As many of you know, I went to Book Expo 2017 last week and here is the promised, VERY LONG recap post! What an absolute dream come true – the product of so many years of hope, heartache, and hard work. It wasn’t my first public author appearance, since I did a school visit in May, but it was my first signing, first time talking to booksellers and bloggers, and first trip to a big convention! It was a true honor to be invited and I had an ear-to-ear grin the whole time!
It all began last Thursday morning, when I headed off to the airport bright and early to catch a flight that would put me in the city around noon. My friend Stephanie Garber and I planned to spend the whole day together walking around Central Park, getting ice cream, and checking out some of the shopping districts!
Unfortunately, despite the sunny weather, the plane was delayed for almost two hours due to poor visibility (according to the pilot). The delay meant Stephanie and I didn’t have all that much time to spend together. I felt horrible that she had waited all morning for me and had to get brunch all by herself! But the important thing is we did get to see each other and have time for a quick bite to eat in Bryant Park!
Stephanie is one of my closest friends, and we text almost every day and have been known to have four hour long phone chats!!! But there’s nothing quite like hanging out in person again when you live on opposite coasts. We grabbed some yummy sandwiches from a kiosk in the park and caught up on everything until it was time for her to go get drinks with her editor.
I had somewhere to go, too: back to my hotel to change for dinner! All of the Penguin authors stayed at the Warwick Hotel, which is this glam, gorgeous old hotel on the intersection of East 54th Street and 6th Avenue.
I had organized a little party that night for my Kidlit AOC friends at Donburiya, this Japanese restaurant suggested by my friend Wendy Xu, and so many amazing writers showed up! There were twenty of us, to be exact! The locale was a bit noisy and crowded, but the food was delicious and the company was even better. I’m constantly in awe of these women online (some I’ve met before, like my buddy Patrice Caldwell and a few other ladies) but I was totally starstruck when I got to see them all in person.
We talked about what a wonderful time it is to be in publishing. Many of us have sold books that might have been turned away years ago for being “too niche” or “too diverse,” AND the week before, 7 out of 10 women on the NYT Bestsellers List for YA were people of color. What a milestone! I am eager to see more Kidlit AOC friends’ names attached to book deals as the year goes on. Our stories are clearly wanted and needed, and we are all ready to help open the door wider for diverse voices!
Everybody went out for drinks afterward, but I decided to head home because the next day was The Big Day. I usually can’t sleep when I’m excited, but my hotel room was so comfortable, I slept soundly until the alarm woke me on Friday morning! (True story: last September, when I was going to meet my editor Brian for the first time and have lunch with him and Tamar, I woke up at 5:00AM! Seven hours early. But, I got to have a little “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” moment when I walked down 5th Avenue at sunrise.)
I knew I’d be scatterbrained before Book Expo, so the night before, I had ironed my dress and gathered together everything I needed. I skipped out to the waiting car to meet Tamar for breakfast, feeling happy and jittery, but had a sneaking suspicion I’d forgotten something important…
Luckily, I remembered the badge while having bagels with Tamar at Zaro’s, so we hiked 17 blocks back to my hotel to grab it. The bright side was it was a sunny day and the stroll gave me more time to chat with my awesome agent! Then, it was off to the Javits!
Tamar and I spent 45 minutes walking the floor and looking at everything: the stages for presentations, foreign sales booths, other publishers’ sections and cool marketing tactics (a rumor was swirling that someone had brought in a BABY GOAT!!! Possibly related to a book, but let’s be honest, it didn’t have to be), and the autographing area.
Thanks to forgetting my Javits badge, I didn’t have time to stand in line for friends’ galleys I really wanted, like LOVE, HATE, AND OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed. But I did manage to snag a copy of Nic Stone’s DEAR MARTIN, and we saw Marie Lu signing WARCROSS at the same table I’d be signing at later with FOTL!
We also made sure to catch a glimpse of FOTL on this Penguin Game Changers poster:
Then Tamar brought me downstairs to find the room for my first event: Booksellers Speed Dating! She wanted me to get there early so I’d have plenty of time to prepare. The lower levels of the Javits have places to eat and conference/ballroom-style rooms for meetings:
We found the room and I gave my name to the attendant at the door, but Tamar couldn’t come in with me so I clung to her a little bit. I think I pleaded “Don’t leave meeeee” and the attendants all laughed, but they were very kind and shepherded me in to meet my publicist-for-the-day, the awesome Jennifer Dee.
The large meeting room had dozens of big round tables scattered about, each with a number ranging from 1-20. The “speed dating” event involves each author going to each table, where anywhere from 1-10 booksellers will be sitting, and pitching their book and answering questions for four minutes. Every four minutes, an attendant onstage would say “Time to rotate” and the authors would switch to the next numbered table. The idea, of course, is to network and drum up excitement for your book!
