WARNING: Long post ahead. Proceed at your own risk. 😉
First things first: I really wanted to go to BEA this year. I followed/stalked last year’s attendees on Twitter and drooled over the stacks and stacks of books they were bringing home. I loved the idea of meeting up with other bloggers and readers and publishing people, and I was thrilled at the idea that — as a new blogger — I’d even be allowed into something as big of a deal as the Book Expo.
So why didn’t I go this year? I couldn’t justify the cost. BEA makes sense if you put a ton of time and energy into your blog, but I don’t see myself as being at that level yet, so it was tough to imagine spending that much money on something I still sort of view as a hobby. I started blogging a little over a year ago, but I still struggle with calling myself a blogger because I don’t do much to “grow” my blog. I’m a very active reader, often reading more books than I have time to review, but I’m not so good at the whole promotion thing yet. I’m not terribly worried about it; most of the time I’m just impressed that I get to maintain the blog at all after keeping up with my two-year-old all day. But I would eventually like to connect with more bloggers and readers and be part of a larger online community. When I’m at that point, I think BEA would make more sense for me. In the meantime, though, I decided that I would dip my toes into the water a bit by attending the first-ever BookCon.
Like BEA, BookCon was held at the Javits Center in New York, but in a separate space. BEA attendees could cross over into the BookCon area, but that permission wasn’t reciprocal. From what I could see, it seemed like publishers had set up larger tables on the trade show side and smaller displays on the fan side. I would have loved to sneak over and walk the BEA side for a few minutes to see if it was something I’d be interested in for the future, but they had security at every entrance checking badges.
I only attended one panel — well, actually, just a few minutes of a Macmillan panel on literary fiction (the Macmillan panels were in a section of the show floor, so they were easier to get to). All the other panels were downstairs in smaller rooms, and they didn’t clear the rooms between panels. Basically, what that means is that (I’m making up numbers here) if a room holds fifty people, and they all want to stay for three events in a row, they can. You can line up outside and try to get in, but if none of the fifty people inside leaves, you’ll be turned away. So by getting in line for an event, you are putting all your eggs in one basket (of dubious reliability). Not only will you be too late to get into any other panels for that time slot, but you’ll miss whatever autographing sessions and giveaways are happening upstairs. I waited in line for only one panel (Jason Segel) and found out five minutes before the event began — after waiting for half an hour — that I wouldn’t get in. (I only found out because the girl in front of me went to ask.) Here’s the problem with this system: the staff knows how many people each room holds. If there are more people in line than that, they don’t say anything. They just let you wait until you find someone to hold your spot and ask them. They will happily let you waste your time rather than capping the lines at the rooms’ capacity. This makes no sense and is inconsiderate to attendees, not to mention the fact that it’s overall poor planning. (Also, the fact that so many panels ended up full means that maybe they sold too many tickets or needed to allocate more space for panels.)
The other issue with the panels is that the BookCon rules explicitly stated that attendees couldn’t line up until one hour before the panel’s slated time. However, this rule was not enforced. People hovered around the entrances, forming “unofficial” lines far earlier and then moving to the actual waiting area an hour before. And security did nothing about this. The show floor was open until 3:00, and John Green wasn’t scheduled to appear until 3:30, so I thought that leaving the show floor at 2:45 to line up downstairs would give me ample time. Nope. His line was well over capacity. When I asked another attendee about it, she said she’d seen people lining up around one. That’s two and a half hours early. I planned my day carefully, but the show’s organizers didn’t follow their own rules, so I didn’t get to do some of the things I’d hoped for.
Macmillan was terrible about following their own rules as well. They gave out a limited number of tickets for each panel, but every time I asked I was told to come back half an hour before the panel to get a ticket. When I did as requested, the tickets were already gone. How did they give away all the tickets to the YA panel by 1:34 (the time I arrived) if they weren’t supposed to even begin handing them out until 1:30?! And there wasn’t a single guest in sight at the reception desk, so I can only assume they sent me away, changed their minds, and gave out the tickets when they felt like it. It sucked that I tried to follow the rules only to miss out for no reason other than poor planning and dishonesty.
My autographing experiences were good overall. There was a line of designated autographing tables at one end of the hall, and some publishers arranged signings at their booths as well. I actually stumbled upon multiple signings just by being at the right booth at the right time, and the waits were usually only 20-30 minutes. The publishers arranged signings much better than the official “Autographing” area, in my opinion. They knew how many books they had, counted out people in line, and closed the lines when they were full. It was clear where to queue and what to expect, which I appreciated. The official autographing lines were iffy. I waited in line to see Corey Ann Haydu and the process was unbelievably smooth. Libba Bray, on the other hand? They closed the line ten minutes into her signing because they didn’t have enough books. (I guess I should have gotten in line an hour early for her!)
In my opinion, the show floor was the place to be. I did at least six laps through the booths (which is no easy feat; the space was HUGE), and I stumbled on some awesome giveaways and signings by being willing to keep moving. However, the floor was also mobbed. Too many people, not enough space. There were a few times where it was as bad as Rockefeller Center at Christmastime; herds of people moving at a zombielike pace (and with zombielike expressions on their faces). It was easier for me to navigate because I went alone and didn’t have to keep checking behind me to make sure I didn’t lose my friends. But there were still a few times where we were all packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with no easy way out or through.
