BookCon 2015: Learning from Past Mistakes

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Last year’s inaugural BookCon was an unmitigated disaster. Held in conjunction with BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s annual trade show, poor planning and overall confusion led to an unsatisfying experience. Too many tickets were sold to an event that simply had too little to do. With a show floor comprising only one-third of New York City’s Javits Center and a mere smattering of panels – including one for the immensely popular The Fault in Our Stars – the convention was pure chaos. Packed aisles and queues made moving around next to impossible. I have yet to meet anyone who attended and enjoyed themselves. (I myself left in the early afternoon and went to the movies.)

This year’s BookCon, held this past weekend (again in New York), was lightyears better than last year’s catastrophe. Coming on the heels of BEA – but not simultaneously – significantly lessened both the crowds and the confusion (though last year’s debacle may have caused some potential attendees to stay away). This year’s show hosted more panels and – for the bigger, more popular panels – utilized the wristband system ReedPop implemented during last year’s New York Comic Con to moderate success. The show floor was much less packed, and people were actually able to breathe.

I did most of my book-grabbing at the Expo earlier in the week, leaving myself open to attend panels during the weekend, and so did not spend a lot of time on the exhibition floor. Still, I noticed quite a few good giveaways – including galleys (advance copies of books not yet published), t-shirts, and totebags – and people seemed to be having a good time. Some big-name authors, like R.L. Stine and Judy Blume, sat on panels and signed for fans. Celebrities like Khloe Kardashian and Jason Segel, on hand to promote their latest books, drew large crowds.

Mindy Kaling (from BookCon's FB page)

Mindy Kaling (from BookCon’s FB page)

Diversity is a major issue at a lot of conventions, with panels made up mostly of white men, but I felt that the panels at BookCon 2015 were fairly well-balanced. It was a vastly superior lineup to last year’s, which drew media scrutiny for its lack of inclusiveness. Most of the ones that I attended were full of women – with the exception of Aziz Ansari’s and the Paper Towns movie panel (a fact which John Green later acknowledged and apologized for on Twitter). I particularly enjoyed Felicia Day’s panel, about her book You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), and the “Fierce Is My Middle Name” panel, all about female protagonists in supernatural stories. But even the male-led panels focused a lot on women and female characters. Aziz Ansari’s new book, Modern Romance, is just as much about how men and women approach relationships differently as it is how technology has affected dating today. Paper Towns, for those who have not read it, is all about deconstructing the “myth” of the manic pixie dream girl and the dangers of putting someone on a pedestal without really knowing them.

There were two panels dedicated to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which focuses on the acquisition and promotion of books written by and about people who are not white and/or male. Mindy Kaling had a great response to a fan question about how she never really plays any traditionally Indian characters by talking about James Franco, who makes a lot of crazy and potentially questionable career choices, yet is never asked about his culture or expected to acknowledge it, because he is a white man. Aziz’s panel (and book) discussed the role that culture plays in the realm of relationships and how varied societal expectations are in countries like Japan and Argentina as opposed to the United States.

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That’s quite a “to read” pile!

Overall, I think that BookCon 2015 was a success. ReedPop learned from their mistakes last year and took great strides to fix them, including more diversity among the panelists, more communication and signage directing attendees, and just more things to do in general. They did their best to appeal to readers of all ages and fans of all genres. There was a nice mix of free things and things that you had to buy. Panels generally ran smoothly and were fun and entertaining. I had a fantastic time and brought home a nice stack of books, which I cannot wait to dive into.

Next year’s BookCon will be held in Chicago on May 14. Will you be there?

 

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.



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