With the advent of BookCon, Day 3 at BEA has shed its image of empty aisles and vacant-eyed exhibitors scheming to pack up early. Barely a distant cousin to last year’s Power Reader Day and earlier experiments with opening the floor to consumers, BookCon is the new cool kid in town. And yes it is unabashedly looking to the wildly successful Comic-Con as a role model.

While BEA and BookCon both come under the umbrella of Reed Expo, BookCon is the baby of the ReedPop division—the folks behind Comic-Con. Brien McDonald, director of strategic accounts at Reed, said that it was clear that the BEA had to try a new approach for consumers, and that “to have consumers just go walk around the trade floor” wasn’t the answer. BookCon’s mandate is to create content specifically for the consumer and make good on the promise that BookCon is where “books and pop culture collide.”

McDonald says that “much credit goes to the publishers for being so receptive”—they are onboard to bring top authors, big stars, and creative programming to BookCon day. While some of the programming is serendipitous—events planned for Day 3 of BEA suddenly became BookCon events—much has been planned specifically for consumers. What McDonald described as a “steady drumbeat “of events being added is snowballing. Superstars like Mario Batali and Jodi Picoult were added to the BookCon roster just before press time.

Exhibitors participating in BookCon don’t have to move their booths to a designated area, but rather are in the part of the floor that will become BookCon on Saturday when a divider separates the B2B trade floor from the consumer floor area of BookCon in 3E Hall.

While the programming is still fluid, with much still to be added and times and locations to be determined, here’s an overview of some of the highlights to date. To stay up to the minute on all the goings-on, McDonald recommends checking in at www.theBookCon.com frequently.

Consumers will be welcomed to the designated BookCon area of the Javits Center all day Saturday, May 31, until the 3 p.m. close. But to get the party started, BookCon has planned the official kick-off for Friday, May 30, when Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, film director Shawn Levy, and Jonathan Tropper, author of the bestselling This Is Where I Leave You, will engage in a panel discussion moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Breznican, from 4–5 p.m. in the Special Events Hall. Fey and Bateman star in the upcoming film based on Tropper’s bestseller, for which he wrote the screenplay. Guests will be privy to a sneak peek.

Following the panel, there will be a two-hour Happy Hour celebrating the debut of BookCon at which fans will be able to mix and mingle with a variety of top authors. This kind of activity underscores the mission of BookCon, which is to have fans interact with authors in a meaningful way beyond the autographing lines. The panel and Happy Hour is a limited access event to which an additional $10 ticket is required. Only those with a BookCon or BEA ticket and/or badge are entitled to buy kickoff tickets.

Even with the $10 supplement, consumers will pay less than in the past. Last year the price for a Power Reader ticket was $50; BookCon is at $30. With the book giveaways, swag, and opportunities to interface with top authors, McDonald believes that the price is very reasonable.

Fey and Bateman are just the first A-list celebrities that fans will have a chance to meet. Martin Short is doing double duty on behalf of his first book, a memoir to be published in November by Harper Collins/Harper, My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, by participating in both the Saturday breakfast along with Alan Cumming, Lena Dunham, and Colm Tóibín (the breakfast is for the trade only) and then, a few hours later, hosting a luncheon panel where he will interview Amy Poehler. Poehler, whose book is coming from Dey Street (part of William Morrow), hopes to reveal the title at the lunch. This is a free event but the chow is not, so attendees are welcomed to brown bag it.

Celebrity of a different sort is on display and available to readers earlier on Saturday with a nonstop parade of events featuring powerhouse authors on the Downtown Authors stage. First up at 10 a.m. is John Grisham, who will be interviewed by Carl Hiaasen. Then at 11 a.m. on the same stage, Random House has a bestseller panel featuring Jodi Picoult (Leaving Time), Kathy Reichs (Bones Never Lie), and Ruth Reichl (Delicious!). The moderator for the panel has not yet been confirmed. Tentatively scheduled for noon is a conversation with David Mitchell, whose new novel, The Bone Clocks, is his first in four years and in a similar vein to his Cloud Atlas (location TBD).

Theresa Zoro, senior vice-president and director, Random House publicity, pointed out that the panel and the in-conversation with David Mitchell, were planned with fans in mind. “Random House is always thinking about how to connect authors with their readers and BookCon is a great opportunity to do just that,” said Zoro. “We couldn’t be more thrilled than to showcase these authors to both booksellers and consumers.”

Liate Stehlik, senior vice-president and publisher at William Morrow, is equally excited about another star-studded event—their romance panel, which takes place on Saturday from 1:45–2:45 p.m. Authors Jennifer L. Armentrout, better known as J. Lynn (Be with Me), Cora Carmack (All Lined Up), Sarah McLean (No Good Duke Goes Unpunished), and Jeaniene Frost (Up from the Grave) will join William Morrow senior editor May Chen, who will moderate the discussion. Stehlik noted that this is an ideal opportunity for publishers to connect directly with readers, sans middleman. “That’s what we love and any time we can talk to consumers is very exciting.” BookCon has made no secret of its targeted demographic—women, age 18–45, and this panel, with its “Bad Boys” theme—what makes a bad boy so bad and women love them so hard—was designed specifically with them in mind.

Macmillan is taking a different approach with a full day of programming for readers of all ages and tastes in their meeting room. “We’ve significantly expanded our programming for BookCon with events for those interested in everything from literary fiction to young adult,” commented Alison Lazurus, president of the trade sales division at Macmillan. “Being able to interact directly with a large audience of avid readers is an exciting opportunity for us, and we look forward to seeing how consumers respond. “

The morning will feature three Editor’s Picks Panels featuring Literary Fiction, Young Adult, and Reading Groups. The afternoon’s Editors Picks discussions feature mystery/thriller and science fiction. At noon, Bad Kitty will make an appearance and Little Elliot tote bags with “MacSnacks” (fruit snacks) will be given away. From 9 a.m.–3 p.m. personalized book recommendations will be offered up at the “Macmillan Ingenious Bar.” Even poetry will be part of the program, with FSG’s Haiku station, where budding poets can submit a haiku that will be published on FSG’s “Book Keeping: A Readers’ Community” and in their weekly newsletter, Work in Progress.

