asked to “move along” was when Dan and I obliviously stumbled upon the Grumpy Cat signing, which I later read was an epic event this year.. There was such a sense at BEA that at any moment you might turn the corner into something fantastic; my last five minutes there, I wandered past Chip Kidd signing a beautiful poster I only had to wait a couple minutes for. I avoided the epic line for Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland, but when I circled back after forty-five minutes, she was just sitting there by her lonesome with a small stack of books and she signed one for me right away. I loved the kismet of such moments.

9) Cocktail hour. At 4pm on Friday, everyone started drinking. Suddenly, the booths were filled with bartenders and the aisles were filled with beer-guzzlers.

Okay fine, I might go back. ☺