This past weekend (May 11 – 13) I accompanied a friend and local bookstore owner to the Book Expo America (BEA) in Chicago. I have attended other regional conferences before, but this was my first time to the BEA. I attended a breakfast with featured speakers and stood in line for author signings their advanced reader copies (arc) of their soon to be published book. It was an exhausting three day event highlighted by a few unexpected quirks.

I am a small town girl, unaccustomed to mass transit and city noise. Large cities make me uncomfortable. Our 13th floor hotel room was nice, but the street noise echoed though our double-pane widow as if it was nonexistent. People yelling, traffic, and endless sirens serenaded us throughout the night making it difficult to sleep.

Charter buses provided free transportation to and from our hotel to the event center. As we rode through the dark underground bowels of Chicago for the first time, I wondered when the vampires and zombies would attack the bus. The bus schedule was unaccommodating. Buses stopped running at the opening of the event (10:00) and began again at 3:30. Anyone wishing to return to their hotel had to take a taxi. Our main objective was to place book orders and obtain arcs for an event at the bookstore. Orders were easily placed and promotion rates welcomed. Arcs were plentiful. We collected books quickly filling the complimentary promotional bags, but unlike a regional conference, we only had three options on what to do with the heavy bags of books. First, we could have put the arcs in a box in the designated shipping area, but we were not allowed to pickup the box at a later time. The cost to ship each box – $41. Not exactly a rate a small independent bookstore can afford. Second, we could pay for each bag to be held in the coat and luggage designated areas – $4 per bag. However, we collected between 16 to 20 bags of books. More than we wanted to pay since we give the arcs away as a bookstore promotion. We did notice that experienced attendees had checked an empty luggage bag in the holding area and returned often to deposit their books. Note to self for next time. Third, we carry the heavy bags of books while in attendance, which we did. On the second day, we were able to make one trip back to our hotel after lugging the books for four hours, drop off a load of books in our room, and return only to be burdened with heavy bags with minutes. No wonder there was a booth with three massage chairs and massage therapists available for patrons.

The breakfast on the second day was quite nice. Each attendee received a free copy of the speakers’ books. Many of their presentations were humorous and entertaining, others were quite touching and sentimental. As I sat and listened to their lectures, I wondered if I would ever step onto the stage platform as a featured speaker one day. If there were other aspiring authors within the large room, I am certain they were imagining the same.

Author signings brought up a similar sentiment. Would I ever be the one signing my name to copies of my book while looking toward an seemingly endless line searching for the last person while flexing my cramped hand in between signatures and forcing a smile upon my face as the next eager person stepped before me? Ah, to dream.

The close of the second day was celebrated as bottles of wine were uncorked, beer seemed to flow from hidden kegs, and several patrons carried plastic fluted glasses of champagne. One friendly publisher uncorked a bottle of Scotch whiskey as a promotion for his new book on the topic. Yes, I indulged in a very small glass diluted with water. It was surprisingly good, very smooth.

By the last day of the BEA our shoulders were bruised and our feet ached. Thank goodness for the provided lounge. We were treated to popcorn, cookies, brownies, and beverages. It also gave us a change to rest and chat with others.

As booths closed early, we made our way to the buses and returned to our hotel to load the car and drive home. Was our trip a success? Yes, and no. We were able to experience the BEA, learn a few things along the way, but fell short of our goal to collect enough arc books for our fall event. It looks as if we will be attending a regional conference in the fall.