Mixed Reactions After Attending BookCon 2019

BookCon 2019 Recap

As some of you may know from following me on Twitter, I attended BookCon in NYC for the first time this year.  After years of watching other people go and apparently have a fabulous time meeting up with friends, getting to see authors, and nabbing exciting upcoming ARCs and book swag, I was extremely excited to go.  However, my experience was a mixed bag, something I think stands in stark contrast to glowing, positive tweets that are once again filling the #bookcon hashtag—but which is not actually different from the experiences of other people I talked to while at the convention.

I simply was not prepared for how crowded the convention would be—and how aggressive that would make attendees.  The day started with people making a mad rush into the building once the con opened, desperate to get to start-of-day ticket drops or grab a free tote bag from Epic Reads.  It was eye-opening to see adults push, shove, and elbow each other out of the way to get what they wanted and even bowl over small children or whack violently into strollers with their bags, all without apology.  I didn’t enjoy being pushed around all day (I’m surprised I didn’t see anyone get hurt), and, as someone who was unwilling to push other people out of my way, I got practically no books on Saturday—besides two that I bought.

It also took me a long time to realize that when the BookCon schedule says something starts at, say, 3:00, people begin lining up at 1:00.  These lines are “unofficial” and according to BookCon’s rules, they’re technically not allowed.  Yet, inevitably, these become the official line.  This meant that any line I tried to get into for an event—an author signing, an ARC drop, a game, a giveaway, etc.—was already full and had been full for two hours before the start of the event.  Waiting this long, even for a book I’m excited about, seems a little not worth it to me, but it seemed to work for other people who decided to cut lines, leave the line and “come back” to their spot an hour later, have friends or family members hold their spot while they did something more interesting, etc.  Again, I was under the impression this is not allowed under BookCon’s rules, but because this was my first time attending, I didn’t realize it’s de facto allowed because a lot of people do it, and no one tells them they can’t.

My experience was not entirely negative.  Sunday was better than Saturday, due to the fact there seemed to be fewer people attending.  I did get into a line or two, though it was like competing in The Hunger Games trying to claim my spot.  So I met more authors, got more books, and did more things.  I hung out in the beautiful Babysitters Club lounge.  I saw a panel with Melissa Albert, Stephanie Garber, and Margaret Rogerson that was moderated by V. E.  Schwab.  I was able to get a book signed by Melissa Albert and get a photograph (on Saturday, Susan Dennard “ran out of time” for photographs with fans who had been waiting hours). And I talked to other book fans in line.  A few of them independently told me they had a better time this year because they had come before and learned to “lower their expectations.”  They recommended mainly attending panels and resigning yourself to the fact you’re not really going to get the coveted ARCs, swag, or author signings.

So would I go again?  Maybe.  On Saturday, my answer was a definitive no.  After the slightly chiller experience of Sunday, I’m on the fence.  I might be interested in buying just a Sunday ticket.  I might decide it’s worth shelling out the money for a VIP ticket to be let onto the show floor first, have guaranteed seating at panels, and have first dibs at getting author autograph tickets—all things I had no chance of getting without the VIP experience.  There are things I enjoyed, so I don’t want to rule out re-attending entirely.  I am surprised I haven’t seen more lukewarm reactions to the con (again, everyone on Twitter seems to be gushing), but maybe these are all people who also “lowered their expectations” or who had VIP tickets or, I don’t know, pushed others out of the way so they could get what they wanted.

I’m still processing my reaction to attending, weighing how much I enjoyed it and whether I think it was worth the time investment and the cost,  and I’d love to hear the thoughts of others who went or who attended in the past.

