I'm an aspiring novelist and an assistant editor for a travel book company. I'm going to BEA for the first time this year and I'm a little overwhelmed by the schedule. Do you have any recommendations of the best ways to spend my first BEA, given that I am trying to get published/get an agent within the next few years (knock on wood)?
Yes. Don't go.
Unless your job for the travel book company requires you to attend, you're better off not going. If your job
does require you to attend, focus on what you need to do for your job. At your first BEA that will be more than enough to keep you busy.
BEA is NOT a place for writers to meet agents or try to get info on getting published. Yes, I'll be there. So will everyone from my office. I'm not there to meet you. I'm there to see what publishers are doing. I'm there to meet with my co-agents from far flung lands. I'm there to get a sense of the sea changes in the industry.
The people who staff the booths of the publishers are most often NOT the editors who acquire manuscripts either. They're the sales people, the marketing folks, the publicity team. They're there to talk to book buyers from bookstores, librarians, wholesalers and overseas publishers.
Every single person working a booth at BEA has a horror story of some deluded author trying to press a manuscript on them, or asking who to send the manuscript to. Don't be that author, please.
And just in case you're absolutely sure you're the exception to this rule, here's a little known fact that should seal the deal: often times the people in the booth wear the wrong name on their badge because they share badges. You think you're talking to a marketing person, it's really an intern brought in to help pack up boxes or hand out ARCs.
I know many authors who've gone to BEA and the most common response has been "I had no idea there were this many books." In other words, it's a daunting place to be particularly when you don't have an agent, let alone a book deal.
You want to go to WRITER'S CONFERENCES, not trade shows. Go where agents ARE actively looking to talk to you.