Will and I recently went to New York City to attend Book Expo America. Since we were already in New York, we decided to check out BookCon as well.
Here’s the scoop:
Book Expo America
Book Expo America is the largest publishing event in North America. Nearly every major publisher is there to showcase upcoming titles, sell current offerings, network with publishing colleagues, and do business. Thousands of authors, librarians, educators, book buyers, bloggers, and digital media professionals also attend the event each year.
This book fair has been around since 1947, is always held in late May or early June, and is always held in a major city. (It’s been in NYC since 2009, but will be in Chicago next year.)
This was my first year. I was prepared to be unprepared, and expected to be overwhelmed. Here’s what I learned in my maiden voyage:
There’s a huge variety on that (huge) show floor. You won’t be interested in half of it. That’s okay: it’s expected. If you don’t care about what they’re selling, keep moving.
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking, walking, walking.
Publishers really do give away boatloads of advance copies. The rumors are true: there are plenty of books to be had. To give you an idea, here’s a tiny sampling of the galleys available to anyone willing to stand in line: Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s We Never Asked for Wings (August 18), Brené Brown’s Rising Strong (August 25), Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun (July 18), Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (September 15).
Some attendees (like myself) were trying to travel light, but there were plenty of school librarians who came with the express goal of bagging 100 new titles for their collection.
Be careful what that line is for. The lines are plentiful and crazy long, and it’s not always clear which line is which when multiple signings and giveaways are going on simultaneously. When in doubt, ask.
And it doesn’t hurt to clarify what, exactly, you’re waiting for: I stood in a long line for Oliver Jeffers’ forthcoming book The Day the Crayons Came Home, and then minutes before go time the publisher’s rep came by and said, whoops, we don’t have the book, you’ll get a tote bag instead. (Silas didn’t think the tote bag was half as cool as the book would have been.)
Be stingy about which events you’re willing to line up for. Or you will spend three solid days queued up.
The real business isn’t on the official schedule. Same as any conference.
You never know who you’ll rub shoulders with. A silver lining to all those lines: I had plenty of time to chat with school librarians, indie bookstore purchasers, experienced editors, publicity pros, and authors whose names you’d recognize. It was fascinating to hear all about their jobs, and their BEA agendas.
Celebrities are people, too. Okay, so maybe “celebrities” is overstating it, but I didn’t interact with any well-known industry professionals who weren’t friendly and approachable.
But Mindy Kaling is in a league of her own. At least at BEA. She was so sweet when you got to meet her, but her security detail dwarfed that of every other celebrity-type at the event—and there were some pretty serious celebrity-types at the event.
Plan ahead. Lots of good events are free, but require tickets that must be reserved well in advance. (Although it’s not impossible to sweet talk your way in.) Tickets for the conference itself are way cheaper if you buy them at early bird prices.
Some of the sessions are pretty great. In stark contrast to most conferences I’ve attended, BEA is not about the panels. The sessions aren’t the point, and many attendees don’t go near them. But some of the content is terrific, so don’t skip out just because everybody else is. (Bonus: the sessions are small, friendly, and low-key.)
It’s interesting to see how professionals reinvent themselves. Case in point: Brian Vander Ark, who I only ever knew as the guy from the Verve Pipe, was singing tunes from his new children’s album at BEA.
Now about BookCon:
BookCon bills itself as the ultimate celebration of books, “where pop culture and storytelling collide.” (Am I the only one who’s not sure what to make of that tagline?) This was only the second year for this event, held the two days following BEA, in the same location. But the event felt completely different.
In short, BEA was a professional conference. BookCon was a fan event.
That’s not entirely a bad thing: BookCon’s attendees were noticeably young, nonprofessional, and extremely enthusiastic. The show’s organizers were noticeably green, and it showed in the awkwardly managed crowds and logistics. Because of its proximity to BEA, I was tempted to compare the two, but that’s not really fair: BEA is a trade show. BookCon (I now know) is explicitly modeled after ComicCon.
Will and I wavered about going to BookCon, but since we were going to be in New York City during the event, we decided to go check it out.
We didn’t last long.
I’ll spare you the angsty details, but in short: BookCon’s logistics were a nightmare. Special events ticketing was especially bad. (All events were free, but wristbands were required, and because the lines were so long it was only possible for each attendee to attend one of the headline sessions that had drawn them to the event in the first place.) Fans were pushy, literally.
BookCon in three words: crowds and lines.
Some fans were happy to endure the lines so they could attend the events. (They were likely not introverts or HSPs.) But if we had had an inkling about what the experience would actually be like, we would have passed.
A few thoughts:
• My impression is that BookCon is a great event for the industry. Gathering all those fans together in one place makes a strong statement to brands that books and bookish events are worth investing in.
• Gathering all those readers in one place is valuable to the industry, but I don’t know if it’s valuable for the readers (unless they are hard-core fans, see below). Reading has the power to bring people together, but I suspect that experience is more beneficial when done on a smaller scale. (Chicago Restaurant Week springs to mind as a promising model: the event is city-wide, but individual gatherings happen on a very local level.)
• BookCon is for fans. Not readers, but fans. At BookCon, authors are the rockstars with screaming, squealing devotees. (We talked to a surprising number of people who camped out the night before, like you would for Prince tickets.)
• If I had to do it again, I would skip the special events and hit the low-key panels. I would also consider buying a VIP ticket($115 vs. $35) that allows you to stand in a separate special events line, but BookCon was so poorly organized I can’t imagine the VIP process would be much better than the regular line.
• In marked contrast to BEA, BookCon was all about the panels. The sessions were impressive, in quantity and quality.
I just discovered that some of the panels I was so disappointed to miss are available on YouTube. (Woohoo!) To see all the offerings, search the site for “BookCon 2015.”) I haven’t had a chance to watch any yet to evaluate quality, but these are the ones I’m eager to see:
• Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak discuss Mindy’s book Why Not Me? This is actually the one event Will and I attended. Recommended. (Not just because I loved the discussion of You’ve Got Mail.)
• Leigh Bardugo interviews Rainbow Rowell about her forthcoming book Carry On.
BEA and BookCon will be in Chicago next May. I’ll likely attend BEA, but probably not BookCon.
Did you attend, or have you attended any events like this? Would you like to attend in the future?