I attended the ALA Annual Conference this June in Chicago with my friend Amanda, and thought I’d recap our trip for anyone potentially interested in attending in the future. Every year, ALA hosts two conferences – Midwinter in February, and Annual in June.
Since neither of us are members of the ALA, we chose to purchase “Exhibit Only” passes, which allowed us access only to the exhibit hall from Friday – Monday. This badge cost $75, and was also the cheapest badge option available (comparatively, our BEA badges last year cost $188 and were increased to $300 this year). We went into ALA prepared: a schedule, a list of top priority ARCs, and a spreadsheet of author signings. More importantly, we were determined to have a good time.
We arrived in Chicago on Thursday morning, and spent that day exploring the city and preparing for the exhibit hall. We also traveled down to McCormick Place to finish registration and get our badges, so there was one less thing to do on Friday. This was a great choice, because we got a peak at the hall and how the booths were set up – which was very different than BEA! That’s something I won’t keep repeating, but stays true: this was so completely different from BEA, but I think for the better.
Friday morning, bright and early, we got to McCormick Place and waited for the exhibit hall to open. When we entered at 9am, a quick walk around the booths had me doubting our decision to attend ALA. There were no daily ARC drop schedules. No stacks of books to be grabbed in a mad dash. I honestly thought I’d made a huge mistake, and that we were going to leave Chicago empty handed. But then I noticed a small crowd over at a booth, and the publisher rep was pulling books out of a closet and handing them out. That’s right, at ALA you simply ask for the books you want. My momentary panic was forgotten as I stood in front of the Harper Collins booth and received five ARCs from the wonderfully helpful rep. Once we understood how the exhibit hall worked, we got down to business.
Day One included some of my most anticipated ARCs: Meet Cute, Warcross (signed by Marie Lu!), Moxie, The Nowhere Girls (signed by Amy Reed!), and They Both Die at the End. My two highlights of the day were definitely being first in line for Maggie’s All the Crooked Saints signing, and meeting Megan Whalen Turner to get a signed copy of Thick as Thieves!
Day Two, Saturday, was one of the most anxiety-inducing mornings of my life. I am not a patient person. Waiting triggers my anxiety like nothing else. So when we arrived at McCormick Place at 7:30am to be the first people in the hall at 9am to pick up LITERALLY EVERYTHING WE WANTED, I was a mess. At 9am on Saturday, we had to make it to three different publisher booths for three extremely important drops. Penguin Random House was giving out Wonder Woman: Warbringer; Little, Brown was dropping Invictus and The Cruel Prince; and Macmillian was giving out The Language of Thorns samplers…and exclusive enamel pins to the first 25 people in line. No pressure. Amanda and I devised a strategy, and I was relieved when we actually pulled it off. First we gunned it to the Macmillan booth, where we got the enamel pins and sampler (!!!!), then next door to Little, Brown for Invictus and The Cruel Prince (there were only 5 left and I nearly had a heart attack diving for that pile), and then we arrived at Penguin, waited in line, and got the very last ARC of Wonder Woman: Warbringer. That’s right, WE got the last ONE. Amanda and I are sharing it – I’ll read and review it, then send it to her to keep. That way we both get to read it, and I had already preordered a copy anyway. Works for everyone!
Needless to say, it was a stressful 30 minutes first thing in the morning, and then we pretty much chilled until a couple events that afternoon. We got signed copies of Jane, Unlimited, and Kristin Cashore laughed when she saw my name badge – apparently I was her first Jane while promoting this book! Saturday afternoon, we basically lived at the Macmillan booth because there were two signings and an ARC drop we were very excited about. I have to say that the women at the Macmillan booth were amazing! I had a great chat with one of them and ended up with seven books by the end of it.
As the day came to a close, we left McCormick Place and returned to our hotel to begin the arduous task of packing all 55 (55!!!) books that we acquired at ALA. Amanda and I didn’t attend on Monday, even though our badges allowed it, because we had an early flight and honestly didn’t need any more books. But on Mondays, the publishers apparently give away all of the remaining copies they have – something to keep in mind for future reference!
ALA was such an amazing experience. We aren’t librarians and therefore didn’t attend any of the library-related events or booths, but my friend Andrew (an actual librarian who attended) really enjoyed those aspects. I think this is such a worthwhile event, especially if you’re a librarian. Every single person we spoke to over the course of ALA, whether a fellow attendee or publisher rep, was so nice and genuinely excited to talk about books. That was not my experience at BEA, to put it kindly.
Would I recommend attending an ALA convention? Absolutely. Will I ever attend BEA again? I honestly don’t know. Maybe if I got a media pass, but even then I think this trip has converted me to the ALA life. Especially as someone who has never been interested in BookCon, and refuses to pay $300+ to attend BookExpo, I see myself attending ALA moving forward. Next year’s Midwinter conference is in Denver, Colorado from February 9-13, 2018. ALA Annual 2018 is in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 21-26. I’ll definitely be at ALA Annual since it’s in New Orleans, but I’m interested in attending Midwinter as well! I’ve heard it’s even chiller than Annual, which could be really nice.
I have a vlog of our Chicago trip on my channel, which you can watch here:
I also have a haul video in which I show all of the books and exciting swag that I picked up at the conference:
Have you attended any book conferences before? If you have any questions about ALA or BEA, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!