Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA)

In 2012, I wrote the following post as a warning to self-published authors who fall prey to scams that take advantage of the highly recognized industry trade show, BookExpo (BEA), previously known as BookExpo America. I have updated this post since so much has changed in the last five years, both in regards to this particular trade show, as well as the publishing industry.

Important: In the past, BEA has taken steps to ban companies/organizations who resell BEA marketing opportunities at exorbitant prices. Still, while BEA attempts to educate and protect authors from making expensive mistakes, be smart and do your research before you make BEA part of your strategic marketing, publicity, and PR plan.


First, a little background: What is Book Expo (BEA)?

It’s the largest industry trade show in North America focused on traditional publishing. It started off as a convention for booksellers (the American Booksellers Association), and it’s attended mostly by people inside the industry, including literary agents, booksellers, librarians, and the media. The bulk of BEA consists of an exhibit floor where publishers purchase booth space to show off their upcoming titles (and authors), sell rights, and network with colleagues. There’s also a separate rights area where literary agents often have tables.

Do authors attend BEA?

Yes, but usually at the invitation of their publisher. Every year, traditional publishers decide what specific titles they want to push heavily at BEA, and will often invite the authors to do signings or events meant to bring visibility to the work pre-publication. Remember that “visibility” in this context means visibility to the trade (the industry), not visibility to consumers. There’s a separate event—BookCon—that focuses on consumers.

In 2014, in acknowledgment of the growing indie author market, BEA opened up an exhibit area where indie authors could buy affordable tables to conduct meetings and network. It was initially known as “Author Hub” and is now called “Author Market.” This is not an opportunity to sell books—selling books is not allowed at  BEA. You can give away copies, though. Here’s the Author Hub sales sheet for 2016.

Should you exhibit at Author Market?

If you’re a professional, independent author with a significant history of sales, and already know of other professionals you could potentially meet and network with at BookExpo, then it may be a good opportunity for you. This is not a good opportunity for an author who has just published their first book, and thinks visibility at BEA might fix their marketing and promotion problems. It will not.

Whether or not you exhibit at Author Market, BEA is not a shortcut to getting up close and personal with traditional publishers or literary agents, in the hopes one of them will publish or represent your book. You’ll greatly annoy people if you go pitching on the floor, unless it has to do with subrights or licensing. If that is indeed your goal, you should have a very polished pitch, and demonstrate a successful track record. Best-case scenario: set up meetings in advance and don’t ambush people.

BEA is generally not interested in unaffiliated authors walking its floor, because every editor/agent hides from the author who is pitching their self-published work. You can see the unwelcome mat reflected in these 2017 registration prices (highest for authors!); authors must also be “approved” for a badge.

BEA 2017 registration prices

Avoid paying to have your book promoted for you at BEA

Aside from the Author Market, there are a handful of opportunities for authors to get visibility for their work at BEA. As far as I’m concerned—as someone who attended this show for 10 years, mainly as an editor with a traditional publishing house—it is not worth the investment. Here’s why.

  1. The emphasis of the show is on traditional publishing, rights sales and pre-publication marketing, and does not favor indie title promotion. It is a New York industry event where traditional publishing insiders talk to other traditional publishing insiders. Yes, there are librarians and booksellers, but they’re rarely paying attention to the places where an indie book may be showcased or promoted.
  2. Nobody is going to notice your book there. Your book is likely to be promoted with many other books, with no way of attracting attention even if someone did pause for a second within 50 feet of your book. Imagine setting a copy of your book down in the world’s largest book fair, and expecting someone to not only notice it, but be entranced by it so much they can ignore 10,000 other things happening at the same time.
  3. If you—the author—are not present to advocate for it, your book doesn’t stand a chance. Services that offer to promote your book at BEA are rarely, if ever, hand-selling or promoting your book in a meaningful way. But they will be happy to cash your check and say that your book had a “presence” at BEA. If you want to satisfy your ego, go ahead. But it’s not going to lead to meaningful sales. (I challenge anyone in the comments to provide evidence that a self-published book gained traction at BEA because the author paid a fee to secure placement—and the author was not present.)

BEA is a quality industry event, and it is a legitimate marketing and promotion opportunity. But for the majority of indie authors, it does not make sense to invest what are likely your limited resources in BEA.

For more insight and advice

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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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39 Comments on "Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA)"

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Ashen

What about Kirkus marketing services? I’m hesitant about self-publishing, being good at promoting others if I put my mind to it, but hopeless at doing for my own work.  Someone sent me a link to Kirkus services today, it sounds expensive.

Patricia V. Davis

Totally agree with this and I applaud you for stating it so boldly.  SO proud to know you. 

