Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bookish Event Recap: ALA vs. Book Expo

Hi Everyone,
So as many of you know, I was at the American Library Association (ALA) conference last weekend. It was amazing and exhausting. I was originally just going to give you an ALA recap where I explained my trip, what I did, the books I am excited about, you know the usual stuff. But then I thought it would be fun to compare the two events. It's particularly interesting because I have attended both events in Chicago. So I think I can do a pretty good comparison.

On the whole, it was an amazing weekend. I got to see a ton of awesome bloggers, meet some amazing authors who I love and admire, and I picked up some really exciting books. It was my first year attending ALA after going to BEA (or the now named Book Expo) so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard from some friends that had been to both that ALA is much more chill and just about wandering the exhibit hall and talking to publicists about the books they have to offer. And while it was that, it was so much more. Alright, let's dive into the comparison.

The Exhibit Hall
This is a pretty good view of the booths.

As I said, I attended both events in Chicago so both events were at McCormick Place. After being there for BEA last year I knew exactly where I was going and how everything was set up. Or so I thought. I mean I did know where the exhibit hall was and the bathrooms, but the floor was super different.

At BEA, basically all you have is publishers' booths and autographing tables. I would say about a third, maybe even half, of the exhibit hall is devoted to the autographing area. The booths are then dispersed throughout the rest of the hall. While at ALA there is no autographing area so all you have are booths. However there are a ton of other booths besides those devoted to the publishers. There was artist's alley, a gaming and graphic novels area, education areas, vendors, all kinds of things besides publishers. I liked this because it added more variety and honestly there was more "empty" space. It was easier to find a corner to sit down and relax in and they even designated some space for that in the hall which was very nice.

However, at ALA the publishers booths were all in the same area. No publishers had self-contained booths either. They were all sort of like cubicals  and all really close together. There were a few exceptions like Disney, Sourcebooks, and Simon and Schuster but for the most part all the booths I wanted to visit were in one long line closest to the entrances. It was literally this order: Penguin/Random House, Harper, Macmillan, Abrams/HMH, Scholastic, Little Brown. There may have been one or two different ones in there to break things up a little but they were all so close together it really muddied the waters when it came to lining up for signing. Although it did make things nicer for walking around looking for drops and you didn't have to remember where all the big publishers were.

Winner: ALA. I would have liked the publishers to be spread out a little more but that congestion happens at BEA too in the autographing area and this was honestly not as bad. Plus they had a designated sitting area for you to relax in. Can't beat that.

Author Signings

The lovely Kerri Maniscalco
The first thing I will say about this is that there were way more signings at ALA than I was expecting. I think I had heard from people that there were only going to be a few authors that attend. And it wasn't anywhere near as many as BEA but there were still plenty of signings. If you have attended BEA you know that there are two different types of signings. There are in-booth signings and autographing. At ALA there is only one, in-booth. This is exactly what it sounds like, it occurs in the publisher's booth where the author sits at a desk and signs the books for you. And because there is no autographing area that means ALA only has half the signings.

I would also say ALA probably has more already released books because of the awards ceremony but BEA has more authors and probably bigger authors. Some publishers bring their big tent pole authors like Scholastic with Maggie Steifvater but for the most part it's more middle of the road names and big authors who had books out last year. And sometimes they are giving the book away and sometimes you buy the book. They also bring other books by that author you can get, Like for Maggie received All the Crooked Saints and could buy The Raven Boys.

But there are amazing authors at both places. Basically everyone who went to Book Expo was also at ALA. I got to meet Maggie Steifvater, Kerri Maniscalco, Alexandra Bracken. Marie Lu, Anna-Marie McLemore, Cat Winters, Sharon Cameron, E. Lockhart, Melissa Albert, Kristen Cashore, Adele Griffin, Stacey Lee, Brandy Colbert, and Amy Reed.

Winner: BEA. I have to give this to BEA just because of the sheer number of author signings. At ALA even if you have a bunch of author signings you still have time to chill and wander. At BEA, I have spent whole days in autographing areas and not been able to do everything because they were all at the same time. Which honestly is something in ALA's favor, more doable.