Briana

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54 thoughts on “Mixed Reactions After Attending BookCon 2019

  1. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    Interesting post! I’m not a fan of large crowds, so it doesn’t sound like this is for me. But I’ve heard of other events where they ticketed the crowd (for specific entry times) to avoid overcrowding, and it sounds like something like this might have helped with crowd control and the lines.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I actually emailed and suggested to them that they should raffle off more tickets for events online BEFORE the con. Many of the events were ticketed–but the line to GET the tickets were not. They “drop” the tickets at publisher booths at 10 am and it’s first come-first served, which means people RUN to get to the booth in time to get into the line for the ticket, and I agree that was an enormous part of the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. robinleeann says:

    Great post! I kept getting emails about this bookcon, but I had never heard about it much before. I didn’t really know what was there. It was good to hear a personal story about it, so I know more about it next time I get all those emails.

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  3. An Introverted blogger says:

    Thanks for writing this! Attending bookcon has been on my list since forever! I have also just heard raving reviews with fans gushing over the whole experience. As someone who doesn’t do well with crowds pushing and shoving, I don’t think I would get any arcs! Perhaps I should go with friends who have been before and have experienced this first hand!

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I don’t mean to be overly negative or put anyone off attending, but I do think the “adjust your expectations” advice is going to be good for me if I go in the future, and I think it’s helpful to other readers to know it’s not necessarily this chill experience where you just wander around and end up with 40 ARCs. I went to ALA once, and it was better, in my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nicoline Simone says:

    I am so sorry to read this. It sounds awful! I get a really bad feeling reading this I must admit. How can people behave like that? and how come the organiser doesn’t do anything to prevent such a behaviour. I haven’t been to many books cons but I believe they should be for all and not just people who have money or people who are aggressive.
    I have seriously considered attending YALC this year. But if it will be like you have just experienced I don’t think I would like to go… Do you know anything about YALC? I will have to buy my plane tickets soon…

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I was wondering if the organizers don’t feel empowered to do anything. Many of the people “in charge” are just publisher employees at booths or possibly general BookCon volunteers, who didn’t necessarily sign up to confront people and get into altercations. And the only real “power” they have is basically to throw you out of the con, right? (Except they don’t scan your badge when you come in, so they don’t know who you are, and you could probably just reenter.) I emailed suggesting they raffle off tickets to events online so there’s less of a mad dash to run to ticket drops, but who knows if they’ll do anything.

      I have not attended YALC, but I did attend ALA once, and it was much better, less crowded, and no one shoved me, so I have hope that not all festivals are this aggressive. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • Samantha Duffy says:

        Last year’s Book Con had the authors ticketed. The tickets went “on sale” online before the event (a week beforehand). The tickets were free, you just had to put in your badge number, and every “badge” was limited to 2 ticketed authors. That way one person didn’t scoop up every ticket in one sitting. I think that would be the best way to go about being fairly accommodating for all attendees. You still had to wait in line to see the author, but only those with tickets could enter the line. After they all got their books signed, and if the author still had time on their “shift” they could open up the line for “overflow.”

        I honestly (and biased-ly?) believe the key to the non aggressive behaviors is the professionalism. ALA is (if I am correct) for librarians, even Book EXPO is mostly reserved for more “professional” attendants which means you are sharing the space with a bunch of bookish promoters like librarians and publishers. Conventions like Book Con and YALC are open to the public. I could be completely wrong but, as a librarian who has attended both Expo and Con, the difference is striking.

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        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          They had the ticketed autographing for authors, but the big ones were all gone like 10 seconds in. VIP ticket holders get early access, and I suspect they nabbed Bardugo, Black, etc before the rest of us were even allowed. I got a Susan Dennard ticket, but she spent literally 10 min talking to the fans early in line, so I stood there for 2 hours only to be told she no longer was taking photographs with fans, and the only thing she said to me was “Sorry for the wait.” So…underwhelming, to be honest. I did enjoy meeting Melissa Albert though. 🙂

          I know it’s a popular theory that it’s basically the “masses” behaving badly, but I’m not sure I completely buy into the idea that librarians/booksellers/publishing employees, etc. are all impeccably well-behaved, and anyone running or shoving is clearly “just” a blogger/booktuber/normal reader because a bookseller would NEVER do such a thing. But, as you say, I did have a better experience at ALA, so who knows. Maybe the fear of having your colleagues see you shoving small children out of your way to get a tote bag inspires people to be polite.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Nicoline Simone says:

        But the organisers have an interest that the people attending and their customers are pleased right? That is a good suggestion, maybe that will work, if they decide to do anything about it.
        I am happy to hear that! I think I will have to do more research before I buy my ticket 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Vicky says:

    Ah, it’s sad to hear that 😦 my experience of being at YALC was fairly similar: factor in some proof copies and the crowd very quickly becomes violent! I can’t help wondering whether they should put a limit on the number of tickets they sell for these events- people would definitely get more out of it if they did!

