The Road to Book Con, Part One: What to Expect
Hello! If you’re reading this post then chances are you either have tickets to Book Con and want to know what the weekend will hold, or you haven’t purchased tickets yet and want to know if it’s worthwhile. Either way, my attendance at the past three Book Cons should be able to offer some help.
If you want lots of details, read on. I wanted to try and cover every aspect of attending. If you want some bare-bones suggestions, scroll down to the “Basic Rundown” section.
This post will be the first part of a four part coverage of Book Con:
The Road to Book Con, Part 1: What to Expect
The Road to Book Con, Part 2: New York City
The Road to Book Con, Part 3: Bookstagram Reading and Photo Challenge
Book Con 2017 Recap
Let’s get started!
Some background info: 2014 was the first official Book Con. The event used to be called “Power Readers Day” a solitary day open to the general public amidst the more industry specific Book Expo of America. Now the expo and Book Con are two separate experiences with Book Con being more about the consumer experience. Given the costs attached to attending either, most bloggers and reviewers will choose to attend one event or the other, while some manage both. Book Con, like any convention, explicitly feels like it’s an event geared toward the fans.
I attended the 2014 single day Book Con while I was still living in New York. And frankly, it was a bit of a mess. For all that the event runners had been hoping for high attendance, they didn’t seem to have the manpower to actually organize all the people. Most of the spaces they lined up for panels were too small to accommodate the crowds attending, creating a worrisome cut-throat vibe amongst a sea of bookworms.
Since the convention was only one day the panels and signings were stacked on top one another so deeply that it was impossible to attend more than half of the panels/events because of conflicting times. And the showfloor wasn’t open long, meaning that if you wanted to see your favorite authors in person (as I did) that you ended up with very little time to check out the books and wares that were being sold or given away.
The second year was much improved. ReedPOP, who runs big conventions like Comic Con was running things, and the convention was expanded to 2 days. For the 2015 event I also snagged a VIP ticket, hoping that this meant I would get some extra perks to make the event a little easier. And that was sort of the case. Regardless of what kind of pass you have you will spend so much time waiting in line. Because before you can even start the day you have to wait in line for access to the showfloor.
The boon that year was that they were holding big name authors and panels at the Main Stage, which meant there was a good chance anyone could get a seat. Those with VIP tickets had their own first entry line that allowed pass holders to snag seats close to the front. VIP also got to go to the show floor first, but not early, which meant that for a brief five minutes the showfloor wasn’t crowded before everyone else filed in. Other than that, the experience was similar to that of a regular pass holder.
Last year Book Con was a single day again, and in Chicago. I had lived in Chicago for almost two years a few years back and welcomed the opportunity to return to a city I love. Again I gifted myself a VIP pass and was disappointed that there was an enormous line just to get to the area where you could get in line for the show, or in line for a wristband for an autographing session.
Some authors were only doing one hour signing events in a special autographing area, with no “in-booth signings” at their publisher’s booth. If you wanted to go to one of those signings you had to get to the venue hours before the event started, so you could wait in line, to wait in line for a wristband, that gave you the privilege of waiting in line again later that day for the actual signing. If my tone isn’t indication, I thought this was bonkers and I was not doing it.
I assume this will be the practice for the autographing section again this year, but check back on the Book Con website for official details closer to the event.
(Update! Thankfully BookCon must have heard how many people were truly dissatisfied and frustrated with the waiting in line process for wristbands and will be doing it all online in advance! Free tickets for the signings will be available starting on May 22 with a limit of 2 signings per day. I imagine spots will go fast so set mark your calendars and set your alarms!)
For the record, everyone generally always seems worried that they are not in the right place, that they could be waiting in the wrong line at the wrong time and potentially miss something amazing. It’s like imposter sydrome, but about line inclusion instead of life skills.
Now that I’ve given you a little background on the experience, and even maybe made you worry a bit, never fear, I can give you some details about how to make the event as fun for you as possible!
