Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Book Expo America But Were Afraid to Ask

Posted by Blair Thornburgh

If you're an active bookternet-keteer, it has probably not escaped your notice that Book Expo America is this week. But what is this mysterious gathering of the publishers that everyone's been talking, tweeting, and tumbling about? Never fear! With this little beginner's guide, I will be the Virgil to your Dante and lower you into the seven circles of the book biz.

(Note: accuracy not guarnateed; I was writing most of this from memory). ONWARD!

So what is BEA anyway?
Book Expo America is the largest trade show in the North American publishing world, attended by publishers, publicists, sales teams, rights managers, agents, authors, and readers.

How do you pronounce BEA?
Most people go with “bee-ee-ay,” but you can also call back to your Golden Girls fandom and pronounce it Bea as in Arthur.

When is BEA?
It’s a moveable feast, the exact date of which is determined by the phases of the moon, the readings of the augurs, Leap Year (if applicable), and the Boltbus schedule. Usually this means the weekend after Memorial Day.

Where is it held?
An immense ovoid of virgin earth, untainted by plow nor spear nor blood of man or beast, is circumscribed and rededicated annually at the Grand and Most High Council of the Literary Elders. In the ancient tongue, it is called Javits, meaning, “place where bottled water costs seven dollars.”

Do you have a map?

What sort of stuff happens during BEA?
Excellent question! Lots.

  • Buzz panels on upcoming titles
  • Blogger get-togethers and forums
  • Author signings and ARC (advance reader copy) giveaways
  • After-hours cocktail parties
  • Public readings and Q&As
  • Three-legged race
  • Life-sized game of book Jenga (hard hat required)
  • Big 5 Publisher Dance-off
  • Make-your-own spin art book cover (for additional fee)
  • Feats of strength
  • Bacchanals
  • Sacrifice of burnt offerings
  • Veneration of the dead & séance
  • Swimsuit competition


Sounds great! What should I wear?
Most guides will tell you business casual, but those guides are for chumps. We recommend you flaunt your professionalism in full black tie (including silk hats for gentlemen and gloves no shorter than elbow-length for ladies). Steel-toed boots are also recommended (for kicking your way to the front of the signing line). To ward off the evil eye, wear the skull of a rat on a leather thong around your neck.

Will I see any celebrity authors there?
It depends. Celebrity authors must be summoned to their corporeal form from the Shining Seventh Plane of Existence. Their soul-talisman must not be shattered or the dimensions shall be rent. Furthermore, they are escorted at all times by an innumerable host of Nephilim Whose Wingbeats Scar the Sky, ceaselessly singing a thousand promotional hymns in a thousand languages from a thousand thousand screaming mouths.

But yeah, one time I saw Paula Deen, so.

Can I have a tote bag?
Once, the land was fecund and brought forth ample crops of purest flax. The men reaped and the women spun and wove and sewed and the tote bags were strong and sturdy. There was no fear or sadness or want: only tote bags.

Now, the wellspring has dried up. The bags are scarce. Brother turns against brother, hewing down his fellows with the wild-eyed zeal of near-biblical violence just to possess a bag with a witty statement about reading or books emblazoned on the side, even though he already has like seven of them in a closet at home. (How quickly we forget!)

But if you are brave, if you are stout of heart and strong of arm and sharp of elbow, the tote bag can be yours. It also helps to ask very nicely.

How about an ARC?

Um. Okay. On second thought, this all sounds a little…intense. Maybe I’ll just wait ‘til next year.
Okay, but be warned: next year it’s in Chicago.

Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh

BLAIR THORNBURGH is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in medieval studies and delivered a pretty good commencement speech. She lives in Philadelphia.