BookCon, is it worth it?

Every year publishers, writers, and readers gather en masse for a momentous occasion known as BookCon. I distinctly remember reading articles seven years ago declaring the death of the print industry. Judging by the year over year growth of BookCon, books are more popular than ever. With the ever-increasing popularity of the Young Adult genre, home to series’ like Cassandra Claire’s Shadow Hunters (and various spin-offs, not to mention movie and TV show), and Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass, and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, and more, a conference completely dedicated to books, authors, and the readership that makes them popular makes perfect sense.

My sister and I headed out to this years’ BookCon (#BookCon2018), enticed by the various recaps on social media. The buzz surrounding the conference, it’s events, signings, and temptingly teetering towers of advanced readers copies (ARCs) and book drops, made BookCon seem like the obvious conclusion to a lifelong reading passion.

The reality?

Prepare to walk and stand, but mostly prepare to wait.

The book community is amazing. Readers were tweeting schedules, insider information, informative blog posts. The most popular tip? Wear comfortable shoes and plan as much as you can.

However, while standing on one of the many lines we found ourselves that day, many attendees told my sister and I that they had planned their BookCon down to the minute and still were bowled over with the wait times for BookCon events, signings, and book drops. Ladies who were lucky enough to score signing tickets (another tip, don’t hold your breath on those, seasoned BookCon attendees will tell you that tickets to signings – especially popular ones – will be gone in a matter of minutes) revealed that they had skipped multiple signings because they were stuck on long lines.

My sister and I went on Saturday and only ended up with two books – one signed and one from a book drop. The impression we received is that organizers are instructed to tell attendees that no official lines are started more than 30 minutes prior to the start of an event. But often attendees will form “unofficial” lines elsewhere, look for those as early as possible, as those often become the official line and will be started up to an hour and a half before an event starts. Waiting on a book drop or a signing? Show up an hour to two hours ahead. No, I’m not kidding. We showed up two hours before a signing/book drop for Kerri Maniscalco (the Jimmy Patterson team and Kerri were absolutely amazing) and started off at the back of what could only be described as a monster line. We were initially told that we were beyond the limit of books they had, but we determinedly remained on the back end of the line and ended up being amongst the handful of people who received books past the “official” end of the line – which was unfortunate for the 75+ people who had lined up behind us and waited for nothing. That was three hours of waiting, for a single book. Before I continue, this isn’t meant as a rant or a stream of complaints, but people travel far for this conference and I think they should have a realistic expectation of what the conference will be like.

Don’t plan on picking up piles and piles of books. I have no idea where people who post BookCon hauls on social media get so many books from, but skip the lines and don’t miss the exciting talks and panels (like we did). Unless BookCon changes the book drop policy, buy your books online and avoid the painful lines, only wait for the copies and signings you really really want.

Dear BookCon,

There were a few organizational issues. Which is to be expected for a conference of this size. There should be a more organized way to handle lines, ticketed signings should be released at a variety of times instead of all at once to give opportunity to all attendees.

Beyond that, I genuinely feel that publishers should consider giving more to the readers that show up to this conference. From a marketing perspective, publishers have already spent a certain amount of money to be present at this conference, but if they want to leverage the huge amount of potential exposure they should have a value-add for conference attendees. People should not leave having spent 8 hours on their feet, standing on lines waiting to get a book signed, or for a single free book. If you look at other conferences, like BlogHer, much of the initial attraction beyond community building and support was swag. Sponsors could easily get exposure by giving free product. The reading community that shows up to BookCon offers even greater leverage – the chances of them reading and sharing about the books they receive are exponentially greater by nature of this particular community. It’s safe to say that almost all the attendees are readers, have social media presence, and are possibly bloggers, vloggers, social media influencers, or librarians (influencers in their own right), these are people who love books and they love talking about books. And they’ve already invested in participating in a conference about books. Reviews are the bread and butter for authors and publishers, BookCon is the perfect way to facilitate them amongst dedicated and influential readers. Hundreds of people waiting in line for 75 books is not how this community should be treated.

So, is it worth it?

Yes. So much yes. Do I think there should be more perks to attending? Absolutely.

There is nothing like connecting with like-minded people from across the country. My sister and I ended up in so many great conversations with fellow-book lovers, and it was such a great experience. We swapped book recommendations, picked up conference-going tips, and spoke to publishing representatives who were thrilled to share our excitement for their books. My sister and I were also thrilled to meet Kerri Maniscalco, who was incredibly nice after signing books for quite a while. I think it’s really important to support reading, and therefor support the industry, it’s authors, it’s publishers, and conferences.

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