Dressing for the day
Wear comfortable shoes.
I repeat, wear comfortable shoes. You will spend huge swaths of your day walking to and from events, (of course the panels I want to go to are different floors!) walking the show floor, and standing in line. There will be plenty of times when you’ll be sitting line too, but it’s mostly a fair bit of standing.
Consider light layers.
June in New York can be hot, and occasionally stormy, which means that while you’re outside you’ll want to be wearing something cool, but inside it’s all blissful air conditioning all day long. In some spaces the air conditioning can make things downright chilly, so consider wearing/bringing some layers like a lightweight cardigan and/or scarf. Me? I bring both. Since I’ve always gone to Book Con alone I don’t have another human being to steal warmth from, and while fellow readers are always super nice, no stranger wants to be your human sweater.
There are three main components to the convention: The showfloor, the panels, and the signings. While spreading the event over two days means that there are less conflicting events, there’s still a lot of overlap. I suggest that when the events schedule becomes available that you make a list of every single thing that you want to see/do and then the week before start prioritizing and making a schedule. The “My Show” app is somewhat helpful with this, but I’m a nerd and usually hand write a schedule for each day.
For some people, they only want to get their books signed, and for some people it’s more about hearing from their favorite authors. Know what kind of experience is the most important to you, what will leave you feeling the most satisfied when you leave, and make your choices from there.
The space is pretty packed for most of the day. Even big name publishers with huge sections of floor space will often be packed. That’s usually because they’re handing out free books! And tote bags and bookmarks.
Book Con is the land of tote bags and bookmarks.
I’m here to tell you it’s okay to not take the tote bag if you don’t need 50 tote bags in your life. I know it goes against some internal “But it’s free!” vibe, but one year most of my totes became the packaging for my library book donations.
While there’s a fair amount of free stuff a lot of the vendors are there to be seen and to make some money. Small and moderate publishing houses can’t afford to give as much stuff away, but they deserve attention too. Many of them will offer special convention prices and deals.
And then there are shops, many of which you know and love, which have previously included Obvious State, Owl Crate, Out of Print, and many more. And while they’ll likely have some fun freebies, they have their target market together in one place and are hoping to make some sales.
I’ve seen people in the past become upset at the idea of not everything on the showfloor being free, which I found perplexing, so to be on the safe side I’m advising you to be prepared to be tempted by all their awesome goods and set aside some special spending dough. Most vendors have card swipers now but it doesn’t hurt to have some cash on hand.
Someone is going to end up with a book you didn’t get.
Some publishers will have a limited batch of books to hand out and if you’re in a panel when they decide to do so, you’re not going to get that ARC. I don’t tell you this to give you epic FOMO, but to rather be prepared that you can’t be everywhere at the same time. Some publishers will hint on social media when they are doing a special giveaway, but it’s not always the case.
At some point you may be the person that everyone asks “What is this line for?”
You’re standing in line outside a booth, and as the current last person in line, or the person closest to the flow of traffic, people will stop every other minute to ask you what the line is for. You will sometimes also be the one doing the asking and know that everyone there will be happy to answer you. Seriously, it’s a crazy nice group of people.
Coat Check or “My arms are breaking off”
Whether the books are free or not they’re not exactly light. Especially as you (hopefully) accumulate bags full. I got all excited the first year I had a VIP pass because you get a bag of free books for being a VIP! Which I collected at the beginning of the show. 10 minutes in and I’m already carrying an extra five pounds.
This is where coat check/ bag check is potentially helpful. For a few bucks you can store your bags and get the feeling back in your fingers. But I say “potentially” because in NYC in 2014 the bag check area was a rectangle taped off on the floor manned by a single person. While I try to believe the best in people there were so many open tote bags out in the open that more than a few people commented on how easy it would be to steal from them.
In Chicago coat/bag check was in an area that was surrounded by tables and manned by multiple people. Make a judgement call about what feels comfortable for you, but remember that no rolling bags, luggage, or strollers are allowed on the show floor.
