Unlike it’s predecessor, Comic-Con (which is now in its eleventh year), BookCon is a relatively new convention. Started in 2014, BookCon is run by the same company that runs Comic-Con – ReedPOP – and follows on the heels of BookExpo, the largest and longest running annual book trade fair in America. But while BookExpo is geared more toward professionals – publishers, writers and educators – BookCon is for the fans. It hosts Panels, Meet-and-Greets, Giveaways, Autographing sessions and Fan Meet-Ups. Last year, BookCon took place in Chicago and was only one day long, but this year, it was held at the Javits Center in New York, Saturday and Sunday, June 3rd & 4th. I was lucky enough to attend…
Being my first convention, I was overwhelmed by all the events and anxious about how I was going to pack everything in. I meticulously read over the site’s FAQs and packed my backpack with a detailed Excel sheet, snacks, a raincoat, a water bottle, a notebook and pens, my tickets, tissues, gum, headphones, a portable phone charger and my Kindle. I did everything I could to ensure a smooth Con experience and it promptly went out at the window about an hour in. Is there such a thing as too much planning when it comes to Cons? And how can you make the most out of your experience?
1. Bring a friend.
I went to my first Con myself. Big mistake. While I met a lot of cool people on line, I was stuck in lines all day. Nothing will ratchet up your anxiety like waiting in line for an autograph while the line next to you gives out free ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of a book you’re dying to read. You can only be in so many places at once – and events are packed so tightly together – you’re bound to miss out on something. Lots of people I met throughout the weekend strategized for this. Moms or Dads that went with their daughters held spaces in line for them while the daughters went on other lines. Friends went on line together and then one snuck off to grab giveaways for them both. Until astral projection or cloning is a thing – it’s wise to bring a friend or relative to Con with you – who can help you get the most out of your experience. And you know – because things are always more fun with a friend!
Prioritize what you really, really want to do – your can’t miss events. If you’re like me and your spreadsheet going in is full of overlapping events, realize that even with a friend, each thing will take time. You will wait in line for panels, you will wait in line for autographs, you will wait in line for freebies. I waited anywhere from five minutes to forty minutes for things. Waiting in line wasn’t the worst thing ever – you’re surrounded by books and book fans and have a lot great conversations as you wait – but you will have to wait and that will affect what you can squeeze into a day.
People waiting in line at BookCon 2015.
3. Take Breaks.
Let’s face it – a lot of readers and writers are introverts. And while BookCon is full of amazing books, book merch and people that love books, the crowds and hectic can get a bit overwhelming. It’s not uncommon to see someone eat while standing on line or just skip eating together. But the lower floor of the Javits Center had tons of quiet nooks for people to eat, charge their phones and recharge their internal batteries. It’s okay to come in with a plan – but plan to take a moment to rest and enjoy yourself too.
4. Arrive early.
Though the main convention hall didn’t open until 10 AM, when I arrived at 8:20 AM both days, I was already hundreds deep in the queue. As people rushed up at the stairs at 10, a security guard joked, “slow down, the books aren’t going anywhere.”
“That’s what he thinks,” I said to the person next to me. The truth is – the books will run out – at least if you’re looking for particular ones. If you’re happy to get any free book that comes your way throughout the day, you’ll be fine. But if you’re on the hunt for difficult to find ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) or specific titles, arriving early can guarantee you a spot in line and a chance to read that book before anyone else. You can also snag limited edition posters or even tickets for author signings. When I lined up at 10 AM on Saturday, I was able to get a ticket to a signing with Rainbow Rowell later in the afternoon with the purchase of a paperback copy of Carry On.
5. Pack smart.
Food is ridiculously expensive at conventions and you’re basically hostage to those prices if you want to eat, so make sure you pack snacks and water. That way, if you need to buy a seven dollar coffee, you won’t be too hard on yourself – at least you saved on a $25 lunch – plus it’s another line you didn’t have to wait on. While there are outlets to charge your phone – it’s a good idea to pack a portable phone charger if you have one – so you don’t have to be glued to the wall while you’re waiting for your phone to charge. Pack tissues, feminine products or any sort of medication you might need. Pack a notebook and pen to jot things down or if you feel inspired by a panel. Bring business cards if you have them. Bring your wallet, as some autograph signings require book purchase. Bring any books you might want signed. Bring print-outs of your tickets.
A backpack is the best route to go for carrying your things. Rolling suitcases weren’t allowed on the convention floor this year and people who didn’t read the website carefully ended up waiting on long lines to check their bags. A canvas bag is a must for carrying freebies – if you don’t have one, you can get one at the convention – I scored about six free canvas bags in two days. Carry heavier things like books in your backpack and fliers, free stickers, coloring pages, bookmarks and buttons in your canvas bag.
6. Have a Plan, But Be Flexible.
Having a plan of action is good and will help you not miss out on things, but don’t be married to it. Be efficient, but know there are limits to what you can do. One way to cut down on time-wasting is to mark on your convention floor map all the stalls you need to go to so you can find them quickly – especially in the morning when doors open and you’re rushing to get to your first stop. Know if there are any cool ARCs by authors that you like and where and when to get them. Know which things you really want to do and have a backup in case it doesn’t pan out. Plan for things to take time – you will have to wait on line for mostly everything. There is nothing like a convention that will make you feel so acutely the limitations of your own body to not be in a million places at once. But try not to get down about it or agonize about going off plan and just do as much as you can.
7. Have fun!
For book lovers, there’s no better place to be. The convention only runs for two days each year and if you’re riddled with anxiety about not getting an ARC or missing a panel you wanted to see, you won’t enjoy yourself. When you can, try to be in the moment. Have conversations with the people next to you on line, spend some time at the self-published author booths talking to people about their books, smile, share or trade swag with people, give advice or directions, ask people what they’re waiting in line for, wait in line for something where you don’t know what they’re giving out, snag freebies, color in an adult coloring book print-out, spin a wheel to win something. There’s tons to do and you’re exactly where you need to be. You might miss out on some things, but completely luck into others by chance. You might find one outrageously long line has been capped, but wander into a short one by chance. Sometimes, you’ll have a path, but it’s also fun to explore and find something you might not have anticipated.
What about you? Did you go to BookCon this year? Have you been to a BookCon in the past?