Reviews were mixed for this year’s BookCon’s literary fan fest, held on June 1–2 at the Javits Center in New York City immediately following BookExpo. While official attendance figures were not available at press time, the crowd seemed to be a little lighter overall than in previous years but more condensed in a smaller exhibit area. As always, attendees skewed more towards white females in their 20s and 30s—although 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 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 home countries. “It’s a lot busier than I was expecting,” said Kelly Beestone of Nottingham, England, a PhD student of YA literature. She said she was most excited to meet YA author Leigh Bardugo. “I’ve been to book conventions in the U.K. where all you have to do to get in for anything is to wave your wrist band.”
Many attendees PW spoke to praised this year’s show for its slate of A-list authors, provocative panels, and overall nerdy vibe, but some complained that BookCon had, in one critic’s tweet, “no life, there’s no spirit, there’s hardly any ARC drops or free books.” Others voiced similar sentiments, a number of them noting that there was more of an emphasis this time around on book sales and merchandising. While there were more author signings and panels, attendees told PW, they felt that there were fewer ARC giveaways, less free swag, and fewer activities.
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,” while Dana Caldwell Kepler of Manhawkin, 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 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 drop of YA titles became so loud and unruly that booth personnel feared for their safety. “There was a lot of screaming,” a HarperCollins staffer acknowledged later. “We were afraid the [booth] wall was going to fall on [people]. I read on Twitter that someone called BookCon ‘Game of Galleys.’ So true.”
Although BookCon featured a more diverse author list, YA once again proved to be show's main draw. Most of the attendees whom PW polled responded that they were there to see big names like Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, Marissa Meyer, Stephanie Garber, V.E. Schwab, Rainbow Rowell, and Holly Black. This year’s first arrivals on Saturday, Cassidy Guinada and Hayley Oliviera, 20-year-olds from Queens who were also last year’s first arrivals on Saturday morning, said they were especially eager to see Meyer. Sunday’s first arrival, Avlet Parra, 19, from Georgia, said she was most excited to meet Clare, Black and Jenny Han.
A number of attendees also mentioned their excitement over horror writer Joe Hill, whose novel NOS4A2 has been adapted for a TV series that debuted on AMC Sunday evening. His appearance on three panels at BookCon definitely gained him new fans as footage from the TV show was shown during one of his panels. “It’s awesome," Lily Burril of Baltimore, Md., said, "And I went to buy his latest book but it was sold out. It sounds so good.” Hill’s appearance on a panel with Meyer, N.K. Jemisin, and Marie Lu, called “The Magic of World Building,” was one of Sunday’s biggest draws, with more than 400 people packing the convention center room. Another Sunday panel drawing an overflow crowd 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.
Despite crowd control and other issues at this year’s BookCon, it was still an exciting and fun experience for the people PW spoke to, even the publishing representatives staffing the booths. Emily Warden, an executive assistant at IPG, who’d just completed her first BookExpo during the week, and now was experiencing BookCon, said she was "having a blast. It’s such a different energy from BookExpo. When they opened the doors [Saturday morning], people came running in. They’re so excited and I am feeding off that.”