By Lisa Chellman
As you may know, the American Library Association (ALA) will hold its annual conference in Chicago this July. The Annual Conference is a huge event, regularly seeing over 25,000 attendees—most of whom, of course, work in libraries. However, there will be much for book lovers of all stripes to enjoy in the Exhibition Hall. Let me tell you what you can expect with your $25 pass.
Expect to be overwhelmed—at least initially. The last time the ALA Annual Conference was in Chicago, the Exhibition Hall consisted of three galleries the size of football fields. At its busiest times, the Hall will be crawling with eager vendors and tote bag-laden attendees meandering from booth to booth. Even when it’s relatively quiet, the rows upon rows of booths can overload your senses. So, take a deep breath; in fact, take as many as you need.
Expect to find many of the exhibits irrelevant. Stroll past booths hawking library automation software, furniture, electronic databases—unless, of course, they’re offering candy or some particularly attractive schwag. A stress ball, perhaps? A nifty pencil? A tote bag for carrying still more schwag?
Wait, what’s that I see? Ah, yes, now we’re getting to the good stuff—by which I mean, of course, the books!
Expect to see many, many publisher booths. Major publishers, small publishers; trade publishers, educational publishers; and even a few independent authors. (Terry Moore, author of the graphic novel series Strangers in Paradise, has done brisk business at ALA.) You’ll see booths for distributors. This year, even SCBWI-Illinois will have a booth featuring several of our own authors and illustrators!
Expect booths’ offerings to vary widely. Many publishers offer books for sale; others have only display copies. Some booths are staffed by editorial staff, others by sales personnel. Some publishers bring in their hottest authors for signings.
Some booths offer lovely posters, postcards, and bookmarks featuring books’ cover art. If you’re lucky and hit them at the right time (generally earlier in the conference), you can snag Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) from some publishers. Who doesn’t feel cool with a tote bag of ARCs to read while your poor, out-of-the-loop friends wait for the release date? At some booths, you can enter raffles for additional giveaways.
One commonality you can expect is the opportunity to review each publisher’s catalog in the flesh. You know how publishing guides always tell you to familiarize yourself with a publisher’s catalog before you submit your work? This is a great way to get a feel for what a particular house produces. After all, their books are right there, side by side in that cozy booth. You can see their common traits—what makes them children of a particular imprint. What’s more, you can take home a hard copy of the catalog to continue your research at your local library or bookstore.
Finally, I want to offer a caveat—a “what not to expect,” if you will. Please remember that the ALA Annual Conference is intended for library professionals. Booths are, accordingly, geared toward the library market. Librarians are, of course, a book-loving bunch, and many publishers—certainly trade publishers—expect attendees to stop by as much for pleasure as business. But publishers are not there to do business with authors and illustrators. Do not expect this to be an opportunity to pitch your work or, heaven forbid, ask for a status update on your query. This is neither the time nor the place. (I’m sure you all know better, but it had to be said.)
The ALA Annual Conference will take place July 11–14 at McCormick Place West. You can purchase your $25 Exhibition Hall pass and find more information online at http://www.ala.org/ala/conferencesevents/upcoming/annual. You can also purchase Exhibition Hall passes on-site during the conference. Hope to see you there!
Lisa Chellman is a Chicago-area writer and youth services librarian. Visit her blog at http://www.lisachellman.com/blog.
***PAL SCBWI-Illinois members: Be sure to check out this issue’s Don’t Miss for information on how to participate in the SCBWI-Illinois booth at ALA!***