Recently I traveled to New York for a week "where storytelling and pop culture collide". That's right, I headed to my dream event - BookCon. I had never been to New York so the entire trip was full of new experiences for me. I spent 3 1/2 total days in the city, 2 of which were spent entirely at BookCon. This post is primarily about my experience at the con but I've peppered in a few of my New York experiences too.
The first thing I recommend is, if you're on Facebook, join the BookCon Official Group and BookCon App Chat. Now, neither of these two groups are officially affiliated with BookCon but they're full of useful tips & tricks! The groups are comprised of newbies and seasoned veterans. Everyone shares what they're currently reading, how to prep for the big event, they trade and share book recommendations etc.
There are two kinds of tickets you can buy for BookCon, VIP and regular. VIP tickets get you a separate entrance line and first access to the show floor, reserved seating for panels at the main stage, a BookCon tote and a few other perks. Those sold out quick so I grabbed a regular ticket back in November. You can buy tickets day of and after a certain point, if you buy online then you can pick up at will-call.
A few months before BookCon tickets for author autograph sessions go on sale. I had attempted to get Tomi Adeyemi and Victoria (VE) Schwab, the two authors I was most excited to meet, but sadly their tickets sold out in less than a minute. The other thing that gets released is the list of panels that authors will be in attendance at. If you download the BookCon app, it's a great way to organize the schedule of events you want to attend.
However, my first "mistake" was coming in without a formal plan. Anybody who knows me knows that I love a good plan. I wanted to approach BookCon from the perspective of just enjoying the moment of being surrounded by other book lovers. I knew there were a few panels I wanted to sit in on, and a couple of booths I was excited to hit, but I was dying to collect a few ARC's to add to my shelf so I knew where I was going first.
A few months ago I published an article about "Surviving Your First Comic-Con". While much of the advice holds true, I'm going to add more about the event of BookCon itself. I've been to several cons over the last few years but lemme tell you, BookCon was something else.
I flew into Newark International Airport and took a Lyft to my hotel. I had originally planned to take the train into the city but I had been awake since 3:30am and hadn't eaten anything since so the sooner I could get to food the better. I knew I wasn't coming to NY to spend all my time in the hotel room so I wanted something affordable, clean, and comfortable. I ended up staying at the POD Times Square. It was centrally located and within a 15 minute was of the convention center so it was perfect. The room comes with your choice of bed, a sizable bathroom, a desk, a tv, and free wi-fi (which is actually rare in New York). Once I got my bags unpacked I grabbed some food and spent the rest of the evening wandering through downtown and Chelsea. It poured rain and I didn't care; New York is magical in the rain.
The weather was a bit more cooperative today so I spent it cruising through the city. Navigating the MTA isn't as difficult as people had told me. I purchased a metro card, threw $30 on it, used google maps to look up where I was going and then went! The things to be mindful of are whether or not you are going Uptown vs Downtown, how many stops until you need to get off, and then if there are any route delays. I checked out Union Square Park, Strand Book Store, and then popped over to Jersey for my Rëzocut. I headed back to my hotel early, made sure my backpack was packed, put out my clothes for the next day and tucked in early. Too bad it was 7pm my body's time and no matter what I tried to do I could not go to sleep. I was thankful that despite being close to Times Square, my hotel room seemed to block out all kinds of city noise. I was full of anxious, excited energy so I eventually caught a little rest around 4:30am only to wake back up at 6am to get ready for Day 1.
SATURDAY 6/1 - BookCon Day 1
I'll be honest, a lot of people start lining up as early as 3am but I wasn't about to put that kind of pressure on myself. The line forms around the block of the Javits Center until around 7:30 when they start letting people inside the convention center to line up. The official doors don't open to the actual show floor until 10am but this way they can kind of manage the crowd flow. If you do end up lining the outside of the building, this is a great time to practice making line buddies. Bring books, games, lots of coffee and just relax. Patience will be your best friend at pretty much any con because you will be queuing for something around every corner.
I signed up for the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Writing Workshop (8am-10am) so lining up early wasn't really an option for me. The workshop was relatively informative, I was definitely one of the older attendees but I still got a lot out of it. There is a local writer/professor who walks you through different writing or development exercises. After you complete each one, you brainstorm your results with the other con attendees at your table.