It was very loud, very intense, and VERY exhausting. I felt hoarse and achy afterward, because this went on for almost two hours, but thankfully I still had my voice! I also literally ran into Dhonielle Clayton while switching tables and we hugged briefly but couldn’t talk for long because time was ticking away (the pace of this event was frantic, as you can tell). But my sweet publicist snagged me a copy of her book, THE BELLES, which I am dying to read!
Tiring as it was, I’m glad to have done this event because it was a great experience. And I know my pitch worked because several booksellers complimented it and said they couldn’t wait to read FOTL!
When the event wrapped up, Brian was waiting for me by the door with a giant hug! I was so happy to see him (and so relieved that the two hours were over), I cried a little bit. We met up with Tamar for lunch and she gave me a big, reassuring hug, too. I must have looked really overwhelmed!
I ate as much as I could, drank tons of water, and rested quietly while Brian and Tamar chatted, but we couldn’t dawdle because I had my signing within the hour! They whisked me back to the Penguin booth, where Table 1 and a towering pile of FOTL advance copies were waiting for me… and also a LINE OF PEOPLE.
It took all I had not to burst into tears at the sight of them waiting by the sign with my name on it, because I had been so worried and afraid that no one would care to come. Lots of dear friends had promised to be there, but to see so many folks there, waiting for 3:00PM, was an immensely humbling moment I will never forget until the day I die. A few people told me that the line for FOTL wrapped around the Penguin booth, which I could not believe… it was too, too much. Brian got a video of it, which you can find on my Instagram.
(I’m crying again writing this, remembering that moment. My dream came true, I thought that day, over and over and over again, my dream !*$?%!ing came true!!!!)
I did not pinch myself that day, because if I had, I would have looked like a walking plum. It was the most surreal, out-of-body experience of my entire life. I had dreamt this moment over and over since I was a little girl – sitting at a table, grown-up and smiling, and hearing people tell me they were excited for my book and ask for a photo – and now it was actually happening. My joy and gratitude are endless, endless, endless.
My signing probably lasted about 45 minutes, but it felt like 45 seconds. I had brought some special green and gold paint pens (which started bleeding a bit at the end – I am SO SORRY if they did that to your copy!) and I was on autopilot as Jennifer handed me each book, some with sticky notes indicating a personalization and some without.
I saw familiar faces and heard familiar names, and whenever friends appeared, we screamed and hollered like joyous banshees and frightened my team half out of their wits. Tamar whipped her head around SO FAST when Kat Cho and I were shrieking at each other… she probably thought someone was hurting me and was ready to jump into action! Brian, meanwhile, had full control of my phone and was snapping photos and taking videos of everything for me like the awesome person he is.
It was a magical day, and I don’t know if I’m fully conveying the amazingness and exuberance with this blog post. I don’t know if that’s even possible.
We ran out of ARCs before 4:00PM and I couldn’t stick around because the next author was there waiting to sign, so as soon as I was done, I hugged Brian and Tamar goodbye and was hustled out the door to another waiting car.
I rode back to the Warwick with Elyse Marshall, Director of Publicity for Penguin, and had a great time chatting with her about how the publicity side works. I found it fascinating because although I’ve been entrenched in this world for a decade, I only know the writer’s side of things. There’s so much that goes into bringing a book to the world and so many team members who work together to make it all happen!
Back at the hotel, we had only 30 minutes to freshen up before a big car came to take us all to the Penguin family dinner. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the other Penguin authors came down, one by one: Sarah Dessen, Kristin Cashore, Renee Ahdieh, and Marie Lu! I sort of sat back quietly and watched as these incredibly vibrant, dynamic people stepped off my bookshelves and into real life. I felt so out of my depth (imposter syndrome hit me HARD) but they kindly insisted on bringing me into the conversation and including me in everything.
And when I hopped into the car, Marie came right over to sit next to me and I had the opportunity to thank her in person for her magnificent blurb! She is both kind and humble, as all of us fans of her books know, and I had a hard time holding back tears when she told me in her sweet, genuine way how much she’d enjoyed reading FOTL.
The Penguin family dinner was held at this beautiful restaurant called the Lafayette Grand Cafe and Bakery:
I got to talk more with Philomel’s brilliant editorial director, Jill Santopolo, and I met so many nice people from all different departments at Penguin. I sat a table with Stephanie Perkins, and at one point during the cocktail hour, I looked over and saw Chelsea Clinton, whose new picture book (SHE PERSISTED) is also published by Philomel. Again, if I had decided to keep pinching myself all day, I’d be purple all over.
The food was delicious and the wait staff was so respectful of my non-dairy diet, bringing over specially made dishes and even non-dairy ice cream for me for dessert! I sat next to Brian all night and it was wonderful just to have that time to talk, outside of business stuff.
