Following two successful years in New York City, BookCon will move to Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center on Saturday, May 14, taking place for one day only. According to Brien McDonald, event director for both BEA and BookCon, even though last year’s BookCon, at the Javits Center, drew approximately 18,000 attendees over a two-day period, the Chicago event is being modeled on the first-year launch of BookCon, which was a one-day affair that reached its 10,000-person limit. McDonald says that they are on target for attendance of 7,500–10,000.
Chicago has a bit of an advantage over that first BookCon in New York; since 2010, the Windy City has been home to ReedPop’s C2E2, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. But by having it last only one day, McDonald is using the 2014 New York launch as the template to expect a similar-size crowd.
The zeitgeist remains largely the same as 2014. “We are going back to the well of what we know how to do really well,” McDonald says. “It is still very much with YA and the younger demographic—teens through 32-year-olds,” he adds. The programming takes dead aim at this audience, by featuring authors at the top of the YA world (including Veronica Roth, Cassandra Clare, and Justin Cronin), as well as television, YouTube, and entertainment stars such as comedian Tig Notaro, HGTV’s Property Brothers, and the YouTube star Jazz Jennings. “On the whole,” McDonald says, “we’re once again balanced with celebrities, pop culture, and YA authors across various genres, including fantasy, science fiction, and adventure.”
ReedPop’s programming does have a few new tricks up its sleeve. Going beyond autographings, BookCon will feature meet-and-greets with select authors, for which fans will preregister. McDonald points out that although these interactions will be brief, “they will give fans a really valuable minute.” By asking a question or taking a selfie with the author, the moment will resonate with readers, McDonald says. “They will have a personal story to share,” he notes. And since Millennials incorporate social media into their daily lives, those moments can create buzz, a phenomenon that McDonald has seen at ComicCon and C2E2, and one that he is excited to bring to the book world.
Books for Sale
Last year was the first time that organized bookselling became part of the show, and it will be again this, with a few changes. This year, BookCon’s official bookseller partner is Anderson’s Bookshops, based in Naperville, Ill., and with whom ReedPop has partnered at C2E2. (In New York, Reed’s partner was Word.) Another change that is sure to please fans is that Anderson’s will sell books directly at the autographing tables rather than forcing consumers to buy books at a central purchasing area. Anderson’s is also selling books at ReedPop’s Supply Co. booth and has been approached thus far by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Candlewick, among other publishers, to facilitate sales of books at their booths. A percentage of Anderson’s sales goes to Reed.
Becky Anderson, a fifth-generation owner of Anderson’s bookstores and related businesses, is a big fan of the public element of BookCon and recalls that not so long ago several publishers (whom she left unnamed) had an “over my dead body” attitude about inviting the public to be a part of BEA. She believes that the growth of comic cons and C2E2 is behind the attitude adjustment of publishers. “When you have voracious readers who are passionate—crazy—about books, it makes great sense” to provide an opportunity where they can connect with authors and buy books, she says.
Anderson expresses some concern about moving from the trade days of BEA when books are given away, and the fact that free swag is still plentiful at BookCon. She cautions publishers to make very clear what is free and what’s for sale to consumers. While Anderson is thrilled to have BEA and BookCon in town after many, many years, her one hope is that BookCon will reach out to attract readers beyond the teen-through-30-something crowd.
In selling books at BookCon for the first time, PRH’s aim is to “engage directly with readers,” not to rack up sales, according to Claire Von Schilling, PRH spokesperson. “Our primary goal for selling books,” she says, “is to provide a convenience to and connectivity with fans who attend our events and want a keepsake of the experience.” Cindy Hamilton, senior director of publicity for HarperCollins Children’s Books, echoes that sentiment, saying, “We are tailoring our strategy to our goal: to connect authors and their audience.” Both publishing houses are in step with the younger demographic targeted by ReedPop, with YA-author appearances and programming.
HarperCollins is participating in BookCon in a big way. Beyond bringing marquee authors such as Veronica Roth, who kicks off BookCon, and the numerous activities at its booth, the publisher is hosting the Epic Reads Lounge. Adjacent to the show floor, the space is designed as a place for readers to browse and discover new books and authors. Reading nooks with comfortable seating will afford attendees a chance to dip into the piles of books they accumulate; official Epic Reads totes will be given away, and an afternoon event is planned in which six authors will dish about their soon-to-be-published titles. Unlike the Epic Reads website, the lounge will feature only HarperCollins titles and authors.
The lounge was conceived as an interactive book club to address two needs, according to Roseanne Romanello, associate director of publicity. “A lot is happening on the show floor,” she says, “and we figured that the lounge would be a place away from the crowds that is a little more quiet, where people can actually sit with a book. Among all the frenzy and all the lines, it’s hard to browse and discover.” Secondly, while “there is a lot of space [at BookCon] for big headline authors,” the lounge will also serve to give readers a chance to discover new authors beyond the big names.
The number of exhibitors at BookCon is essentially the same as last year, but the lineup of bold-faced names and the depth of programming signals that publishers have shed any reluctance to seize the day. Moreover, they are wholeheartedly embracing the demographic pursued by ReedPop. Romanello speaks for many publishers when she observes: “We definitely see a new opportunity. While we have had author representation at each BookCon, we have been watching it grow and see the number of teens who are voracious readers buying tons of books.”