It’s all Dan Blank’s fault.

Dan Blank, culprit, is on the right

Dan Blank, culprit, is on the right

Dan’s an entrepreneur and heads a company called We Grow Media. Last year he wrote about experiences on the floor of the enormous Book Expo America (BEA) in his newsletter. New York, of course, where BEA usually takes place, is also the hub of the publishing industry in America. Dan’s blog post illustrated the way in which this one trade show connects readers, book buyers and sellers, authors, publishers large and small, and many ancillary enterprises — brokers of foreign and movie rights, video producers, etc.

Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World reaches its first birthday in September. Since the shelf life of every book seems to get shorter as more and more books are being published, I figured this is the year to go. When I learned that my publisher wasn’t going to invest in an expensive booth (hence the only way I would have to participate in the book signings would be to send 100 copies at my own expense), I decided to go it alone. Not as an author but as a blogger (mostly for the discount offered but also to bring the event more to human scale –from thousands to perhaps 300 people).

I’ve had a special interest in New York City ever since our son Anthony moved there, married there, and invited us to live there for a year to take care of grandson Owen. And I have always dreamed of doing book talks in the city of books. So I began to wonder what kind of week I could put together that featured the BEA in the center but also included book talks, museum and park time, and then top off the week with this kind of time:

With Owen and Julia at the park

With Owen and Julia at the park before soccer class.

 Tip #1 How to go without going broke:

  • The standard Early-bird admission for BEA was $349. I chose to add the Blogger’s conference which for some reason made the four days cheaper ($145). I also learned later that if you join the Authors Guild for $90, you can get into BEA for $104.
  • My week in the city cost mileage to the train station, Amtrak and subway tickets ($325), badge ($175, including one special event), and some meals ($100)
  • I took ten books with me and sold or gave away all of them (profit of $80)
  • So the business part of the trip cost a little more than $500.
  • I had a time share to use which meant no hotel, breakfast, or dinner bills, a huge savings (other people use AirBnB or couch crashing to save that major expense)

Tip #2 Select a manageable goal and prepare for a totally unmanageable environment:

  • I decided to make strengthening relationships my primary goal. I made three totally new friends, found numerous online friends, (Viki Noe and Porter Anderson), reconnected with other people had I met before (Jane Friedman and Sue William Silverman), and collected a pack of business cards. The best place to make new friends was the first day at the blogger conference. I still need to sort through the cards and see if some of the people I met want to stay in touch.
  • A secondary goal was to report on the conference. In other words, writing these words to you was on my mind from the beginning. I know that some of you are authors, some are readers, and some of you are readers-in-the-process of becoming authors. How could I be helpful to you? I did a little tweeting while there and also enjoyed following other conference tweets (you can read them at #BEA14 on Twitter).  Bloggers are still using that hashtag, and following it will give you a great overview of the many experiences people had there.
  • Thirdly, I decided to treat the event like any other spectacle and to “go on the rides.” I picked up swag for Owen and Julia, children’s books and toys that were giveaways. I didn’t go as one of the thousands of  “fan girls” to drool over John Green or Benedict Cumberbatch or Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Howey. I did catch glimpses of many stars, but chose not to stand in any long lines for their autographs. Here’s a great post about the BEA and celebrities from fellow blogger Alison. I also got my own “stash” by going to book signings:
BEA stash of free books

BEA stash of free books

Tip #3 Expect Serendipity:

  • Serendipity found us in the first hours of our trip, before the BEA began. I’ve already told that story.  But the “small world” stories continued even in the huge arena in the middle of BEA. I tried to make a list of people I wanted to meet in advance of BEA so that I could make coffee dates. I had several of these. But it didn’t occur to me that I might run into a former student, Gayatri Patnaik, who is now an executive editor at Beacon Press. We had a delightful conversation, the first in twenty-five years.
With Gayatri Patnaik, executive editor, Beacon Press

With Gayatri Patnaik, executive editor, Beacon Press

  • Serendipity also led me back to Dan Blank, the original culprit who drew me to BEA. Dan spent much of his time walking the floor with his client and mutual friend Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. I had arranged a meet-up with them, appropriately next to the Starbucks, a place Dan often uses for his office:
Hanging out with Dan and Miranda

Hanging out with Dan and Miranda and NYT Bestselling Bittersweet

  • Neither Dan nor Miranda could have predicted that Bittersweet would hit #20 on the NYTimes Bestseller list just at the peak of BEA. But it was not bitter, it was SWEET to celebrate with them. I’ve reviewed the book online and have been along for the ride as they together went all out to create experiences for readers prior to the book’s release. Did these two suddenly-famous people snub the “little people” who followed along? Not at all! They walked the halls talking to all their friends and introducing them to each other. That’s how I got to meet a fellow fan of Bittersweet, Erin Cosenza, the Read-at-Home-Mama.