ARC Drops

This is probably where things differ the most. At BEA the ARC drops are extremely structured. The publisher will tell you exactly when they are releasing a specific book and that is the only time you can get it, When it's gone, it's gone. So you need to build into your schedule those times so you make sure you get there early to line up. At ALA that is not the case. Some publishers will have specific drop times, particularly first thing in the morning, but it's not so structured.

At ALA you can, and honestly should, go up to the publishers and ask if they have copies of a certain book. Many of them will not put the books out for a drop and will instead keep them in a cabinet for those who ask for copies. I don't think I ever saw Penguin do a formal drop like I'm used to, not even in the morning. But if you asked them they would give you any book that they brought copies of. Same with Macmillan.

The thing to keep in mind with this though is that you totally need to ask about this as quickly as you can. Your first day is the day you need to ask about that priority book you were hoping to get. They will more than likely give it to you if you ask or they will tell you when you can get. But keep in mind, everyone else will be asking too and they don't have an unlimited supply of the book. I saw some publishers run out after the first day. Don't assume that you can ask the next day, or even later in the day for the book.

Winner: ALA. You really can't beat the ability to ask and then more than likely receive any book you ask for. It's nice to not have to structure in drops throughout your day and to be able to check in when you get a spare moment. Plus when you ask about a certain book the publicist might say "oh, you like YA fantasies? Have you heard of this book?" and then they will give you a similar title which I think is awesome.

The Books

In both conferences there are seriously book everywhere and anywhere. It is an opportunity for the publishers to talk about their upcoming titles and put them in the hands of the people who can read them and then share their thoughts with others who might be interested in reading them. It's just as easy to get more books than you could possibly read at either event. I think at ALA it's probably more selective. You can ask about specific books and therefore get ones you are much more interested in rather than taking one you know nothing about because it's being dropped with a book you do know.

Most of the books featured are fall releases. I would say that probably with ALA there is definitely more already released books. At BEA I only got a few books that were already out and at ALA I got close to 10. Plus because ALA is a little later than BEA there are also more 2018 releases. When looking through my books I had much more 2018 releases than I thought. Even some not coming out until March.

Winner: Tie. But ALA might have a slight advantage because you can be more selective. I like being able to ask about books I am interested in and being able to talk to publicists is way better than just hoping the book will be out or knowing when to come back.

The Lines

For both conferences there are also seriously lines everywhere and anywhere. I have never seen so many lines in my entire life as these kind of conferences. I'm sure it has nothing on ComicCon but I don't know that I want it to. This is enough for me, too much for me. I will say that because there are less signings and not structured drops, there are far less lines at ALA than at BEA when there is so much more going on at a particular period of time.

The other really great thing about ALA is that they actually let you line up in advance. AT BEA they were such sticklers about that sort of thing, You couldn't get in line until a half hour before and if you tried to they would tell you to leave. I felt like at ALA they were like "yeah, start a line, just stay out of the way and we'll grab you when we're ready for you." I mean I think I was in line for Maggie Steifvater for over an hour and a half and there were people in some lines for a few hours.

But the only problem with the fact that there are less lines during ALA is that those lines, especially ones for YA titles or big titles, can be insanely long. The line for Angie Thomas was out of control. I got so intimidated by it that I didn't even try to get in it. The line for Alexandra Bracken was also pretty crazy. I did something else and then got in that one when it died down a little and I ended up being one of the last people. SO, less lines but super crazy lines.

Winner: ALA. I'll take a crazy long line where they let you line up in advance any day. It never felt crazy or overwhelming in the way BEA did. There weren't any miscommunication of where the line was, it was just long. And the people working the booths were pretty good about crowd control. Plus at the end of the day my feet didn't hurt all that bad. Twice I even walked back to my hotel.

Blogger Dinner! (photo credit: Lauren)
The People

I mean, the people are great (for the most part). The people are great no matter where you are going. When you are bringing bookish people like authors and librarians and bloggers all in the same place you are going to have great people. My first time at BEA I remember thinking how amazing it was to be with all "my people." That's what I felt like at ALA this year. It was amazing meeting people and being somewhere with people who also care this much about books.