10am strikes and it turns into utter chaos on the show floor. I was on the main floor no later than 10:02am and in the already insanely long MacMillan line by 10:03. I was waiting in this line for almost an hour before a rep came around saying that they were already out of ARCs. Unfortunately, that means I not only wasted my time in this line but missed out on other 10am ARC drops. Calculate your priorities not just based on your desires but also the likelihood that other are going to be flocking to popular spots. Also remember that VIP will have a chance to get there before you.
A bit disheartened I continued walking around, milling at the occasional booth and gathering freebies. Thankfully I brought my backpack so I had a place to store the 3 or 4 totes I left with, on top of the books I managed to snag. There are booths where you can buy books, especially discounted popular titles, but a lot of publishers will randomly put books out that are free & up for grabs. Heads up, most of the author autographing sessions require you to buy a book at their table vs. bringing one from home. While meandering, I saw an author that I've been reading since high school was scheduled to have autographs until 12:30, it was 12 and her line was completely empty. I asked the BookCon employee if I could just pop and buy the book now and she said sure! So that was how I met Sarah Dessen and got a copy of her new book The Rest of the Story.
By mid-day I was tired, anxious, and a bit frustrated at how many lines I had waited in only to be told things were gone. I just wanted to call the day what it was - shitty. There were still a few panels I wanted to sit in on, so I decided to grab a little food and check out the main stage area until it started.
This is why I really recommend checking that Facebook group when you have available signal. I logged back in and found solidarity that a lot of people were feeling overwhelmed like I was. Even the veterans were saying that this was a lot more disorganized than previous BookCons. I saw a recent post that VE Schwab was chilling near the TOR booth and signing whatever anyone would bring her! I quickly stuffed the rest of my sandwich in my mouth and booked it as fast as I could. Weaving in and out of massive lines, trying to navigate which publisher was which, I finally found the booth I was looking for. Victoria was nowhere to be found. Even more depressed than I was before, I hiked up my backpack and trudged my way back to main stage. I had walked no more than 2 rows before I see a familiar set of cat ears. Sure enough, the cutest little red head was attached to them! I walked over, all smiles and she was so gracious and humble; she was nice enough to take a picture with me and spare a few moments to chat. She told me that even though it was an officially scheduled BookCon event, she would be doing non-ticketed signings the following afternoon.
I was so happy, I continued back toward main stage and really started to take in all the joy around me. There were people in cosplay, parents walking around with their kids, authors that were milling around the floor just enjoying the general splendor. I had a pip in my step when I finally got settled into the Epic YA panel. I was happy to be relatively "close" to Tomi Adeyemi since I didn't get a ticket for her autographing session. I had heard of the other 3 authors but had yet to read their works. They all offered up insightful and genuine answers about the world of YA and how their novels changed pieces of it.
When the panel was winding up I logged back onto the Facebook group to see if there was anything else I wanted to check out before I headed back to the hotel. The universe must have sensed how bummed I was because this gem of a woman, Rachel Brown, posted that she had 2 tickets to meet Tomi because she wasn't able to make it. I literally logged on at just the right moment, and the universe smiled upon me.
We connected and she sent me a screenshot of her ticket so I headed back to the show floor to wait in the autographing line. When I finally met Tomi, she was everything I knew she'd be and more. She was kind, patient, and took the time to truly connect with each of her fans that she met. Because of the time crunch they were under, her assistant told us that she wouldn't be personalizing with our names but just signing her name. I didn't care, I was just happy to have a moment with her. When I reached the front of the line, not only did she chat with me about being a writer and my book's potential, she signed my BookBeau, and then personalized the autograph in my copy of Children of Blood and Bone. It wasn't even until I got back to my hotel room that I realized she wrote more than just my name in the book. It was the best ending to day 1 that I could have imagined. I got a full night's sleep & readied my brain for day 2.
SUNDAY 6/2 - BookCon Day 2
I started the day at round 2 of the writing workshops and was back on the show floor by 10am on the dot. I came in a little better prepared today, had built a mini schedule for panels and giveaways I knew were happening that I wanted to get. More than anything else, I really just wanted to enjoy the day. Thankfully, as is with most cons, Sunday was a much smaller crowd. I started the day by racing to the booth where they were doing a signing by Claire LeGrand with a free copy of Kingsbane but sadly I missed the line cut off by about 2 minutes.