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      My one friend suggested raising the price of tickets to naturally limit people who attended. That would be annoying, certainly, and put more of a class mark we on who attended, but it might work to lessen crowds AND get the organizer money.

      Like

  6. Ella says:

    Thanks for being so honest! I always see how thrilling it is, and from pictures it looks like there are few people for a big ass convention center. I think each year more people go and it gets more chaotic. I saw some news about the epic reads stand where the employees were getting scared because of the screaming and pushing from the attendees. Hopefully next year it’s a but more controlled

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      The only time I got near the Epic Reads booth was the opening tote bag drop, which has that picture going around of people practically climbing over each other just to get a free tote bag. I do think limiting the amount of people in the convention might help because people really barely fit on Saturday, but I’m sure the organizers just want to cram in as many people as possible to get money from the entry fee. And fewer people might not even matter. You only really need five people to start running and shoving to get everyone else to start doing it, too.

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      • Krysta says:

        The problem is, I’m not sure what security could do. If there’s a mass of people rushing at you and you are one person, you can’t actually stop them, can you? Maybe they just have to ticket everything at the start and no one gets anything unless everyone is neatly and politely lined up. No putting stuff out and having people swarm.

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        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          I like the idea of pre-ticketing events, but it has suddenly occurred to me they do sell tickets day-of to walk-ins, so if you don’t pre-order the ticket for the con, then you wouldn’t get tickets for signings, etc. a if they did them all online beforehand.

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  7. alilovesbooks says:

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as you hoped but thank you for putting such an honest and different perspective out there so others can be prepared. I’ve spotted the pictures, tweets and posts from BookCon and they always make it look and sound like this incredible experience but I have always suspected that your experience would be mine. It all just sounds frantic and incredibly stressful to me. I’m definitely not aggressive enough to shove people out of the way, even if there is the possibility of an ARC. I’ve considered going to YALC before but have heard similar reports from there, crowds, aggressive behaviour from the attendees and it all just sounds too much.

    I did see one picture from Bookcon where someone was showing off the 60 odd ARCs they’d managed to get their hands on (including multiple copies of the same book). Most people seemed to be impressed but all I could think was how many other people missed out. You can pretty much bet that they’ll be selling those ARCs too.

    I’ll stick with Bloody Scotland. It’s a nice fun & relaxed weekend where tickets to events are bought well in advance and there’s no mad dashing around for ARCs

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes! I don’t think I’ve really seen a negative comment about the event on social media, just some quotes in the Publishers Weekly article. Everyone seems to have the BEST TIME EVER and get 50 ARCs, so I was very unprepared to be constantly shoved and get basically nothing.

      And, honestly, I’m very suspicious of the people who did get tons of ARCs. If a line for a Harper Collins ARC drop is 2 hours, and a line for another drop is 2 hours, and the line to win an ARC from Simon & Schuster is 1 hour well… there is not actually TIME for you to get that many ARCs unless you are one of the people cutting lines or sending people to save your spot, etc. And I spoke to several people at the convention who felt the same way and that people with tons and tons of ARCs were probably not really behaving well in order to get that many.

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      • Krysta says:

        It’s kind of frustrating that BookCon is sharing pictures of 50-book hauls (many showing multiple copies of books). It feels like they’re celebrating people who pushed to the front or broke the rules while implicitly (and disingenuously) suggesting this could be you if you attend! Maybe it could be you if you are willing to elbow and shove a few people out of your way??