I also met two authors I really liked, and was glad I liked because we are going to be spending two weeks in October traveling together (more details on that in the coming months): Tochi Onyebuchi, author of the Nigerian fantasy BEASTS MADE OF NIGHT, and Peter Bognanni, author of the YA contemporary THINGS I’M SEEING WITHOUT YOU.
Tochi gave me a huge high-five as soon as we met and is probably the happiest, cheeriest, most joyful person I have ever met aside from myself… we were both just so jazzed to be there and to have our dreams come true after SO many years of hard work!
All in all, it was a splendid night! We didn’t get back to the hotel until 11:00PM, and Peter, Marie, Kristin, Stephanie, and I had to be up early the next day, Saturday, for the Penguin Game Changers breakfast event at 7:30AM.
I think I got about four hours of sleep because I was still keyed up and energized, so it was a bit hard getting up at 5:30AM to shower. But in I went and then the car came to bring us all to this restaurant called Print at ink48, where we signed posters and had another “speed dating” event, except this time we were pitching to bloggers and librarians. I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed at this event because there were only four tables (so one of us five would get a break every rotation) and we had a full 10 minutes to talk to each group.
I recognized many of the bloggers from Twitter! One of the highlights for me was meeting Mish (@chasingfaes) in person, because she has helped me host two #FOTLFriday events on Twitter and traveled all the way from Sri Lanka to attend Book Expo/Book Con! I got to say thank you and give her a gift in person, and I also got to meet Chelsea Fought, my awesome digital publicist.
I was trying hard not to embarrass myself and fangirl too hard over the bloggers, particularly the ones who are so well-known and respected in the community! They do great work for authors, are so giving of their time, and truly deserve all the accolades. The event was fun and informal, and I loved talking books, writing, and villains/antiheroes!
At the end of the event, I signed some more ARCs and took more photos, and then the car came again to whisk Peter, Kristin, and me back to the hotel. My authorly duties were done and it was time to just hang out and enjoy NYC!
I scheduled brunch in my hotel restaurant with Lorien Hallama, my Pitch Wars mentee from 2015, whose middle-grade mystery BITS AND PIECES caught my eye that year. She’s the fourth person from my Pitch Wars family who I’ve met in real life (I’ve hung out with my teammates Melody Marshall and Alison Green Myers, and of course Stephanie Garber was one of my coaches!). We had fun sharing a delicious breakfast, walking around the city, and chatting about everything over mango-pomegranate green teas! Lorien is ultra talented and I can’t wait for the world to see her superb writing.
Right after we hung out, I hurried over to the Broadhurst Theatre to catch the matinee showing of Anastasia! When in NYC, go to Broadway if humanly possible, right?! It was everything I hoped it would be, and the woman next to me and I cried openly the whole time. Heart, don’t fail me now / courage, don’t desert me / don’t turn back now that we’re here – the opening lyrics to “Journey To the Past” have been on my pump-up writing/getting-published playlist for a long time!
And then, as soon as the show was over, I had to run back to my hotel to meet Patrice and get ready for dinner. This text was waiting on my phone from Stephanie when I came out of the theater:
Steph had planned a dinner with some author friends at the Glass House Tavern that night, so off we went!
I sat next to the Lindsay Cummings and got to talk to her all evening (my imposter syndrome quickly set in again!). She was so friendly and had such kind things to say about my book… I’m still in disbelief that these big-name authors have even heard of FOTL. Everyone else was very fun to talk to as well, but I was T-I-R-E-D. The nonstop go-go-go was getting to me, and though the food and conversation were both phenomenal, I was scraping the very bottom of my energy barrel.
Patrice invited me out to karaoke afterward with a bunch of mutual friends, but I was so exhausted I had to bow out. I’m a hardcore introvert and I lead a fairly quiet life, so this weekend was some serious sensory overload! I decided 11 hours of sleep and a good breakfast were in order before my flight home on Sunday afternoon:
It’s halfway through the week and I am still recovering, but I had the time of my life. My dream came true; I got to hang out in NYC with my team, meet Twitter friends in person, and sign copies of FOTL for enthusiastic readers. As some of you may remember, I chose the word “gratitude” to carry me through 2017, and I don’t think there is a more appropriate word for everything that has happened.
The day after I came home, I found out we’d sold rights to AST in Russia, which means FOTL will now be available on three continents. I cannot possibly ask for more… I don’t dare ask the universe for any more than I’ve got already, because my heart is incredibly full. I can’t contain my joy! And I hope my joy will spread to all those of you reading this post (if you are still reading it, because this was LONG!).
And now I am off to catch up on some much-needed sleep…! Love to you all, and as always, thank you for reading and for all of your support. I hope you know from reading about my experiences that if this stuff can happen to me, it most certainly can happen to you. Keep dreaming, ALWAYS!