General tips and tricks that worked for me
- Bring a rolling suitcase and leave it at coat check. It was $3 an item, and they let me in and out twice before I finally retrieved my suitcase. I thought I might have to re-check my bag — and re-pay — each time, but that’s not how it worked. I paid the fee once and was allowed in and out as much as I needed. During those two visits, I unloaded the contents of my tote bag into the suitcase and grabbed one of the snacks I’d stashed there. There is absolutely NO WAY I would have been able to bring home all the books I got without doing this. Not counting excerpts/previews, I came home with twenty books…and not only would I have had no way of getting these back to my car, but I would have been miserable carrying them around for six hours.
- Bring your own food and drink if you’d like to save a little bit of money. It’s a convention center and the food is priced accordingly. I spent about thirteen bucks on a juice, a water, and an order of fries; I can’t imagine how much I would’ve spent if I hadn’t packed tons of snacks to get me through the day. (I don’t eat a ton, but I eat ALL DAY.) Note: They allowed us to eat and drink on the show floor, which was great for saving time.
- If there’s an author whose signature you really want in a particular book (or in a book, period), you may want to bring it. (But don’t do this for everyone. You may not be in time for every session, and you really don’t want to be toting around five or six books from home in addition to the freebies.) Most of the authors were signing free books (some ARCs, some finished copies), but in other cases, you had to buy the book in order to have it signed. Abrams did this with A.G. Howard (whom I looove). I actually ended up having to buy a second copy of Splintered because I hadn’t brought mine in with me. (She would have signed a poster, which was free, but I love her series and really wanted a signed book.) This was only disappointing because I’d checked the website that morning and it said that the autographing session was free. I guess technically that’s true, but because every other author I met was giving away their books I was a little surprised. Also, I would’ve brought my own copy and saved myself from buying another one. I felt misled. Not by the author, but by whoever organized the signing.
Now I’m going to show you what I came home with. My haul, as they say. Here’s an overall shot of almost everything:
And here are the details.
Signed copies. I did a blog tour for the first Desmond Pucket book, so it was great to meet the author and tell him how great I think his stuff is. He signed the book to my son; he’s two, but I’ve been stocking up on future books for him.
About half of these came from Macmillan; they gave books away at the end of every one of their panels, and even though I couldn’t get tickets to most of them, I got on the standby line in case they had leftover books. (They usually did.) I’m most excited about Landline and The Darkest Part of the Forest because I’ve read those authors before, but most of the others look interesting as well.
Tote bags! L to R: Chronicle Books, Wonder (the back says “Choose Kind,” which I love), and tor.com. By the way, if you haven’t read Wonder yet, what are you waiting for?!
More tote bags. Dora came from the Nickelodeon area, which was toddler-centric and looked like tons of fun. The Little Elliot bag is the nicest one I got, partially because it’s enormous and partially because it’s the only tote that was store quality.
Poll time: Do you call these pins or buttons? Either way, I find the Neil Gaiman ones rather clever.
Samplers of various books. Looking forward to flipping through these, I guess, but I don’t usually like the excerpt giveaways. They tease me too much. Of course, that didn’t stop me from taking them…
Some free audiobook downloads and a handful of out-of-the-ordinary swag. The Little Book of Big Ideas is blank, which I found clever. Also Beerology coasters, Sophie Davis lip balm, and Paddington luggage tags.
Bookmarks. Practically every table had bookmarks and fliers, but I tried to be selective. This may be the only area in which I exercised restraint. Well, that and not buying a tote from Melville House since I’d already received five free.
Random stuff I grabbed for my little guy.
Review publications. I’m hoping to find time to flip through these.
Ensnared poster. The cover reveal just went live last week, and I think it’s just right. It fits perfectly with the other two covers, and now I’m even more excited to read this book in January.
Overall, do I think BookCon was worth my time and money? Yes, with some reservations. I got tons of stuff for the relatively small admission fee. (I only paid for the paperback copy of Splintered; everything else was a giveaway.) I also met some nice people; it was a pleasure to be surrounded by fellow readers, and it was absolutely wonderful to see parents there with their elementary- and middle-school-aged kids. After all the press I’ve been seeing lately about books and bookstores being a dying breed, it was refreshing to see how many people were interested in a convention for readers. It could have been — and should have been — better organized and less crowded. Here’s the thing: if you’re hoping for 10,000 people, you need to have space for 10,000 people. If you provide rules ahead of time, you need to enforce those rules. Otherwise it becomes a free-for-all mob situation, and that’s not fun for anyone, staff or guests. I guess if there’s just one person you’re dying to see, you can wait in line all day for them, but then you miss the entire convention aspect and may as well just go to a bookstore reading or signing for that individual author. They’re far more intimate and don’t typically cost more than the $30 BookCon entrance fee. I will probably attend BookCon again next year, but with adjusted expectations, and I’ll probably spend most of my time on the floor again. It yielded the best results for me.
If you attended BookCon, what did you think? If you didn’t attend, what would you hope for from a pop culture event geared toward readers?