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    I’ve never been to a book convention before (they don’t exist in my neck of the woods), but I don’t think I would go if there was one. Crowds and people behaving like idiots over a handful of thingamajigs is not my idea of fun. I like ARCs, but I will stick to requesting them from NetGalley in the comfort of my own living room.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, now there’s this debate over whether people “should” buy books at BookCon. I’m all for buying books, I didn’t pay $60 just to get in the door just to buy full price books from publishers; I can do that at home. So I get the appeal and excitement of free stuff–it’s part of the fun of going to the event–but people really need to calm down and be polite.

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      • Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

        People need to calm down and be polite everywhere…. I can definitely see where they get excited about free stuff, but really, a convention is another place for the publishers to make money. It would be ridiculous for them to provide everything for free. They have to make some sort of profit, or else it isn’t worth it to them to do it at all. But I would expect a decent discount at the very least, or else why not just buy the books from your local shop?

        There was another comment where you mentioned Book on needing to get things under control, crowd-wise, and maybe needing to raise prices for entry. You worried that might be classist, but conventions like these are already a little biased, in that these events only seem to occur on the coasts. There are no big book conventions that I know of in the Great Plains, and there has been only one popular YA author who has come anywhere near where I live (Leigh Bardugo a couple of years ago did an appearance one night an hour away from me), so the notion of being left out is not unfamiliar to many of us out here. There are plenty of devoted readers, but the big names don’t seem to be aware of the ‘flyover states’. 🤷

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        • Krysta says:

          In some ways, you could argue BookCon is already inaccessible or classist just because there’s a not-insignificant entry fee combined with the expectation that you will then purchase tons of books. (And that’s not even counting the cost of traveling to NYC, staying in NYC, or buying highly-priced food in NYC.) I don’t think anyone involved with the con is pretending this is about accessibility. Festivals, fairs, and cons are always about getting people with money to spend it. So I agree that raising the price of tickets to attempt to cap entry while maintaining profits seems like it would be perfectly in-line with the purpose of BookCon. They’re businesses. They’re trying to make money. It’s reasonable.

          However, as Briana noted, there is no point in traveling and paying an entry fee to buy full-priced books. You can buy full-priced books anywhere! And I’m really not convinced by the Twitter argument that BookCon should basically become a garage sale with older, discounted books. I can go to a used book sale or to the library for older books. I think BookCon really needs to be selling discounted newer books or offering some sort of promotions if you buy or preorder the new books. (And I assume there would still be author panels and signings? Twitter has only been going on about what types of books to sell. But I can order from Book Outlet if I just want overstock books.)

          I think BookCon needs to figure out what its mission is and what makes it unique. If the crowds are out of control, the answer is not necessarily to stop handing out free stuff or ARCS altogether. That’s part of what makes BookCon a special experience that people are willing to pay for and travel for. Making it one huge warehouse sale of used books as Twitter is suggesting–there’s no point. BookCon would no longer be filling a unique void. I can buy overstock books anywhere. Why would I travel somewhere and pay an entry fee for that?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          To be honest, I think BookCon or any other business has every right to be as expensive as they want and shut people out who don’t have money, but I acknowledged that would be classist just because I know it’s not a popular argument with a lot of people in the book community who, well, think books should basically be free. But publishers and BookCon are businesses, not non-profits trying to provide equal access to books or whatever.

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  9. MetalPhantasmReads says:

    Interesting post Briana! I’m glad you got to to a few awesome panels. That would’ve been super fun to see authors like that together 🙂 I’ve heard for years how crazy it can be and even at some comic cons I’ve been to had really dumb people. Sadly that’s normal now which sucks. But I love seeing your thoughts on it and I still may try something YALLWEST instead before something BookCon 🙂

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  10. Bentley ★ BookBastion.net says:

    Thank you for this post! I’m sorry that your experience was not ideal, and that humans being humans and behaving badly sort of soured things for you on Saturday. I think this perspective you’ve shared is important though, because I definitely think that the blogging and booktube/bookstagram communities tend to paint Bookcon in a wholly positive light. It’s important though that people with anxiety/claustrophobia understand what they’re getting into if it’s really that mad there.