Have I convinced you to try BEA next year? What else would you like to know before you decide? Or what else would you like to share from your own conference experiences, BEA or others?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Dan Blank on June 11, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    LOVE this recap – so glad you had a great time!

    • shirleyhs on June 11, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks, Dan. I only regret I didn’t have the chance to use the verb “to schlump.” 🙂

  2. Jerry Waxler on June 11, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for “paying forward” the inspiration you felt from Dan’s article, and letting more of us feel the excitement. Like many other writers, I too am fascinated by BEA, and would love to immerse myself in this nexus of the publishing industry. Your sense of buzz is palpable, along with a frank assessment of the time and expense.

    As I continue to aspire to immersing myself in the industry, I will once again put a “maybe next year” on my to-do list.

    Best wishes,

    • shirleyhs on June 11, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      Jerry, I think you would find a way to make it worth your while. Both Viki Noe and Porter Anderson could tell you a lot more about the uPublishU author hub. You might consider taking The Memoir Revolution there.

      Thanks for the comment. I’m still hoping to get to Philly one of these months. Would love to meet YOU in person.

  3. Kathleen Pooler on June 11, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    What an enticing recap of BEA, Shirley! Yes, you’ve piqued my interest in attending next year. I love how you planned a variety of activities around the conference and had fun in the process. I imagine that took a lot of planning.Thanks for sharing it all.

    • shirleyhs on June 11, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Kathy, the truth is that I didn’t really do a lot of planning. Mostly I inquired among the various groups I’m in who was going so that I could build a list of people I wanted to see. I only heard a few speeches/panels. I even downloaded the app that was supposed to help make the sessions more manageable. But I gave up on it. I decided to just go with the flow. If I ever go again, I think I could do more planning. But you almost have to go once in order to know what you know and don’t know. Does that make sense? Anyway, my point is that it can still be worthwhile.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on June 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Shirley — you can’t begin to know how special this post is to me. My literary agent went to BEA-2014 to “hawk” one of my manuscripts. It is now on the desk of, and being considered by, a publisher who publishes books specifically for women, which is the audience (baby boomer women) for this particular manuscript. I’m beyond thrilled at the potential and possibility!

    I am on online friend of Miranda Beverly-Whittemore and have been tracking her NEW YORK TIMES best seller momentum. Holy Toledo! And she just signed a contract for her next book.

    • shirleyhs on June 11, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Laurie, I’m so excited for you!! This is the kind of “deal” many people see as the most valuable function of BEA. No other occasion brings together agents and publishers like this one. That’s a whole other world of private meeting rooms, cocktail parties, etc. And your agent was in it for you! Bully!

      So glad you are friends with Miranda also. It’s a great honor to observe closely the rise of a totally committed author.

  5. Melodie Davis on June 12, 2014 at 7:24 am

    And I’ve even signed up for Dan Blank’s emails purely as a result of your blog post earlier. Good stuff. I once went to the Anerican Booksellers Association expo in D.C. with a couple of folks from Choice Books: wow. Do you know if that is what BEA evolved from?? Also been to a couple of CBA conventions when they were called that. Glad you got some goodies for your grandkids–why not?

  6. shirleyhs on June 12, 2014 at 7:40 am

    You will enjoy Dan’s emails, Melodie. He brings the issues of publishing down to human scale and manages to both stay informed and yet not get caught up in the anxiety that comes with a rapidly changing environment.

    I don’t know the history of BEA, but it appears that the ABA is still going strong:

    Owen and Julia enjoyed “the magic bag” I presented to them from the conference. It included some new hi-tech books with apps to go with them.

    Thanks for sharing your memories.

  7. Tracy Lee Karner on June 12, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Thank you so very much, Shirley, for taking the time to expertly organize all this information / experience. I was really hoping you’d do this for us. It sounds like so much fun. I love the idea of “going on the rides.”

    In honest answer to your questions –have you convinced me to try BEA next year? Not yet. But only because events like that are practically impossible for me, because of my ongoing health issues. I had a book signing at a big event on Tues. evening. The event was about food, not about books, so it was more for the exposure than for “sales” although we did fine in that department, also. I was in my home city (so no traveling stress), 3 hours long, 1000 people filing by and I was smiling at them all, talking to about 100. I was completely useless yesterday, and today I realize it will take me a week to recover. The ROI was worth it–the combination of sales and exposure. And I’m so grateful that I have the luxury of taking the time I need, to laze around, catch up on my reading, listen to music, take naps… it’s like a spa week, so I’m certainly not complaining.

