It was evident even before BookCon kicked off on June 3 at the Javits Center in New York City that the four-year-old consumer show, with the official tagline “where storytelling and popular culture collide,” is settling into a celebration of YA literature, with such popular YA novelists as Victoria Aveyard, Veronica Roth, and Danielle Page appearing together on the Main Stage on Saturday, while on Sunday middle grade authors Jeff Kinney, Mary Pope Osborne, Lemony Snicket, and Kwame Alexander appeared on the Main Stage as “Kids’ Book Blockbusters” panelists. In all, more than 100 marquee authors representing almost every kind of genre were featured, speaking on panels and and/or signing books; scores more emerging voices and midlist authors also participated in the weekend with publishers sponsoring in-booth appearances.
After a one-day show in Chicago following BookExpo 2016, BookCon in New York City resumed being a two-day event this year. While the crowd of approximately 20,000 was diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, it skewed towards females aged 18–34, especially among the earliest arrivals on Saturday morning, who stood in line for hours and even endured a rain shower before the doors opened at 8 a.m.
The first person in line, Tiffany Chapman, 26, from Jamestown, N.Y., arrived at 3 a.m. with her friends Kris Wright, 26, also from Jamestown, and Sherry Acerra, 27, from Erie, Pa. While Chapman was most excited to see Cassandra Clare, Wright wanted to see R.L. Stine, and Acerra named Roth. Others PW spoke to during the weekend for the most part named YA authors, and most often mentioned, besides Clare, were Leigh Bardugo, Marissa Meyer, Sarah Dessen, and Rainbow Rowell—and Margaret Atwood.
Atwood undoubtedly was the author at BookCon with the most universal appeal: her panel session Saturday afternoon in a room that seated 500 drew a standing-room-only crowd of men and women, ranging from teenagers recently introduced to The Handmaid’s Tale via the Hulu television series through middle-aged women who read the book when it was first released in 1985.
The most sought-after autographing area tickets bore this out: Atwood’s tickets sold out almost immediately Saturday morning, followed by Clare, and then Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler, Colleen Hoover, Jenny Han, Mayim Bialik, and Nicola Yoon. Most of these authors, with the exception of Hoover, who writes adult romance novels, and Handler, who is best known for his Series of Unfortunate Events novels for middle graders, are female YA writers. Bialik, better known for her film and television credits, has written a guide for teen girls, Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart, and Spectacular (Philomel, May).
Where the Market Collides with the Industry
After the exhibit hall opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, a long line of Stephanie Perkins fans quickly formed, and soon snaked up and down aisles, as they waited for her to sign her latest novel, There’s Someone Inside Your House (Dutton, Oct.). Another long line formed at the same time, facing in the opposite direction, for Kristin Cast signing copies of Loved (Blackstone, July), the latest novel in the House of Night series that she writes with her mother, P.C. Cast. And a few aisles away, there was yet another long line leading into Scholastic’s booth for Dav Pilkey, who signed 20th-anniversary editions of Captain Underpants.
Scholastic v-p of trade publicity Tracy van Straaten told PW that the line for Stine signing copies of the 25th-anniversary edition of Goosebumps started forming at 11 a.m. on Saturday, three hours before the 2 p.m. signing. After Scholastic ran out of its 200 giveaway copies, Stine started signing commemorative tote bags.
The publishers PW spoke with preferred working BookCon in its two-day format, with van Straaten explaining that it allowed Scholastic “a lot of time to focus on things” in-booth, like the Goosebumps silver anniversary celebration and the Captain Underpants 20th anniversary.
While some publishers, like Scholastic, gave away books and swag, others, like Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, operated in-booth pop-up bookstores and gave discounts to customers. Sourcebooks marketing manager Valerie Pierce said that while at the three previous BookCon shows the Chicago company “just gave away books,” this year it sold books, t-shirts, and tote bags in addition to giving away books and swag like beach balls. “Selling books and merchandise allows us to interact more with readers,” she said.
Publishers weren’t the only ones enjoying the direct interactions with readers. During Clare’s Sunday panel, when she was interviewed by MTV reporter Crystal Bell, she seemed to revel in the opportunity to speak directly to approximately 800 fans—mostly young women—who packed the room for the prolific YA fantasy author, whose Mortal Instruments series has been adapted for television (called Shadowhunters).
When Bell asked Clare, who was dressed in a flowered dress and wore a glittering tiara, what the author would tell her younger self, Clare replied, to a round of applause, “I would tell my [younger self] not to be afraid to take risks with my writing, and also to be more careful about [TV/movie] rights, to make sure I’ll be more involved.”
While Bell promised to “keep spoilers at a minimum,” concerning Lord of Shadows (McElderry, May), Clare’s hot-off-the-presses novel, second in the Dark Artifices series, it was hard for Clare to resist talking about it, including her disclosure that the villains were inspired by the French National Front party leaders Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter, Marine. While the major character who dies in Lord of Shadows was not named, the death scene was discussed, as well as another key scene in Lord of Shadows that Bell praised as “epic.”
“That was a really hard scene to write, but it was necessary,” Clare said of the death scene, disclosing that she knew when she conceptualized the series who would live and who would die in its pages. “Everybody dies, so that’s a big thing to write about.”
Clare also revealed how much she “loves” the character of Kit Herondale, dropped some juicy tidbits about the mysteries surrounding his parentage, and revealed that Herondale and Ty Blackthorn would be the protagonists of her next series, Wicked Powers, which is set after the events of the Dark Artifices series, and is scheduled to launch in 2021.
As she left the Javits Center on Sunday afternoon, first-time attendee Jessie Way, 28, of Washington, D.C., summed up what BookCon meant to her and to so many other booklovers, saying, “It’s so great to see so many young women in one place like this—reading books, as well as writing books, especially in the current political climate. And it’s a good deal to see so many girls here who love books. I’ll be back next year. As long as there are interesting authors, I’m game.”