    I’ve never been and don’t really plan to go anytime soon. I’m not one for big crowds, and these events always seem to happen across the country from me. I can’t imagine traveling that far for a mediocre experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Oh, I would definitely not recommend going if anyone has serious concerns about crowds or being in crowded spaces. Sunday was better, but Saturday it was basically impossible to move because there were so many people. I saw someone complain she saw a woman run into people with her child’s stroller, and my first thought was that it was hard enough to get through walking that she probably *had* to mow into people to get a stroller through! I have no idea what people using wheelchairs or who needed other accommodations were doing in order to navigate the floor.

      Yeah, the events are never really close to me either. This was the first year it was really possible for me to go!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. roomsfullofbooks says:

    I haven’t been to BookCon but I attented the Frankfort Book Fair multiple times, which is basically a similar event in Germany. The shoving wasn’t that bad there, but the thing with early lines is pretty common there too. If you want to go to a popular author signing, you just have to commit to coming at least an hour (usually more) before the official start date. There were also some really shitty people there – we stood in line for Cassandra Clare for something like three hours and didn’t end up getting books signed because people in the back of the line started pushing and they needed to end the event due to security. That was the one thing where it was also partly the organizors’ fault, because the line was pretty much just left to be between food stalls and other lines, so it was all a mess. But if you exclude that, I had a better experience there than you at BookCon, that might have to do something with the fact that ARCs and tickets for pannels are not really a thing there…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I think I’d be ok with early lines if the schedule literally said something like “Maggie Stiefvater signing at 3 pm; start lining up at 1 pm.” Instead, it just says 3 pm. If you haven’t been to a convention before or are “just” a casual reader (I met someone who wandered in off the NYC streets and bought a ticket), I think you would have no idea these lines are forming 2 hours in advance, and you will miss out on every single event. It’s also frustrating when the schedule specifically says “line up no more than 15 minutes early” and you arrive 20 min early to find out there are already 150 people in line who have been there for hours. Are there rules or not?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Debbie J says:

    Sorry to hear that BookCon wasn’t exactly the ideal experience that it’s sometimes portrayed as. I’ve been to book cons in the UK and whilst the queues aren’t the bad they don’t sound as ridiculous, unless it’s someone like VE Schwab.
    Hopefully next year will be less stressful now you’ve been before and know the routine a bit better!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Samantha Duffy says:

    I have attended Book Expo for the last three years. I also attended Con for the very first time last year. And it was exactly how you described it. The lines were outrageous and if you don’t have a ticket, you basically aren’t going to see any authors. People are rude and overwhelming and the only “good” that seems to come out of the day is when you attend an interesting panel. I HIGHLY recommend Expo over Con any day, especially for “bookish professionals” like librarians. The tickets might be more expensive in general, but the people are much more chill, and really help each other out. If you know what to expect, you can really leave with a lot. The crowds are also significantly smaller (NOT small, but smaller than Con). And truthfully? I get treated SO well because my badge says librarian on it. They have a free catered breakfast and lunch lounge ONLY for Librarians (thanks to Baker and Taylor), and when you are meeting an author and you tell them you are a librarian they almost always want to give you more. I know the price hike is a bit much, but it is absolutely worth considering because Expo is much better (in my opinion). We might not get as many panels or BIG name authors at Expo, BUT you will absolutely leave with more.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I worked at a library briefly but don’t now, so a ticket to BookExpo would have been around $250 for me. 😦 Otherwise, I would have really loved to go. I did go to ALA once a couple years ago, and that was also a much better experience than BookCon. I did get more books, but that’s not even the main draw; I don’t think a single person pushed me at ALA, though the line for Marissa Meyer was a bit much.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. dinipandareads says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience of attending Book Con. I have been toying with the idea of attending ever since the start of this year–I was hoping to go to this year’s con, but I just couldn’t make it in from overseas. But your post is kind of making me rethink going next year as well, because I can’t stand the thought of all the pushing, shoving and desperation to get all the goodies (which everyone obviously wants). I mean, I guess I’m not surprised that this competitive spirit was there, seeing how some book lovers can be really enthusiastic, but it doesn’t sound like the most fun or worth-it experience 😦

