I definitely meant to post this much earlier, as in right when I got back from BookCon 2018, but better late than never! This past year, I was lucky enough to be able to attend BookCon for the second time, and I had an amazing weekend listening to panel discussions given by fascinating and hilarious authors, meeting lovely bookish people, and learning about new and interesting books. I made the last-minute decision to attend BookCon 2017 on a whim and went in with little advance preparation or knowledge about the event, and I think that having already attended once helped me better prepare this time around. I did have just as much fun the first time attending with no prior knowledge, though!
If you aren’t already familiar, BookCon is a 2-day event held at the Javits Center in New York for bookish fans as well as those in the book industry (although book industry people generally are more likely to attend BookExpo, an industry-specific event held in the week before the Con). A lot of emphasis gets placed on the free books aspect of BookCon (and there are free books, it’s true!) but there’s a lot more to it than that. I’ll go through my experiences with BookCon and my favorite parts below, but as a disclaimer, I’m not an expert–I’ve only been to BookCon twice and basically just figured everything out on my own, I don’t work in the book industry, none of this is sponsored in any way, I’m just an avid reader and a fan of all things bookish. As another disclaimer, this post is going to be really long, because a lot happens at BookCon and I have a lot to talk about!
So at BookCon, there’s a gigantic showroom floor with tons of booths featuring different publishers, bookish companies, and independent authors–this is the part of BookCon that I feel gets focused on the most, but it’s not all of it by a long shot. It is really awesome, though; it’s a lot of fun to wander the convention floor and discover different books and creators. There are large mega-booths for the biggest publishing houses, which generally have the biggest crowds, but you’ll also find a lot of awesome smaller and independent publishers and independent authors as well. If you have bookish friends with birthdays coming up, the show floor is the perfect place to shop for them, since a lot of bookish companies are represented and generally have some really great deals and discounts that you can take advantage of; I purchased a Supergirl-themed notebook for a friend at the Insight Editions booth, and a tote bag with a black cat and a stack of books for another friend (who has a black cat, of course) at the Obvious State booth. I also couldn’t resist a tote bag with a bookish quote for myself at the Obvious State booth as well, and I had my eye on a Jaws T-shirt for my dad at the Out of Print booth, but unfortunately they were sold out. As a compensation, though, they were offering $50 giftcards for only $25, so I’ll be able to order him the shirt from their site anyways. Like I said, great deals!
Book-wise, you will also tend to find some good deals at BookCon, although it varies from booth to booth. Some publishers are selling their books for full price; others offer discounts or deals specific to BookCon, and others have giveaways going on at specific times during the weekend. Probably the most popular pricing deal I saw was paperbacks for $5 and hardcovers for $10, but again, this could vary a lot from booth to booth. So, how do you decide what books to purchase at BookCon? Some people purchase full-price books if it means that you can meet the author and get them to sign it; other people will look for giveaways and sales. Personally, I’ll pay full price if it’s supporting an indie author or publisher, and I’m a big fan of the $5/$10 deals as I think that’s a very fair price.
Giveaway-wise, some are publicized beforehand on publishers’ social media pages or via the show guide (which you can pick up once you get to BookCon); some are more spontaneous. Some involve waiting in really long lines; some involve spinning a wheel for a chance to win a prize which may or may not be a book; sometimes books are sitting in piles for you to take; some require a purchase to get a free item. For me personally, I’ve found that giveaways depend a lot on luck and timing, and I think of them generally as a nice and unexpected bonus of going to BookCon rather than something I’d depend on happening, especially for more popular titles which are really difficult to find. I’d say that for the past two times I’ve gone to BookCon, free books comprise about half of the books I end up taking home.
Another cool aspect of BookCon is the autographing sessions. I actually didn’t do a single autographing session in 2017 because I didn’t know about them (again, my trip was very last-minute) but this past year, autographing sessions were posted online a few weeks before the actual BookCon, and you were limited to signing up for 2 per day. Although technically I could have signed up for 4, I ended up only signing up for 3 because these were the authors/books that interested me the most that didn’t conflict with any of the panels that I wanted to go to:
- Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver) – because I love a good fairytale retelling
- Charlaine Harris (An Easy Death) – Harris is my most-read author on Goodreads, and her new series sounded great (which it is, I’ve since read An Easy Death and loved it).
- Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning) – I’d heard a lot of great buzz about this book and author, and the post-apocalyptic concept is always an intriguing one for me.
What might be the most underrated part of BookCon, and is also possibly the best part, are the panel discussions.
Here are the panels I attended, with the names of the panelists (names in bold are authors whose books I’ve read). As you can see, I definitely haven’t read books from every author in the panels I attended; I don’t think that’s at all necessary to do beforehand, and panels are actually a great way for you to find authors you may be interested in reading in the future. Of course, as a fan, you’ll likely want to see authors you already know you love speak as well.
- Tor Presents: #FearlessWomen in Tor Science Fiction and Fantasy with Charlie Jane Anders, V.E. Schwab, S.L. Huang, and Seth Dickinson – the Tor panels tend to be really fantastic with wide-ranging discussions about politics, feminism, and the importance of awesome female characters.
- Women of Mystery and Thriller with Sandra Brown, Megan Abbott, Sara Blaedel, Kate Kessler, and Karen Ellis–this was the only panel where I hadn’t read from a single author. Still great.
- NaNoWriMo: The Power of Writing with Abandon with Susan Dennard, Marissa Meyer, Kami Garcia, Danielle Page, and Grant Faulkner – this was an interactive session, where there was both a panel discussion and a fun part where we were given index cards to create crazy sentences as a group. I found it really inspirational as someone who’s been doing NaNoWriMo for the past two years.
- Toxic Male Syndrome with Jasmine Guillory, Zoey Castile, Alisha Rai, Sarah Morgan, Megan Frampton, and Claire Legrand – possibly the best panel I’ve ever attended.
(In 2017, I attended two panels: one with Margaret Atwood and the Handmaid’s Tale showrunner in conversation, and one given by Tor with Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, in addition to other Tor authors).
In general, the quality of panels at BookCon is AMAZING. Panelists discuss interesting and relevant topics, and they usually have the audience both cracking up and thinking deeply about new insights by the time the panel is over. If you do make it to BookCon, I’d say that the panels are the one thing you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
One more thing I’d like to mention about BookCon is the people. Bookish people tend to be awesome in general, and BookCon is a great place to connect with other readers. I met several people standing in line who were so sweet and we shared tips and bookish info with each other; I also met up with people from Litsy on Sunday and attended panels with them. Some people attend BookCon with friends or in groups; I’ve attended by myself both times and it was completely awesome.
So, should I go to BookCon/Is it worth it go to BookCon?
I mean, I can’t really answer that for you, but it depends. I love BookCon and I think it’s a really awesome experience (see all of my gushing above) but it does require you to actually pay for the BookCon tickets, find a way to get to New York, and find a place to stay for at least 1 if not 2 nights. I’m lucky enough to have one of my best friends in New York who loves having people stay with her (and is very understanding about the whole “OK so there’s this thing called BookCon so I was wondering if I could stay with you except I won’t actually be able to hang out during the day” thing; she was actually the one who first suggested I come to BookCon last year when she heard about it and knew of my book obsession. Also, she has a life and a job so while I’m at BookCon she has her own plans and then we meet up afterwards to hang out.) so that means that I didn’t pay for a hotel, which in New York can get really expensive. I also live only a short plane ride away, and with advance notice can usually get a really good deal on a flight. So if you live further away and don’t have anyone in the city you can stay with, the cost of BookCon can really add up. The tickets themselves aren’t that expensive considering that you’re getting access to the show floor, some autographing, and the amazing panels (I paid $55.75 for standard weekend tickets; VIP tickets are more and they tend to sell out fast, but I’ve never even tried to get them) but the actual cost of a trip to New York is what gets you. And again, these are only my opinions–I’m sure that many people who attended BookCon had vastly different experiences from mine, and I’m absolutely sure that most of them probably planned better for it than I did.
If you have any questions about BookCon, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! Maybe I’ll see some of you there this June…