From June 24th–the day of my last post–to June 27th, I was at ALA Annual 2016 in Orlando, Florida with my best friend, who happens to be a teacher. I basically pushed her into going with me. We both had a blast, but I’ve needed almost the entire week since I got home to detox! My anxiety + a 20,000 attendee-strong conference = ded. I survived by the grace of being able to keep my professional persona intact and bottle up my anxiety. All that anxiety and exhaustion hit like a bullet train at the end of the day, but that’s how it goes in the working world too.
Anyway, I went into the conference with a lot of questions about how things worked. I heard it was much calmer than the chaos that was BEA, but all the ALA tips I saw were intended for the conference’s main attendees: the librarians. Anyone with an Exhibits Only pass like me was practically going in blind!
In hopes of helping out other people who will be attending ALA in the future, whether they’re going the annual or midwinter meeting, here are a few things I wish I’d known beforehand.
There are galley drops like at BEA, but they’re typically not scheduled or publicly announced. You’ll get most titles by simply asking someone working the booth for a copy.
You see most of the publicity surrounding what’s going on reserved for the in-booth signings. About 60% of my haul came from making requests rather than going to signings or checking the booths hourly for drops. You can figure out what they have by checking for which ARCs they have on their display shelves. You’ll see hardcovers and paperbacks alongside them, but those are there to be promoted to the librarians. Focus on the ARCs to figure out what the publisher has available.
Seriously, you won’t know what books are being put out in stacks on the floors or tables until you see because they simply don’t announce it the way they would at BEA. It’s rather exciting and motivates you to check back in the booth every hour or two.
In case you’re nervous about asking someone, the worst you’ll get is a “no.” They may not be polite about it–my best friend said she got a rather rude “no” once at a booth I can’t recall–but they can’t have you kicked out for asking. Just try to take it in stride and move on. As someone with anxiety who hates hearing “no,” I do understand how difficult that can be. Still, do your best!
You do have to purchase a copy of a book for some signings.
Not the ARC signings, obviously. For finished copies of books (paperbacks and hardcovers). Even then, I went to four signings at four different publisher booths where finished copies were being signed, but only one of them required I purchase the book. I happily paid because it was Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid, published by Lee & Low Books. I’d planned to purchase the book at some point anyway because I want to support diverse books (Lee & Low in particular is a publisher that specializes in diverse books) and I’ve been looking forward to it for ages.
Anyway, bring your credit or debit card or some cash. Even if it turns out none of the books you pick up over the course of the conference require a purchase, it’s better to be prepared than miss out on something you’re excited for.
In addition, the books are typically sold at special convention prices: $5 for a paperback, $10 for a hardcover. Off the top of my head, I can recall Lee & Low Books, Candlewick Press, Hachette, and possibly Abrams selling books, but there were TONS more that I either didn’t notice or flat-out forgot about.
Lines for signings are still a bit ridiculous, but they’re not BEA-ridiculous.
Some lines will come with special conditions (i.e. Stephanie Garber was signing ARCs of Caraval, but it was a librarian and educator-exclusive signing). Other lines start 30-45 minutes prior to the signing proper, as I saw was the case for Morgan Matson’s signing of The Unexpected Everything. Compared to how lines would start hours in advance for certain BEA titles (*coughcough HEIR OF FIRE cough*), this is nothing. For the most part, lines for signings are calm affairs and really do start just before the signing.
This does not apply to the last exhibit hall day, however. That is when the lines are scary as publishers try to clear out their booths of display copies and host giveaways at certain times. Though we’d been told the line for the Penguin Random House giveaway didn’t start until 12:00–JUST THE LINE–my best friend and I wandered by to check at 11:45 and found the line had already started. It was about 50 people deep?
We gave up and went to the Scholastic booth instead, where things were much more manageable and we were more likely to see our efforts rewarded.
Related: the exhibit hall’s last day comes with giveaways of booth display copies. Ask about their rules and when they start!
Each booth will have its own rules as well, which they’ll explain before the giveaway. Scholastic’s: 1 title per person, though they could get back in line as many times as they wanted if they wanted more. Penguin Random House’s: maximum of 3 titles from the Penguin side and 3 from the RH side, so you could leave with up to 6 books from the booth.
If you’ve only been to BEA before, ALA is much, much calmer.
Between the conference’s focus on librarians over general publishing professionals, the laid back manner in which books are distributed, and the lack of an autographing area, you’re likely to be much more comfortable at ALA than BEA. You’ll see some overlaps in behavior, but it’s not a whole lot.
No matter what, your body is going to despise you by the end.
I don’t know if this is the case for all ALA conferences, but there was no BEA-esque baggage check here where I could take a small bag for a fee and fill it with books over the course of the day. Nope, gotta carry all those books yourself. You’ll get plenty of tote bags to carry books in if you go looking for them, but I still recommend bringing two reliable, comfortable totes with you. Any bags with wheels require special approval and I saw most used for medical reasons.
Between all the walking and the weight of the books, our arms and legs were screaming at the end of each day. Was the pain worth it?
Just remember: this is a professional conference intended solely for librarians. If you’re there as a blogger or educator or anyone else with an Exhibits Only pass, your presence is a privilege, not a right. Don’t abuse your privilege and screw things up for everyone else.
Got any other questions you want to ask? I’m open to adding more to this post as well as answering questions in the comments!
If I do a haul post, you’ll likely see it later this week.