For authors, I have already talked a lot about this but I did feel like ALA had less authors and less big name authors. A few of the publishers brought their big names but for the most part I felt like ALA was more about middle of the road kind of authors and even debuts. And yes, I would have loved to see Leigh Bardugo and Marissa Meyer again but it was great to meet some new authors.

As far as bloggers go, there were actually more than I expected. I didn't go to BEA this year but I feel like I didn't even really know that many people going. There were a few blogger friends that I would have liked to see and hang out with but I do feel like there were great bloggers at ALA. I got to meet some new ones, see some I know, and hang out with a few at a blogger dinner. It was so nice to see Nicole from Feed Your Fiction Addiction (and her mom who is awesome!), Shannon from It Starts at Midnight, and Holly from The Fox's Hideaway. It was also amazing to meet Lauren from Stooting Star Mag who organized the blogger dinner and the ladies of Once Upon a Chapter, Stephanie and Alexa, who were my line buddies many times and gave me some helpful tips. And of course my lovely roommates Katie from Katie's Book Blog, Montana from The Book Belles, and Michelle from Pink Polka Dot Books who was stuck with me all weekend as we drove together from Pittsburgh. Although I did miss the rest of my girls from last year. It just wasn't the same without you awesome nerds.

And yes, of course there was drama. There is always going to be drama. Any time you get that many people anywhere there is going to be someone behaving badly. And bloggers, librarians, randos off the street who want to pay $75 for books are not exempt from that. But I'd say for the most part that everyone was really nice and professional. Although probably a little punchy because they were tired and hungry. That was me.

Winner: BEA. I think having so many less author signings means that I have to give this one to BEA. Plus like not that I'm ever invited to any but BEA has parties that bloggers are invited to and I think that publishers tend to gear more events to us. So if you are a blogger you may get more out of Book Expo because ALA is intended for librarians.

Okay, there you have it. My thoughts and kind of recap of ALA and how it compares to Book Expo. I don't think I can say one is better than another. They are both really fantastic. If you are going by these categories ALA gets a slight advantage. But they are both really fantastic and fun bookish events. There are amazing authors to meet, upcoming books to learn about, bookish friends to meet and hang out with, and plenty of exhausting fun. If you have the chance to go to either I would definitely recommend going.

 If you have any specific questions please let me know. But honesty, it was a lot of fun and super exhausting. I'm definitely planning to go again. Next year ALA Annual is going to be in New Orleans and I'm hoping to go.

Have you been to ALA? What did you think? Did you go this year? What was the best book you picked up? Have you been to Book Expo? Have you been to both? What were the major differences for you? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Great comparison. Were there a lot of author panels like at BEA? That was my favorite part of BEA last year. Meeting authors is always awkward, but I love hearing them talk about their books on the panels.

  2. I have always wanted to go to ALA. I wish I had gone just for Kemmerer's book! We usually attend BEA, since we live in NJ (though, I did fly to Chicago last year) and you know, no plane fare or hotels necessary. It sounds like ALA was great and I am glad you got a ton of awesome books.
    Sam @ WLABB

  3. I agree with your assessment completely. I think both events have their pluses and minuses, but I was very happy to get the chance to go to ALA. I kind of like experiencing all kinds of bookish events---variety and all that. :-) I'm glad we got to hang out!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  4. It was so great to meet you! I'm glad you were able to make it to the dinner. This was my first time doing ALA - but I've been to BEA a few times, including last year. I think Chicago is a fun place to have any conference. I really like both conferences, but I do think ALA is a bit easier to navigate and I like that it's not too overrun and you can ask about books as opposed to dealing with mad rushes to galley drops. BEA can certainly have more for bloggers though, I do agree!


  5. I’ve never been to a book conference, so it’s interesting to see how they work. I love the photos, and you got so many books! I hope you enjoy them all.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  6. It was great being your line buddy! That Angie Thomas line was scary how crazy people got.

    Glad you had such a good time at both conferences!