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I’ve heard BookExpo was better, so if you can make it a week and go to both and just sort of…mentally prepare yourself for how crowded it gets, it might still be worth it Other people did seem to have a better time than I did. :p

      Like

  15. CHARIS RAE @ charisrae.com says:

    I love how honest and real this post is! I tend to get frustrated with some other reviews I’ve watched/read because they tend to gloss over things. I like to know how it’s going to be beford I start, lol! I’d love to go to BookCon someday, but I’d rather go to a smaller one like YALLFest. It just seems super overwhelming, an I’m not a huge book-buyer? I prefer getting books from the library. And there’s no guarantee you’ll get the books you want or meet the authors you want, and it seems awfully expensive?

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I read a bunch of “tips and tricks” posts before going, and all of them just said things like “bring good walking shoes” and “you can show up early but you don’t really need to” and “stay hydrated.” Literally nothing I read prepared me for how crowded it was and how rude people were, and I would say that if you want to get tickets to the popular events, yes, you do actually have to start lining up at 7:30. (Expect the PW article mentioned someone who’d been camping outside the doors since 3 am, so I guess even arriving at 7:30 for a 10:00 event isn’t good enough! You need to line up at midnight to be the first to line up or something!)

      I’m not a huge book buyer either, so four full price books in one weekend was actually a significant investment for me, which is one of the many reasons I’m irritated that a publishing employee on Twitter was condescending about how I ought to be happy to spend the money to support authors.

      And, yeah, I got to author signings, etc. but not the ones I really wanted, and that was disappointing. The convention runs on advertising big names like Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo, but if it ends up that you can’t *actually* see these authors, it is a bit sad.

      Like

  16. paperbacknat says:

    It was also my first year, and I’ll agree that Sunday was SIGNIFICANTLY better/more fun than Saturday for me. I’ve been to YALLFest these past 2 years, so I’m used to having to make long lines for over an hour for stuff… but I will say that I’ve never been someone to push and shove for my books, or cut lines, but I’ve still been lucky enough to get whatever I made the line for. I definitely went into the con with low expectations—I just wanted to see Natasha Ngan on Saturday and Julian Winters on Sunday—and I ended up getting way more ARCs and books than I had expected, and I saw and made a bunch of friends. I think that going in with the knowledge that the event will be hectic and crowded, and that you won’t be able to get a lot of ARCs and stuff, and that there are certain areas that should be avoided as much as possible (like one publishing house that starts with P and ends with enguin…) definitely helps to heighten the experience. I’m also definitely a “maybe” on whether I’ll return next year, too.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I took an actual look at my books yesterday, and I think I did end up with a nice little batch of ARCs, but every one of them was from Sunday near the end when publishers just started unhauling stuff. I didn’t actually get an ARC from any ARC drops or actual events.

      Yeah, I wandered near Penguin a few times and it was…pointless. I could not get into a line for anything.

      Like

  17. Alex says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience so honestly! As someone with extreme anxiety and agoraphobic tendencies, this sounds like a bit of a nightmare to me. It’s nice to see someone reflecting on the ‘real’ experience and not making it out to be this completely wonderful thing where everyone is lovely!

    Like

  18. Annemieke says:

    Honestly the volume of book con would never be for me. I can’t do crowds like that. I’d be overstimulated within an hour. I’m sorry this wasn’t the experience you wanted it to be but I am glad that Sunday was better for you. It does sound like Sunday is the better day to go because it slows down. But I can imagine not wanting to shelf out the money for the event again.

    Like

  19. D.M. Jarrett says:

    Reading your account reminds me of the London Book Fair. It was worthwhile, but you had to be resilient to the mass of people and sheer number of distractions. All in all is was pretty mind blowing. I’m guessing BookCon is huge.

    Like

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