    I would find a way to go to the BEA if the return on investment warranted it. ROI is not my preferred way of thinking about anything, but it’s the way I’ve had to learn to think about events, in order to stay functional, because I don’t want to spend half my life in spa mode (okay–I’d LIKE to, but don’t feel I ought to).

    Were I a normally-healthy person, I’d get myself to NYC next year just for the serendipity and the rides. I enjoy big events, and I LOVED the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in 1992 (Bill Moyers was there interviewing and filming poets!)

    So my question, 6 months from now would be — what quantity of book sales, other income, opportunities to reach a larger audience, or learning did being at BEA generate for you?

    • shirleyhs on June 12, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Tracy, thank you for sharing your experience of being a writer who lives with health challenges that make stressful public events much more stressful. I hope your Spa continues to rejuvenate you. Good for you for learning how to do good self care and adjusting your expectations/ROI accordingly.

      You left me with very concrete, measurable outcome questions. I doubt that I will regain or multiply the investment made. That’s partly because I don’t put my writing and speaking into the category of “profit-making activities” in my ledger.

      I wrote my book for these reasons:
      1. to learn how to write a book and write it as well as possible, while also learning enough about technology to “build a platform”
      2. legacy. Record how I was shaped and what matters to me before I “shuffle off this mortal coil.”
      3. to honor a world that is fast disappearing –the sustainable family farm, and the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church as it was in the ’50’s and’60’s
      4. to tell the truth about my experience as a “plain person” in an age when so much fantasy is being written.
      5. to see if I want to continue writing or move on to other creative ventures like painting and photography that linger on my “bucket list”
      6. to participate with my small denominational publisher in the digital revolution. To work in partnership for both their sake and my own. I want them to be one of the winners in sustaining themselves. They have such great editors and staff.

      Looks like you’ve inspired me to write a mini blog post! Thanks.

  8. Victoria Noe on June 12, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Great post, Shirley, and yes, feel free to “blame’ Dan!

    As far as planning for BEA, I’d add a couple more things: wear comfortable shoes (cannot stress that enough), get the biggest Starbucks you can buy before you get there, feel free to bring snacks, and be prepared for anything! Serendipity is huge at BEA: you run into people you never thought you’d ever meet and make great new friends and contacts.

    The important thing, though, is to have a plan. What do you want to accomplish while you’re there? Because it is nothing if not overwhelming.

    For those who really plan ahead, BEA will move here (Chicago) in 2016. But I’ve already promised my basement to one of my friends. 😉

    Great finally meeting you!


  9. Victoria Noe on June 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Per your request, Shirley –

    If you go to my blog,, you’ll see two recaps of BEA.

    Part 2 is actually the more detailed recap of what happened at the Javits Center and what I accomplished as far as goals.

    Part 1 is about the book signing (for my book on losing friends to AIDS) I did the night after BEA ended, where I was able to see how the biggest lesson of the week (creating readers who support your career) played out with a very specific group of men.

  10. shirleyhs on June 12, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks so much, Viki, for adding your two great recaps. You thoughts will be especially helpful to Indie authors. I’m really impressed by your broad concept of what it means to put together a team of experts. All best on the international/translation efforts. Really interested in the results.

    Thanks so much for stopping by! We will meet again I hope.

  11. shirleyhs on June 13, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Just because I want to come back here to find this, I’m including Mem Fox’s speech on YouTube. If you are a grandparent, you will LOVE this speech.

  12. Susan G. Weidener on June 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks, Shirley, for your honesty in sharing just how much of an author’s life becomes entrepreneurial at her own expense, whichever publishing route you take. I, too,love author/writer gatherings where serendipity seems synonymous with highly creative, highly motivated writers all under one roof. These conferences offer a terrific way to make connections, reestablish acquaintances, and meet new friends.I’ll definitely consider BEA next year. Susan

    • shirleyhs on June 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks, Susan. Yes, conferences cost money. No, a return is not guaranteed. That’s why I like to think of my writing life as being in the category of “education” and “travel,” two places in my budget where I don’t need to prove ROI.

      Your location makes the travel to NYC much easier and less expensive. Are you an Authors Guild member? If not, you might consider joining just to get super low BEA admission, including the option of daily admission.

      BTW, I didn’t go to the day when the public came in BookCon. I heard it was a circus.

