BookCon 2014: “What Even Is This Place?”

feature image, half dime library, public domain, 1877

Early March: I get a lot of advertisement emails, as a Librarian, to attend various conferences with long acronyms for names: YALSA, ASCLA, PALA, etc etc. So when I got one that simply said “BookCon”, I was intrigued by the overt simplicity of the name. BookCon. A Book Convention. A quick look told me it was a part of Book Expo America (BEA), an industry event that is frequented by publishers, literary agents, and librarians. BEA is fairly expensive to attend, and BookCon tickets were only $30 for the day. It seemed like a good chance for me to rack up some librarian brownie points, see some relevant panels and talks, and pick up some free swag for the Young Adult section. At the time, there was no panel schedule, no list of guests, just the vague promise of ReedPop’s BookCon. I bought two tickets, one for me, and one for my YA programming assistant, Dylan (you’ll see his face a lot in the coming photographs).

May 31st, 6:00AM: Dylan meets me at my apartment. We want to attend the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel, which starts at 10:00AM, and it can take up to three hours to get to New York from the Philly suburbs, depending on traffic. We are both extremely sleepy. “What is this thing, again?” Dylan asks me. I shrug.


9:30AM: We make amazing time to NYC, and find parking about three blocks from the Javits. I hate the Javits. I’ve attended New York Comic Con for the past two years as a librarian (they give librarians severely discounted VIP badges. I’m cool!), and that means spending four days inside that teeming outpost of hell, getting bad knees from walking in crowds for hours and paying $8 for a bottle of water.

The first thing I notice, walking from the garage to the convention center, is the lack of people streaming down 34th street. During NYCC, the street is packed, people carrying oversized foam cosplay weapons spilling out in front of oncoming traffic. Today, we can definitely identify who is headed to BookCon — there are even a few cosplayers — but it’s a quieter crowd, and we breeze through check-in without even waiting in a line. The badges they give us look exactly like the ones you get at NYCC, except that they have some random old white guy on them. We struggle to figure out who it is until we see a giant poster that informs us that it is John Grisham.

Grisham game too strong
Grisham game too strong

9:45AM: We get to the room where #WeNeedDiverseBooks is being held. No dice. There’s a queue of people outside of it, and the room is so packed that the door is being pressed open by the amount of bodies inside. Dylan and I consult the schedule. There’s nothing else we want to see until noon. We head to the show floor.


10:00AM: The show floor is eerily similar to NYCC, and I’m beginning to suspect that all ReedPop conventions look exactly the same. The first thing we see is Diamond Comic Distributors, a company I am intimately familiar with, as they routinely screw over the comic book shop where I have my second job. They don’t have any free stuff. There’s a crowd around the Walking Dead section. We cruise through their booth into the Hachette publishing group area, which does have free stuff. We take some catalogues and bookmarks and congratulate ourselves on what good collection development we’re doing. I expect to hear more people talking about the Hachette/Amazon fallout, but most BookCon attendees, predominantly disappointed-looking teenagers, just seem confused as to why they are there.


10:45AM: Within half an hour, we’ve traversed the entire show floor. We see this thing.


Why, though
Why, though

We are confused about what BookCon is.


11:00AM: We discover another part of the show floor that you are only allowed to access if you are attending the entire BEA conference. You can tell BEA attendees because their badges look more official and don’t have some old white guy on them. This part of the show floor seems to have actual things to do, and we are salty that we can’t go look at them.


11:15AM: I want us to get our picture with Grumpy Cat, who is appearing at the Chronicle Books booth. I think that the teens who attend our programming will be impressed with how hip and with it we are, hanging out with internet celebrity cats in NYC. The line for Grumpy Cat seems to stretch on infinitely, and the cat isn’t due to arrive for another hour. We decide that it’s fine if our teens don’t think we’re hip and with it. We walk around and pick up more free things and catalogues from publishers. We are particularly amused by the seemingly unmanned booth for self-published books, which is just white Ikea bookshelves lined with gems like these:


11:45AM: We try to go see Stan Lee talk about his new children’s book. We can’t even identify which ridiculously long line is ours because all of the ridiculously long lines are colliding into each other in the panels hall.


12:00PM: Dylan wants to smoke, so we head outside. Oyster, a company that advertises itself as “netflix for books,” is giving away free iced coffee and cookies. Oyster probably wants to replace public libraries, but I take their free stuff anyway. I immediately drop the cookie on the ground. I decide that I hate BookCon.


12:15PM: We figure that we probably need to attend at least one panel, so we get in line early for “Multicultural Publishers in Conversation.” On our way there, we pass the line for people waiting to see John Green:



At the time I took this photo, there were still two hours before John Green’s talk. John Green could probably be a very successful cult leader if he had the desire to be.


12:45PM: “Multicultural Publishers In Conversation” is very informative. We get the names of two publishing companies that focus on providing diverse books from multicultural authors and illustrators (Cinco Puntos Press and Just Us Press). Everyone who speaks is informed, eloquent, and interesting. The panel is not very well attended.

Someone raises their hand and points out that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel was scheduled at the same time as an “Authors of Color” panel that morning, and questions BookCon’s decision for doing so. The moderator of the panel explains that the authors of color panel was a longstanding BEA event and #WeNeedDiverseBooks was only added to the BookCon schedule last minute. Apparently the scheduling conflict could not be resolved and that the people behind the authors of color panel were totally okay with it. Still, it seems like a pretty dumb move on the part of BookCon — particularly since I couldn’t find any listing for the authors of color panel on the official BookCon schedule. This feels especially bad, as BookCon itself was heavily critiqued for having a real lack of diversity in its special guests.


1:15PM: We see a lot of people walking around in The Fault in Our Stars and Percy Jackson gear, and try to figure out where it is being given out. No one seems to know, even if they are wearing it. We finally find out that some of the booths give them away at specific times, and you have to wait in line. We are really beginning to question if the point of BookCon is just waiting in line.


2:30PM: We traverse the show floor one more time, pick up more free things and catalogues, and then stand around awkwardly before just deciding to leave. The show floor closes at 3PM, and most of the vendors are already mostly packed up. Panels will go until 7, but the only ones left feature celebrities in conversation with each other and don’t seem to be of any use to us as library professionals, or even really about books.


6:00PM: Trying to explain BookCon over beers to our friends back at home, Dylan and I say that we assume BEA wanted to make a little extra money, and hired ReedPop to put on a one-day celebrity festival to attract young people who have fallen under the spell of how trendy convention culture has become in recent years. It almost worked — BookCon has all the trappings of a convention: celebrities, photo badges, swag, autographing, and photo ops. But the sad truth, plastered across the bored faces of the teenagers we passed, is that there is actually nothing to do there. These are publishing houses that are there to market to industry professionals, and they seemed generally confused about how to handle the crowd of teenagers.


Overall, BookCon was your $30 opportunity to wait in line to maybe see a celebrity. Will I go again next year? My friend asks. No. No, I probably will not attend WaitInLineToSeeJohnGreenCon again next year. But, honestly, I kind of doubt that there will be one.

Ivy Noelle Weir

Ivy Noelle Weir

Ivy Noelle Weir is a Librarian, Writer, Photographer, and feminist geek out to ruin everything you love. She tweets excessively at @ivynoelle.