"It Was All Right," A Review of The BookCon

Yeah—it was only okay. From the second I heard of BookCon to the minute I bought my tickets, and finally at the moment I stepped inside the Jacob Javits Center, I was really, really excited for it. The BookCon promised all sorts of booklovers’ dreams come true, complete with tables and tables of author signings, really interesting panels featuring people like John Green, David Mitchell, and actors-turned-authors like Amy Poehler and my personal favorite, Jason Segel. And then the moment I learned my favorite YA author of all time, Libba Bray, would be signing there, I lost my shit. The stage was set for the perfect nerdy day.

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Aaaand unfortunately, things began going downhill from there. We—my cousin, sister and I—arrived at 10 a.m. and immediately made our way to the autographing tables set at the end of a huge exhibit hall. Libba Bray was slated to start autographing at 11 and we arrived at the tables about half an hour before. We loitered in the area and as time passed we realized that the crowds were becoming thick in the area and that everyone waiting there was also waiting for Libba Bray. The meager staff workers started to become really anxious and told everyone to “disperse” and come back in fifteen minutes, but because of the huge crowds everywhere, there was literally no where else to go.

And then the staff started getting mean. Instead of letting us form organized lines, one of them starting writing numbers on Post-Its and handing them out to random people, saying that only these people would be allowed to see Libba. As a result, there was a huge mob of people crowding around this woman and this went on until the supervisor came to scold his employees because they were basically inciting a riot. They actually closed down the Libba line and I had to sneak onto it because no way was I leaving without Libba, one of the main reasons for my visit.

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The crowds were a huge issue the whole day. There were several events I really wanted to attend: David Mitchell in Conversation, Amy Poehler in Conversation with Martin Short, Jason Segel in Conversation, and the The Fault in Our Stars film panel featuring John Green, among others, but due to the crowds and the lack of organization, I was able to see only Jason Segel (who was intelligent, quirky, and wholly inspiring, but more on that later) and Libba Bray. My sister saw the crowds for Amy Poehler and just gave up. The Jason Segel line was an amorphous blob of crowded bodies. I’m surprised there were no faintings, truly.

But the worst incident came with The Fault in Our Stars panel, which was clearly the biggest draw for the largely teenage ticket-holders. Thousands of young adults, children, their parents, and older readers loitered around the entrance of the hall for hours before the event, and at the very moment when the security guards let everyone form a line, there was a massive stampede to the entrance, complete with shrieks and wails. One young woman had the gall to sneak under the ropes and made the whole roped barrier crash to the floor. A security guard screamed at her and took her into custody. Seriously, was I at a Beatles concert in the 60s? It was that level of chaos.

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Personally, I was thrilled at times that all these people caused destruction and lined up for hours for book events, but I think the problem lay with the organizers of the event: I think they underestimated exactly how crazy book-lovers can be. I also felt so sorry for all the kids whose parents brought them to the event only to be turned away at the door after having waited for hours. The panels were so overstocked that even waiting in line for hours did not guarantee you a spot in the room. It’s possible that a person attending the event could not have seen anything they wanted to when they paid $30 for a ticket.

As for me, I only did two things of the dozen I wanted to do: meet Libba Bray and attend the Jason Segel panel (I chose Segel over Green because I didn’t want any TFIOS film spoilers!) and because of those two events, my day was made. But I know I’m probably in the minority. Many people had disappointing, stressful, anxiety-ridden days because of the lack of organization. I do look forward to these BookCon events in the future, but only because I know they can only get better from here.

Tomorrow I’ll post what were the highlights of my day at The BookCon!

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  • Aww, I’m sorry to hear that you had a largely negative experience. If it tempers your disappointment at all, I had a similar experience at both of the Library conferences that I attended: The U.S. Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) conference in October of last year, and then the American Library Association conference in January. Both masquerade as professional events, but are essentially very expensive versions of BookCon. The registration fee for the USBBY conference was close to $500, and between air fare, conference fees, food, and transportation costs, the Library conference cost over $500 as well. Luckily, the library where I work picked up the tab (after I submitted an expense report through a stringent reimbursement process—and even then I spent money of my own), but both conferences were filled with talks & presentations which, while cool, were usually only meant to amplify the book sales that took place after each talk/presentation. Urgh. I (or rather, Libraries) shouldn’t have to pay $500 just to be advertised to by a handful of powerful publishing companies.

  • Jen

    It LOOKS like it’d be totally awesome… but I guess appearances can be deceiving. Sorry you didn’t have a better time. 🙁

    • I did end up having a good time despite all the chaos, but a lot of other people didn’t! I hope they fix The BookCon for next year and tighten security and make it more organized! Then I’m sure it will be as awesome as it looks 🙂 .

  • It is sad that BookCon was so unorganized- a lot of people were tweeting that while there. I agree with you- I think people do underestimate the how crazy we book lovers are. I am glad you got to meet Libba Bray 🙂 I LOVE her book The Diviners 🙂