      • Tracy Lee Karner on June 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm

        Shirley, I do hope you consider writing that post. It’s already almost done, and I think it’s important for people to know there are entirely valid and worthy reasons to write, which have little or nothing to do with financial gain or fame. This is especially true for those of us who believe that if we seek the kingdom of God (things like striving to grow, seeking truth, honoring others, and building community) — all our needs will be supplied.

        I think that what I’ve learned from this post of yours, which has been extremely helpful to me because of your clarity and honesty, is that the BEA is not something that would be good for me, the biggest reason against my going is the stress it would cause me. I can see that BEA, besides being a rousing good time, allows a person to establish and renew a lot of literary connections in a short amount of exciting time, but it’s probably wiser for me to patiently make those connections in less physically-stressful ways. Social networking has been a lifesaver for me; I can do it when I have the energy.

  13. Joan on June 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for your recap of BEA, Shirley. Sounds like you had a ball.

    I’m not sure you’ve convinced me … I’m not a crowd/chaos person. But I am thinking about it. It is expensive and combining it with my husbands need to seei every good play on and off Broadway, it could cost us a bundle. There is no way he would stay at home.

    When you get back from your big book tour I’d love to get together and pick your brain about why I should go. In the meantime, have a wonderful trip.

    • shirleyhs on June 13, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Well, actually, anyone who hates crowds will not enjoy BEA. I don’t think it’s for everyone. And if you have a limited budget for conferences and want them to help you before publication, then I think the one you went to in Pittsburgh was a MUCH better choice.

      As for getting together again, I’m all for it. Let’s stay in touch for August or September!

  14. Madeline Sharples on June 13, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    This is a great recap of your experience. It certainly inspires me to go next year – I still hope my memoir will have a few more of shelf life years. Plus, I’m always up for a trip to NYC and the thought of running into writer friends is another huge incentive.
    Thank for sharing this, Shirley. All best.

    • shirleyhs on June 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Madeline, I think you would enjoy going and can’t lose if you love NYC. Your comment about shelf life is also helpful, since I think your book, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, is certainly an example of one with an “evergreen” life. Congratulations! Your story is reaching many and continues to sell well two years after publication. That is an accomplishment. And now you have a memoir in the hands of beta readers. I’m sure you’ll find ways to make BEA worth your while.

  15. Victoria Noe on June 14, 2014 at 8:16 am

    One of the points I made in one of my recaps is that I don’t know yet how I did. I have short-term accomplishments, but there is work to be done for a while: follow-ups and discussions and deliberations. I was exposed to possibilities I need time to think about. It will be a few months, I imagine, before I know exactly what I accomplished at BEA.

    That said, the expenses are fully tax-deductible. You don’t have to spend a lot in NYC – really, you don’t. There are ways to save money (stay at a hotel that includes breakfast, find a roommate to share expenses, etc.). BEA has “official” hotels, one of which was the dorm at Hunter College. I know plenty of places within walking distance of the Javits Center where you can have a full meal for $10.

    So I encourage people to look at BEA – or Writers Digest Conference or any other one – with a long-term view and as an investment in your career.

    When I was selling books to school librarians, I exhibited at a state-wide conference. Two years later, I got a call from a librarian who still had my catalog. She became a steady customer for the next several years.

    You just never know.

    • shirleyhs on June 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

      These are GREAT points, Viki. I like to call this the “scattering seed” way of marketing and the “gathering seed” way of learning. Relationships are key to all of it.

      Frankly, I’m still trying to decide whether I am an author first or a learner first. At age 65 I am becoming much more cognizant of fleeting time and still have lots of other things I want to explore (painting, photography, hospice chaplaincy??). I will know my next “call” when I hear it. I do things like go to BEA to listen. It’s awfully noisy there :-), so I’ll follow your good example and take some time to sort things through.

      Thanks for coming back again and for sharing your own recaps. I hope you got some readers from this location.

  16. Richard Gilbert on June 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

    So inspiring, Shirley. You really did BEA – right! I haven’t been in years, since the press I worked for stopped going. Like your press has found, it was just too expensive, and that trend has continued, with smaller trade and university presses folding their tents. You have just written a template for how authors can go and do BEA on their own.

  17. shirleyhs on June 14, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Thanks, Richard. I looked for MSU press in hopes that I would find your book if not find you. You would have found it interesting to see what a (relatively) large display U of Nebraska had there. Do you know Sue William Silverman? She’s getting great marketing support, from all external appearances, from U of N.

  18. Veronica Bartles (@vbartles) on July 14, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Great recap! I had so much fun at BEA this year, and I totally agree that strengthening connections is the best part! <3

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