Carol

Hi Jane – I agree with you in general, but there are two instances that I do think have value – 1) if you have a distributor, displaying in their booth and supplying the reps with a sell sheet about your book, and 2) the IBPA booth gets a lot of traffic, provides a nice catalog for librarians and book sellers to take, every book is categorized and face out and the booth is manned by knowledgeable people. Their Ben Franklin award winners are displayed separately and get a lot of attention.

Jane Steen

Thanks – keep the advice coming. 

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Book Bits #154 – Goodbye Chicklit?, New Rowling book deal, ‘The Snow Child” | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions

[…] Authors: Don’t Pay Money for BEA Book Promotion, by Jane Friedman – “This advice is for self-published authors, independent authors, […]

Alan Hutcheson
It is amazing to me that anyone would think for a moment that paying your way into an event like this is a wise decision. The folks selling these sorts of “services” have no interest at all in the success of a book or its author; their only objective is selling the “spot”. Once that is accomplished everything else is less than secondary. The same sort of money extraction scheme shows up with each issue of the New York Review of Books. Huge, two page advertisements dotted with a couple dozen vanity published books. If the company responsible for putting… Read more »
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[…] professor Jane Friedman, who hosts the Ether here at her site, posted her excellent warning, Authors: Don’t Pay Money for BEA Book Promotion, just as I’d been reading an arresting series of comments on a blog post titled Who Controls […]

Nina Amir

On a related note, what do you think of people offering a paid service for writers to pitch book ideas at the BEA? These are not agents. Agents do this for free. I know a few people who go every year and get paid big bucks for this service.  Agents don’t appreciate them much. I advise my clients to just find an agent.

Writeawaysmf

Thank you so much for this information as I was just about to do so; I did, however, wonder about exposure for my book while not able to be there in person.  You are a  life/money saver.  I wish there were more like you.  My book, When Pigs Fly; A Journey Home, will have to fly to new heights on its own…thank you, thank you.
susanfries-author.com

Phil Simon

Great advice, Jane. I submitted my third book at BEA and crickets… 

Martin Reaves

Thank you for this post. I’m a little late to the game on this thread. What is your take on a newly published author (me) being encouraged to attend by my publisher (Black Rose Writing) for a discounted rate (somewhere between $300 – $600 depending on how many days, author signing slots, etc.)?

Is it a viable opportunity?

Nic Schuck

As a new author with my first book coming out in September, I was encouraged to attend BEA this year by my publisher. It is of no cost to me. I am attending because I’m curious to learn more about the industry, but what are some things I could do to make the most out of my BEA visit?

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[…] find too much out there to tell new writers what to expect. I read a really good blog post called “Don’t Pay Money for BEA Book Promotion.” After attending, I agree with that statement, but if you are in the situation like I was in where […]

Alan Horne

Naturally, BEA is a trade show, which is quite different from a conference or a convention. And all the best information to be gleaned from the event can be found for free online not long after (or even before) the trade show ends.

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[…] beware of BEA, and so on is just normal advice, what do I mean beware of BEA? I just received an excellent article in Jane Friedman’s newsletter this morning. In it, she warns about signing up for predatory marketing plans offering you access […]

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[…] Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA) (Jane Friedman): In summary: “BEA is a quality industry event, and it is a legitimate marketing and […]

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[…] “Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA)”: an important message from Jane Friedman. […]

Janice

Thank you for this post. What if someone bought a booth space already as a first time exhibitor and they are self-published? (The books are all art educational materials from an art educator) Do you have any advice, like maybe specific documents or printouts distributors look for generally? Also, do people sell/give out merchandise like totebags, pens, etc.? (couldn’t find this information on their website.)

Janice
This is the definitely the big league… and your article is a little misguiding. Authors and small publishers should take the same approach that other talents take in film, TV and music; you need REPRESENTATION. It’s just that simple. For one to venture to a TRADE SHOW without any knowledge of how the industry works, has already failed, simply because they were not prepared for the big time. Failing is a part of the journey; it’s the same process indie filmmakers, directors, writers and or producers face until they score major representation; publishing isn’t any different. I’m a filmmaker, I… Read more »
Tom a

Thank you was wondering about this

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[…] honest assessment of what to expect. Jane Friedman wrote an important post earlier this year called “Authors: Think Twice Before Paying to Exhibit at Book Expo (BEA),” in which she rightly warned authors about scams and expressly shared her opinion (which I share) […]

Kirk Raeber

As a first time self published author what are your thoughts about advertising with IBPA?

Michelle
Hi! I’m a published children’s author with a small publishing company. I attended BEA last year in their booth. It was pricey as I needed travel and lodging on top of paying my publisher to be there. This next show it will be $2500 for me to simply attend the show (oh and get a muffin at the Children’s Author Breakfast). Last year we had signings with the show and I was on a panel thanks to my publisher. But no sales from this show. Fun. Inspirational. Great experience. But not a marketing or sales-generating event. I’m really on the… Read more »
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