Q: BEA is coming to New York next May, just three weeks after my debut novel appears. Is it worth my while to attend? I'm being published by a small press; the total expense of attending the expo would exceed my advance. There's no question about wanting to go: I'd love to. But should I? From a practical perspective?
A: No. Dollar for dollar you'll get more out of attending a local book festival that connects you with readers; or a crime novel convention like Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, or Bouchercon (and there are several other good ones that escape my coffee-deprived noggin just now) that connects you with readers (unlike a writers conference that is mostly attended by writers and agents).
BEA is not a good place to make connections for an author. Bookstore owners are there to see what publishers are bringing out in the fall; publishers are there to persuade bookstore owners to order big. The rest of us are just blocking the aisles.
I've stopped encouraging my authors to attend BEA. There are lots of better ways to meet people and promote your novel.