If you are a VIP pass holder this year they will have a coat check in the VIP lounge, which I have no idea what that will look like, as if there was one last year, I missed it completely.
This is the most important part of the experience for me. I like to sit in an audience and hear my favorite authors talk about their work. While big names, especially authors who are also actors (Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel) will often get their own one on one interview on the Main Stage, many other panels will be put together on a theme.
There have been panels on diverse books, romantic reads, feminine heroes, fantasy ya, and everything in between. Last year I loved getting to hear from Laini Taylor, Victoria Aveyard, and Sarah J Maas all in one panel.
Many of these panels open up for a Q&A at the end of the session. If it’s a big room there’s generally a microphone stand on each side of the room, a smaller room may only have one. If you have a question you absolutely have to ask or you body will combust in a cloud of words and glitter, then keep an eye out for that stand and sit near it instead of as close to the front as possible.
Like I said, I didn't do the wristband experience but there are many in-booth signings hosted by the publishers. For example, last year Pierce Brown was doing both a signing session at the autographing section and in his publisher's booth. The times for both of these were available on the Book Con website and I opted to take my chances at getting in line at the booth.
Two hours before the signing I politely asked one of the staff at the booth where people would be lining up for the signing. He pointed to where the line would begin and I thanked him and continued on the show floor. When I returned 45 minutes later there was already a line with about 30 people in it. Sometimes a line starts this early and sometimes, depending on space, they won't allow people to line up until closer to the signing. For this one, and for many of the other in-booth signings, a staff member will hand out slips of paper or tickets to the people in line, and when they run out, that's it, no more people in line. This is their way of ensuring that the author doesn't have to work past the time allotted for the signing.
Last year I was chatting with some of the girls in line for Pierce Brown and discovered that the woman just in front of me had never read any of his books, admitting that she was there to get it signed for a friend. In fact, her entire presence at the show was to essentially allow her friend to be in two places at once, and get books signed by authors at overlapping events. I thought this was brilliant and true testament to friendship. So if you're with friends, consider dividing up some of the signing lines.
There is a food court, their hours I don’t recall, as well as a Starbucks, and I believe Javits may have added some options since my last visit.
If you arrive at 9:00 (or even earlier for wristbands) to stand in line until the show floor opens at 10, and you stay until the end of a panel that ends at 6- that’s 9 hours on site, so you’ll likely want both lunch and snacks.
As I’m a gluten free vegetarian it can be easy to get stuck in a situation where I don’t have food options, so I always bring some snacks just in case. A handful of cashews can mean the difference between me being my cheerful self and slumping on the floor while shouting expletives at passersby.
And at almost any point during the day there will be an epic line at Starbucks, so only get in line for your caffeine fix if you know you have 15-20 minutes before you need to be anywhere.
Plan on arriving very early if they do wristbands for autographs this year.
Plan on waiting in line. A lot.
With that in mind dress comfortably.
Decide in advance which events are the most important to you.
Despite all the free loot, be prepared to spend some money, either for awesome bookish merch, or on food.
Maybe bring some snacks if you want to save a little money or have special dietary needs.
Take an uber at the end of the day if you’re not staying within a few blocks of the venue. Thankfully there is now a train stop right by the convention center now (it wasn't finished the last time I was there) but given your book stash you’ll feel better not having haul those bags up and down the stairs and through the turnstiles.
If you see me and I look intense, that’s just my waiting face and sometimes reading face. It’s like bitchy resting face, but for waiting in line. Please feel free to come up and say hello! I frequently go to bookish events alone and end up having great chats with other people in line or sitting at a panel.
In a few weeks I’ll share some of my favorite eats and places to visit in NYC and try to give some tips about the city in general.
I know that was a lot but I hope this means that any of you first timers feel more comfortable about attending.
Feel free to comment with any questions and I'll do my best to answer them!