Since I spent a significant portion of this past weekend planning my time at Book Expo and BookCon, it seemed like a good idea to put together a post with some of my advice!
I’ve actually never been to Book Expo, so I don’t really have any specific advice for that, but this will be my second year at BookCon, so I definitely have a better idea of what to expect there. And I suspect a fair number of the tips for the day of will apply to both.
If you’re not already familiar, Book Expo is an annual trade event open to publishers, authors, librarians, bookstores, bloggers, and others working in the book industry, while BookCon is a fan event attached to Book Expo. It’s two days with a ton of authors doing panels and autographing, plus the show floor is full of booths advertising the latest new releases. It’s a whirlwind event, and it’s a lot of fun!
This post is especially timely because this upcoming Saturday, May 19, is the day that tickets for the autographing sessions at BookCon go up, and you definitely don’t want to miss that if you’re hoping to get any books signed at BookCon. You can read the full details of the process on the BookCon website here.
For the autographing sessions, you can only get two tickets per day of BookCon. I recommend looking at the website and figuring out who you’re most excited to see and making a list, and then ranking those authors in order of priority. For some of the really popular authors, you won’t have a chance to get tickets for both of them because they go so quickly, so prioritizing is really important.
If I remember correctly, I had to place my ticket orders separately for each day last year. I really wanted to see Leigh Bardugo, who was appearing on Saturday, and Sarah J. Maas, who was appearing on Sunday, but since I’d already met Maas, I prioritized Bardugo. Fortunately I was able to get tickets to Bardugo’s signing, but when I went back to get tickets for Maas, they were completely gone. And the tickets for Bardugo were gone by then too. So in a matter of minutes, tickets for some of the really popular authors can disappear. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize who you most want to see!
Something to consider when prioritizing your authors is who has books coming out later in the year that you might be able to catch on tour outside of BookCon. There are so many exciting things going on during BookCon that it might not make the most sense to use your time waiting in line in the autographing area when you could be in a panel or walking the floor, especially if you live someplace like New York where authors stop by for signings fairly regularly.
Another pre-planning tip I recommend doing is downloading the BookCon app and adding all of the panels you’re interested in to your schedule. That helps you see when exactly all of the panels are taking place and lets you decide which ones to prioritize, since it’s impossible to make all of the exciting panels without a time-turner. Keep in mind that a number of panels, but by no means all, are professionally recorded and posted later on YouTube. So definitely attend the ones you most want to see, but keep checking online in the weeks after the event and see if you can find some video footage of the ones you couldn’t make it to.
On the day of BookCon, the doors open at 10 a.m. People start lining up crazy early, like around 6 a.m., but I personally don’t see the point. The autographing sessions are ticketed and distributed in advance, so there’s no need to line up early for those (though any authors whose signing sessions didn’t fill up in advance will be available when you arrive that morning, meaning you can go to more than two autographing sessions depending on availability). If there’s a panel you really want to make it into right away in the morning that you know will be packed (like last year there was one with Chad Michael Murray first thing), that could also be worth getting there early for. But otherwise you’re just lining up for first access to the floor and some of the freebies the booths will be handing out. The thing is, there will be plenty of freebies handed out throughout the day, so even if you miss the first wave, you’ll still have other opportunities.
I showed up last year around 9:30 a.m., and I’m planning to do that again this year. It took at least a half hour once they opened the doors at 10 a.m. for me to make it inside (at least on Saturday—Sunday is a lot quieter and was much faster), but I still had plenty of time before my first panel to walk around the show floor and check everything out.
Definitely show up wearing comfortable walking shoes! You’ll be on your feet all day, so make comfort your top priority. I also recommend wearing layers, as sometimes you’ll get really warm and others you’ll be freezing. Oh, and bring a backpack! They’ll hand out tons of tote bags at BookCon, but those straps really started digging into my shoulders last year as I added more books to them, and my shoulders were killing me by the end of the night. So I’m planning to bring a backpack to hopefully spare my shoulders some.
Another useful thing to bring with is an external charger, since you’ll likely be using your phone at lot at the convention center and it has terrible service in there, which means your battery will get drained pretty quickly. And outlets will be at a premium! I also personally brought some Clif Bars to basically fill in as my lunch so I didn’t have to leave the show floor and wait in line to get food. They’re pretty small and light, but two of them can be pretty filling. At the very least, they’ll tide you over until you have a chance to get more food.
I also brought a small water bottle with, but I tried to drink from it sparingly in order to avoid long waits in line for the bathroom. You’ll spend plenty of time standing in line for autographing sessions or panels or free books, but at least those are exciting. Waiting in line for the bathroom is not! I tried to wait until the end of the day to replenish all of the fluids I restrained myself from drinking during the day.
Oh, and speaking of lines, they’re a great place to make friends! Everyone waiting in line for an author signing is a big fan, so you instantly have a lot in common with them, and it’s a ton of fun to discuss your favorite books and trade book recommendations. I’m not usually much of one to strike up a conversation in line, but I tried it at BookCon last year, and it was honestly one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. Plus the lines literally fly by when you’re talking about your favorite books the entire time! So don’t be shy and just try it out.
The last thing I recommend is to try not to get too caught up in getting all of the free stuff and just have fun. I came home with a whole stack of books and a bunch of freebies, and honestly, I wound up unhauling more than half of the books without reading them, and there are only a few freebies that I still use. It’s just not worth it to start pushing and shoving to get free things. A lot of the free stuff is pretty cheap anyways, and the arcs that are being distributed for will be out in a few months. Plus people remember when things get ugly; there was some unfortunate mixups with the arc line for Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, and I still remember this one girl screaming at security and saying they were out to get here and that they’re doing a terrible job. I know sometimes I got a bit short with people too, but don’t be that girl. Relax and have fun!
Those are the most important things I can think of right now. BookCon can get really exhausting, but it’s also a lot of fun! I’m really excited to attend again this year, though I seriously wish it was possible to attend absolutely everything I’m interested in. There’s just too much going on at once!
Are you going to BookCon? Let me know in the comments and maybe we can meet up there! And of course, feel free to ask me any other questions about attending. I’m happy to help as much as I can!