When I realized I wasn't going to get it, I ran over to the booth for the "I Read YA" giveaway! I managed to squeak in, got several signed ARC's and had a few author chats. It was a quick in and out situation because there was a huge line behind me but it was still pretty cool. I kept walking through the aisles, managed to snag a few arcs from the Scholastic booth and a couple of other goodies before I got in line for the unscheduled VE Schwab signing. I got there about 30-ish minutes before the line was supposed to start forming, hovered until it was go time, and then waited for about an hour. I got her to sign my BookBeau and a poster for her upcoming book Tunnel of Bones.
I could barely live off of that high because I had to quickly run over a few rows and hop in line to meet Zoraida Cordova. I purchased the second book in her Labyrinth Lost series, Bruja Born. Even though we were supposed to buy a book at the signing, I was given the wrong information earlier that day and had purchased one that morning for her to sign. She was so sweet and happily signed it along with my BookBeau. She even set the post-it aside with my name on it, saying she likes to save the names she likes to possibly use in a future story!
After this I grabbed a quick sandwich and headed downstairs to wait for my last panel of the day. I was excited to sit in on the "Social Justice Warriors" discussion. It was a great conversation between Jason Reynolds, Daniel José Older, Morgan Parker, Elizabeth Acevedo, Damon Young and Akilah Hughes. They discussed how they bring up topics of race, gender, sexuality and class in their novels as well as how they use their medium to move culture forward. It was a really informative discussion that I took a lot away from, all of them were bringing fire! I snagged Jason Alexander's autograph on my BookBeau before he raced to the train station. When this panel finished I sat in on the last few minutes of the "Magic and Mayhem in Science Fiction & Fantasy" panel. It was great to see some awesome writers chat about how they broke the stereotypical mold in their novels. I also grabbed the autographs of Sarah Gailey, Tamsym Muir, and Annalee Newitz, all with great books dropping this year.
After that, my time at BookCon had come to an end so I dragged my sore feet back to my hotel room. Immediately pulling out all my goodies, I counted up how many I got and how many I actually wanted. The plan was to donate a few of the things I had snagged to a local charity so I set those aside. I was left with the collection I knew I was going to take home and I was thankful I had checked a bag for this exact reason.
I took time to digest all that I experienced before putting my thoughts together. While I had some amazing moments, if the crowds continue to get bigger then I'm not sure I would go again.
First, on day 1 it really started to feel like if you didn't have VIP access to the show floor then don't have high hopes for 10am ARC drops. Most of the veterans in the Facebook groups said that lines were out of control, there seemed to be no organized structure in place, and publishers were stingier with swag. While I have no frame of reference, it seems like even ReedPop (who puts on BookCon each year) wasn't prepared for the crowds this year.
Second, I don't think that the event is very handicap or disability friendly. Yes everything is technically accessible but the publishers don't seem to have solid systems in place to avoid people running and hurting themselves or to ensure that people with mobility concerns still have an opportunity to participate. It seemed like if you didn’t practically run everywhere, then you had to awkwardly hover by booths for about an hour and a half prior. By doing this you're potentially missing a bunch of events to try and ensure your success.
Third, while most of the people I interacted with were book lovers like myself, there were a lot of instances where I was put off by attitudes. Something I have always loved about conventions is the amount of joy I feel from being in a room surrounded by other people who love what I love. Yes, I understand that lines are long and we all get frustrated but we are all there for the same reason. On more than one occasion fights broke out between adults. I saw a woman get yelled at for pushing her kid in a stroller because it was cumbersome. I had a girl snap at me because I got "lucky" enough to get in line for the Slay ARC before her, etc. Of course it's a long weekend but there is no need for this kind of behavior. Remember, manners and kindness go a long way.
It wasn't all attitudes and anger, I saw some beautiful exchanges as well. There were instances where a child was so excited to get an ARC only to have it run out and a stranger offer theirs. I saw multiple people come to the aid of a woman who got injured by a falling poster. There was some amazing cosplay and I had some wonderful conversations with strangers. I even pretended to be someone's daughter to help them move up a little closer in line. Getting to meet some wonderful authors that I've admired for a while was great, not to mention I found inspiration in some new ones.
I think that next year I may shoot for attendance at BookExpo instead, which focuses more on those working within the publishing industry (Educator, Bookseller, Publisher, Author, Blogger, etc) and less on book lovers. The most important thing I walked away with is inspiration. I felt so much book loving energy in one room that I had no choice but to come home and write. BookCon truly is the ultimate celebration of books. I can't wait to see what written adventures await me in the future!
Until next time New York! <3