Sunday, June 05, 2005


I just returned from Book Expo America in NYC, and it went well.

BEA is the publishing industry's trade show, and there are hundreds of booths, and thousands of people who attend.

Do you need to go to BEA? In my opinion, yes. Here's a quick rundown of what I did and why I did it:

Caught the red-eye to NY June 2, and went from the airport to the Park South Hotel, where I was toastmaster for the Backspace Conference (

The conference went well. Good attendance, and some big names.

Note to everyone who ever speaks in public: the secret to success is threefold.

1. Be entertaining.
2. Be brief.
3. Keep things moving.

It's very important to keep one eye on your audience to gauge their reactions. I'm surprised how many folks in this biz don't do that. You want to dazzle, and enlighten, and motivate. If there's a mass exodus to the washroom during your talk, or you're hearing snores, wrap it up.

I've done a few dozen conventions, and you can actually lose sales by being boring. Don't be boring.

The conference lasted from noon until eight, and then the after-conference drinking began.

If you're an author, you need a liver made of steel, and kidneys the size of watermelons. Also, have your general practitioner sew on a second bladder. Preferably not where it can be seen.

Schmoozing is essential in this biz. Talking with other authors to get advice and wisdom, learning the industry gossip, and being generous with buying rounds will help you make friends, and you need as many as you can get.

I'm pretty good at schmoozing, and got to my hotel room by 3AM. Note to all: DO NOT stay at the Hotel Pennsylvania. It's a Soviet Gulag. The room was the size of an appliance box, and had paint flaking off the walls, suspicious stains on the carpeting, no batteries in the remote control, crummy pillows, a funny smell, and a bathroom straight out of Midnight Express. The towel bar had been ripped from the wall, leaving two large holes. Why had someone ripped off the towel bar? Possibly to beat themselves over the head with it because they were paying $150 a night for the room. I tried to place a wake-up call for 7AM, and the phone rang over eighty times before the operator picked up.

Since I didn't trust that I'd get the call, I phoned home and woke up my wife, asking her to call me. I would have set the alarm, but my room didn't have a clock.

At 7AM, I did get the wake-up call. I swallowed some Advil, hopped in the shower, and walked the fifteen blocks to the Javits Center because the rumors were true--you can't get a cab in Manhattan.

The sheer size of BEA is overwhelming. There are rows and rows and rows of publishers, all giving out free books, book bags, CDs, DVDs, magazines, catalogs, etc. I went to the Hyperion booth ( to find my escort to the Book Sense Luncheon.

Book Sense is the brainchild of the American Booksellers Associate (, a group of 1200 independent bookstores who have joined together to help promote themselves and authors they enjoy. I was a Book Sense pick in 2004 for WHISKEY SOUR, so I got an invite.

The banquet went well. I got to meet many indie booksellers, shake some hands, give away some copies of BLOODY MARY, and meet some cool authors.

After the luncheon, I met with my agent, Jane Dystel ( whom I adore. I then visited the Brilliance Audio ( booth, where I found out my book made the cover of their Summer catalog. I also visited Hyperion again, where they had huge stacks of BLOODY MARY to give away, and got caught up in signing a few dozen copies for those who asked.

Hyperion had also made some business cards for me, which looked much better than the ones I printed up on my computer. I actually feel like a pro now, when I hand out a card. I should have gotten some made earlier.

At 6PM, I left BEA and took a shuttle back to the prison camp to change clothes, and I discovered that my room hadn't been cleaned. I called housekeeping, but after 60 rings gave up.

Then I walked to the Horror Writers Association ( NYC chapter meeting at a nearby bar. There was schmoozing, and alcohol was consumed. I managed to get back to the hotel by 4AM, and with great effort managed to place a wake-up call for 7AM.

Saturday was busy. I met my editor for brunch, and she's a joy to be around. We spent about two hours together, then went back to the Javits Center for my first official BEA signing.

Official signings take place at the author area, at the back of the building. There are 30 lanes, each roped off into isles and about thirty yards long. Most authors get a half hour to sign books. Bestsellers get an hour.

My signing was from 1pm-1:30pm. I got there at 12:40, and son of a gun, I already had a line. I spoke to the folks, took a few pictures, then went to my table and began to autograph.

I signed for 70 minutes, because the line never ended. It was an absolute joy. They had to bump the guy who was supposed to follow me.

After the signing, I hit the floor again. I met with Uglytown (, who is publishing an anthology I edited (THESE GUNS FOR HIRE, a collection of hitman stories, for 2006). I also met with Andrew Gulli, editor of The Strand Magazine (, who is publishing a story of mine, and Kristin Godsey of Writer's Digest, who is publishing an upcoming article of mine.

By 6PM, it was time to get to the ITW Cocktail Party (, where I got to schmooze with some major big shots in the business.

Party ended at 8PM. Then, to the bar.

I made it back to the Gulag by 1AM, so exhausted I fell asleep in my suit.

Early flight back to Chicago, where I got home at 3PM and slept for six hours.

Was the trip worthwhile? Absolutely. Besides seeing my agents and editors, I had a chance to see and be seen by many terrific authors, booksellers, librarians, and fans. Among the folks I had a chance to talk to were Lee Child, David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, M.J. Rose, Candace Bushnell, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritson, Sandra Brown, Barry Eisler, Harry Hunsicker, Richard Curtis, David Hale Smith, David Dun, James Rollins, Elizabeth Becka, Sarah Weinman, Nathan Walpow, Mark Conrad, Leslie Wells, Jane Dystel, Miriam Goderich, Michael Bourret, Steve Alten, Adam Pepper, Monica O'Rourke, Tom Fassbender, Jim Pascoe, Reed Coleman, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas Preston, Christopher Rice, Steve Berry, Jack Ketchum, Jeff Strand, Jeffrey Anderson, Ty Drago, Robert Liparulo, and so many others.

Plus, I confirmed some suspicions I'd always had about publishing.

Agents get dozens of submissions a day. They request full manuscripts on five percent of those, and choose to represent about 3 perscent of those. I'm no math wizard, but I think that means for every 2000 folks who submit, they'll take on three.

On the editorial end, they reject nine out of ten agented submissions. And of those that the editors like, more than half get turned down at the ax meeting (acquisitions).

So, by my very rough estimation, one out of 13320 books gets represented and published.

Of course, one publisher might accept what another rejects. Ditto agents. But we're still talking long odds here.

Which is why, once you do get published, you need to make sure you stay published. BEA is one way to do so.

But next time I'm in NY, I'm staying at the Algonquin.


JD Rhoades said...

I think Dave Barry once wrote disparagingly about the Hotel Pennsylvania as well.

Unknown said...

This is not to be confused with the real Pennsylvania. It's not like a gulag at all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

Just found your blog and am enjoying it.

As the travel editor at the New Haven Register in Connecticut, I get a lot of press releases from the Hotel Pennsylvania, but something about the place just never felt right to me. Now I know why. And I've never been there.

Next time, you'd be right to choose the Algonquin, which is delightful, but also the Warwick at 54th and 6th is fabulous.

And why couldn't you get a cab? (Personally, I take the subway, it's cheaper and faster: no traffic).

Anonymous said...

Well you definitely can't get a cab at the Javits Center. You'd think there would be some kind of communication between the center and the taxi commission letting them know that there will be a ton of people looking for cabs.

Other places in NYC are usually better, but even then you run into problems in bad weather.