For Penguin, in addition to its big bang kickoff event with Jonathan Tropper, the very popular Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will return to the Crystal Palace Center for BEA, where it debuted one year ago. During the past year, the truck that stocks books from all Penguin Group imprints has been criss-crossing the country. It has just returned from the recent L.A. Times Festival of Books, where it partnered with Vroman’s and Book Soup to sell books and was a major hit, according to Penguin’s advising director of corporate communications, Tracey Guest. At BookCon, Penguin will partner with Word Bookstore to sell books.

Penguin has some events outside the truck and beyond the palace doors on Saturday as well. At 11:15 a.m., authors from various Penguin imprints will come together for a panel, “My First Novel: Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Writing, Publishing, and Promoting a Book,” moderated by Tumblr’s Rachel Fershleiser. She’ll be speaking with Celest Ng (Everything I Never Told You, Penguin Press), Courtney Collins (The Untold, Amy Einhorn Books), and Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Panic in a Suitcase, Riverhead).

Readers will gain further insight into the publishing process at Penguin’s art director’s discussion and presentation, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” (time and location TBD). Riverhead art director Helen Yentus, along with another yet-to-be-announced art director from the Penguin Group, will discuss specific case studies of a book jacket. Yentus will be taking fans through the process of designing the cover for Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

At 2 p.m., Penguin will host a conversation with Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness, both of whom are finishing trilogies. Grossman’s The Magician’s Trilogy wraps up with The Magician’s Land and Harkness’s The Book of Life concludes The All Souls series.

Simon & Schuster has everyone buzzing about the appearance of Carey Elwes of The Princess Bride fame. His new book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is coming from Touchstone in the fall. Since The Princess Bride, Elwes has had a rich career starring in other hit movies, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Glory, and Days of Thunder. He is participating in a panel and will be signing at the S&S booth.

Another crowd pleaser from S&S will be an appearance by Danielle Fishel, better known to her millions of fans as Topanga Lawrence, girlfriend of Cory Matthews from the long running hit TV series Boy Meets World. She’ll be at the S&S booth signing her new book, Normally This Would Be Cause for Concern: Tales of Calamity and Unrelenting Awkwardness, and at 2:15 p.m. will do a q&a (time TBA).

Publishers are not holding back on the giveaways and swag on Saturday, but of particular note is a giveaway of 200 copies of Stephen King’s new book, Mr. Mercedes: A Novel—three days ahead of its official on-sale date. The King giveaway is part of S&S’s efforts to bring authors and books of interest to the audience that reads them. Their goal is to showcase “names that offer a good experience for consumers,” says Liz Perl, senior v-p or marketing.

Hachette’s Grand Central Publishing will have everyone’s stomachs grumbling when Mario Batali appears on the Downtown Stage from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. in conversation with Lucky Peach’s Peter Meehan. Fans will hear about Batali’s book, America—Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers, coming in October.

For younger fans in tow (children’s tickets to Bookcon are only $5) there’s a lot going on, but a recent outcry about a lack of diversity among the authors participating in panels and other events has ensured that adjustments to the current children’s and YA publishing will be made. ReedPOP’s global vice-president, Lance Festerman, responded that ReedPop, through its various arms, sponsors more than 1,500 panels annually that represent a very wide diversity. He emphasized that “we are always listening, always adjusting to feedback and we will change. We strive to be reflective of the community we are serving. It is not about reacting and responding to the controversy, it is about listening to what our ticket buyers want.” He also noted that the grievances have come from the publishing industry and not from any of their customers. Much is yet to be added to the programming he reminded, and repeated that, “we will adjust; we will make changes.”

Here are some of what is on the existing programming, but clearly with changes to come. Newbery Honors recipient Jennifer L. Holm will be signing The Fourteenth Goldfish, due out in August, at the Random House booth from 10–11 a.m. Bob Staake, another multiple-award winner, will be signing My Pet Book, his newest picture book, coming in July.

Scholastic will have a pop-up booth in the BookCon area, but its main booth will be BEA trade floor only. Dav Pilkey’s characters Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta will make an appearance and there will be a variety of giveaways. Superstars R.L. Stine and Maggie Stiefvater will be signing in the autograph area.

YA author Cassandra Clare does double duty. For Scholastic, she and Holly Black have teamed up for a new series, The Magisterium, and will be signing copies of Book 1: The Iron Trail. For Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, Clare will be signing The Shadowhunter’s Codex and City of Bones.

Candlewick has a busy morning with Liz Pichon signing and “doodling” The Brilliant World of Tom Gates at the booth, reports Laura Rivas, associate director of marketing and publicity. Pichon’s bestselling series in the U.K. makes its official debut here in August. Also on hand will be Stephan Pastis, signing Timmy Failure: We Meet Again. A special treat from Candlewick is a giveaway of chocolate bars to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Guess How Much I Love You.

Finally, everyone’s favorite feline misanthrope will be posing for photos and frowns with her many fans. The diva of the cat world, Grumpy Cat, will be promoting her new book, The Grumpy Guide to Life: Observations by Grumpy Cat, due in August from Chronicle. According to her press rep, after returning from her appearances at the MTV awards, Disneyland and SXSW in Austin, “she is thrilled to get reacquainted with her book fans.”