Souvenirs of my time at BookExpoAmerica 2011: A bunch of craveable galleys, several hideous blisters, one enormous totebag, and the everlooping memory of that half-hour when I handed copies of “The Beginning of After” to many lovely readers who didn’t seem to care how much my handwriting sucks.
Being a debut author at BEA is a bit like getting to go to the senior prom when you’re just a freshman. You feel thrilled and lucky, but also can’t help but be anxious. Will my date/publisher want to spend any time with me? Should I have worn a more stylish dress/written a dystopian trilogy? In a few years will I also shine and sparkle like those cool upperclassmen/bestselling authors?
BEA is also like the prom in that for a blip in time, it seems like the end-all and be-all. You get caught up in the whirl at the center of the book universe, and a sense that everything that happens here will make or break the future. It’s not, of course. It’s a big deal and loads of fun, but then it’s over and all that matters is that hopefully, a ton more people have heard about or have their hands on your book. The only previous time I’ve gone to BEA was in 2003, when it was a much smaller gig. I’d just recently started writing the novel that would become “The Beginning of After,” and as I stood in those lines at the autographing tables, I daydreamed that one day it might be me with the Sharpie. So BEA11 was a real Mary Tyler Moore, throw-your-hat-in-the-air kind of moment over here.
On Tuesday evening, after a day of anonymous wandering and book-hoarding and basic survival on the Expo floor, I attended the HarperCollins party for staff and authors. This is where I got to meet many of the people who’ve been working so hard on behalf of TBOA, especially sales reps whose passion for the book was purely levitating. Meeting other Harper authors like Lauren Oliver, Rita Williams-Garcia, and fellow debut’er Marianna Baer went a long way toward making me feel like yes, I do belong here.
Wednesday morning it was go time, and I was grateful they scheduled my signing for an early slot because my day started at maybe 4am, too wired to sleep much, too nervous that nobody would show up. I headed to the Autographing Area at 9:30, stopping to check out the sign on my aisle and…wait a minute. There are people waiting. They must be there for the person next to me…but wait a minute. They’re in front of MY table. Eep! (Take a picture, then scurry into the author green room to quietly freak out.)
And then it was 10:00am, and I was sitting down across from all those strangers. It’s a surreal feeling to take a bound pile of pages full of words you’ve written, and rewritten, over many years, and sign your name and give it to someone. To feel their excitement, their anticipation. Maybe they’re just happy to get a free book months before it hits the stores, but I don’t care. Take it, read it. If you like it, shout about it.
The line was so long that I couldn’t even see the end from where I sat. They had to turn people away eventually, due to time. After it was all over, my editor and publicist and I looked at one another, tickled and stunned. I mean, this is not a book that’s ever been mentioned in the trade press. There were no banners, no swag, no panel discussions. It’s an un-hypeable contemporary, literary novel about “real” people experiencing, you know, true life stuff. It’s set in the present. The dead characters stay dead. But what I heard from readers, over and over again throughout that line, was that they’re hungry for more of exactly this kind of thing, and the buzz (BUZZ!) is that “The Beginning of After” has got the goods.
Gulp. Well sh*t, I certainly hope so.
Back to my prom analogy. I’ll say that in the end the freshman geek/debut contemporary YA author was…what? Not crowned prom queen, because that’s far off and totally cliche anyway. No. She simply came home on the Trailways bus and hung up her dress. She lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling but seeing stars. Letting the magic of the night pulse through her, keeping it fresh and precious under her skin, eager for more.