Once again, YA authors proved to be the main draw for the hordes of people attending this year’s BookCon literary fan fest, which took place June 1–2 at the Javits Center in New York City. Most of the attendees whom PW polled before doors opened on Saturday and during the show responded that they were there to see writers including Leigh Bardugo, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Stephanie Garber, Marissa Meyer, Rainbow Rowell, and V.E. Schwab.
While the crowd may have been more diverse than in previous years, as always, it skewed more towards white females in their teens, 20s, and 30s. There seemed to be more men and more people of color in attendance on Sunday than on Saturday, perhaps a reflection of Sunday’s lineup of multicultural authors and an emphasis on diversity in the programming.
While many of the attendees this year hailed from the Atlantic seaboard region, the show pulled in a national and Canadian audience, as well as international attendees. One woman from the U.K. and two women from France whom PW interviewed all said that they were visiting New York for the first time just to attend BookCon, explaining that there were no equivalent literary festivals in their homelands. “It’s a lot busier than I was expecting,” said Kelly Beestone of Nottingham, England, a PhD student of YA literature who arrived by 7 a.m. on Saturday after her first ride on New York City’s subway. She was most excited to meet Bardugo and had scored an interview with Marie Lu.
One of Saturday’s first two arrivals, Cassidy Guinada, a 20-year-old from Queens who was also last year’s first arrival, said she was especially eager to see Meyer. Disclosing that she’d been at Javits since 3 a.m., Guinada explained that she was excited about Supernova, the conclusion to Meyer’s Renegades superhero fantasy trilogy. “I hope I get everything I want to read and meet every author I want to meet,” she told PW before the doors opened.
The first arrival in Saturday’s VIP line, Brandy Donaldson of Atlanta, said that she was at BookCon for the first time with her 17-year-old daughter as the daughter’s graduation present from high school. It was hard to say who was more excited to hear Clare speak on Saturday morning in the Main Hall, Donaldson or her daughter.
Clare’s q&a with Entertainment Weekly’s David Canfield drew a huge crowd, and she delivered, regaling her fans with disclosures about how she builds constantly expanding worlds and develops characters to fill them. She also talked about her commitment to linking characters in the various series to those in other series. One exclusive that she let drop during the 40-minute event that made attendees clap for joy was that she is working on an adult novel, which scheduled for publication in 2021.
Asked about her inspiration for writing urban fantasy, Clare said that she enjoys the process of creating a world much like our own, “where there’s magic around the corner. There’s the real world and then another world on top of it.”
The day’s programming ended just as it began, with another literary superstar appearing before a large audience in the Main Hall. John Green returned to BookCon this year to promote another movie adaptation of his first novel, Looking for Alaska. According to a tweet posted by his publisher, Penguin Teen, Green told his fans that the 2005 novel now can be considered historical fiction, being set in a world that lacked smart phones, where teens had to socialize in person rather than on social media.
One Sunday panel that drew an overflow crowd and created buzz was a q&a between YA author Jenny Han and Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram and the author of Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes. One fan reported on Twitter that the panel was “so much fun, I’ve never laughed so hard.”
Another popular Sunday session was a q&a between Damon Young and Jacqueline Woodson, during which Woodson revealed that her next book for young readers will be a novel about a boy whose father has CTE, a neurological condition caused by repeated blows to the head. And a Sunday panel on “social justice warriors” featuring a slate of multicultural YA authors is becoming a BookCon tradition. This year’s participants included Elizabeth Acevedo, Akilah Hughes, Daniel José Older, Morgan Parker, Jason Reynolds, and Young, talking about the politics of identity and representation in their writings. “I write because my characters deserve to have their stories told,” Acevedo said, in answer to a question on the inspiration for her becoming a writer.
While many attendees PW spoke with praised this year’s show for its slate of A-list authors, provocative panels, and overall nerdy vibe, others had complaints. Twitter user @sagesurge posted a tweet on Saturday saying, “There’s no life, there’s no spirit, there’s hardly any ARC drops or free books.” Others voiced similar sentiments, many of them noting that there was more of an emphasis this time on book displays, as well as sales and merchandising. While there were more author signings and panels, attendees told PW, they felt that there were fewer ARC giveaways, less swag, and fewer activities to engage fans while building community.
“They’re big on schedules this year,” said Avlet Parra from Georgia, while Rebecca Nadeau, who hails from Connecticut, said, “It felt like the publishers just phoned it in, that they didn’t care at all, there weren’t even that many books to buy, fewer games than last year and less swag.” And Dana Caldwell Kepler of Manahawkin, N.J. noted that “it felt a lot like we paid for a ticket just to be allowed in to buy things.”
Aisles were jammed with people most of the time on both days, and the long lines that formed hours before ARC drops and author signings added to the congestion. On Saturday afternoon, security had to intervene when the crowd waiting for a HarperCollins Epic Reads ARC giveaway became so unruly that booth personnel feared for their personal safety. “There was a lot of screaming,” a HarperCollins staffer acknowledged. “We were afraid the [booth] wall was going to fall on [people]. I read on Twitter that someone called BookCon ‘Game of Galleys.’ Indeed.”