I spent last weekend at BookCon, a place as the website puts it, “where storytelling and pop culture collide.” And man, what a collision it was.
It wasn’t my first time at BookCon, having gone way back in 2014. That was actually the first year that BookCon existed. As a high school junior-going-on-senior at that time, when I was discovering my true passion for English Literature, BookCon was basically a dream come true. It was beautiful to see books and book lovers and writers being brought together in an explosion of ARCs and bookish merch and general lit-ness (I’ll escort myself out now).
And three years later, I return to BookCon.
In the span of time between 2014 and 2017, I graduated high school, officially declared my love for literature through a major declaration at college, and had much more reading and writing experience under my belt (reading things I wrote back in 2014 is quite a journey indeed).
And let me just preface: I love BookCon. I love the concept of BookCon, so there isn’t really much that can get me to hate it. I mean, how can I hate free books, interesting panels, and meet-and-greets with my favorite authors? I just can’t.
Though the convention was slightly disorganized and had some communication issues, that comes with every convention. These flaws, which they’re constantly improving on by the way (trust me, it’s a continual step up from that first convention in 2014), pale in comparison to the greatness of the convention as a whole.
And so, my love for BookCon prevails, and here’s how the weekend went.
Saturday, June 3rd
I get to the Javits Center bright and early, armed with my BookCon badge, a Strand tote filled with the necessities only, and an empty schoolbag, ready to be stuffed with free books.
The show floor opened at 10 am, but people were already in line by 7. I admire the commitment, but it meant that the lines were a bit of a mess in the beginning.
Once the show floor opened though, it was a beeline to all the different exhibitors to grab all the things.
First on my agenda was a signing with Stephanie Perkins.
The line was long and stretched way past the Penguin booth, but the commitment was strong. Anna and the French Kiss was one of the first YA books I ever read, and it holds a special place in my heart because of that, which is what I said to her when it was my turn. It made me fall in love with the genre. After receiving a signed preview copy of There’s Someone Inside Your House, I was left beaming.
The next thing I had planned was a special @IreadYA event organized by Scholastic.
It was an event sweepstakes that I entered, where you meet YA authors, receive signed ARCs, and get other swag. And I ended up winning a ticket, which surprised me because I never win anything!!
So I walked into the private room, excited at this opportunity to bask in the greatness of YA, as well as meet Maggie Stiefvater, Daniel José Older, and Sharon Cameron. I was able to thank them for things I admired about each of them: Maggie for her dynamic, unique characters in The Raven Cycle, Daniel for speaking out against white-washing of characters and for keeping representation in mind, and Sharon for her beautiful, vivid writing. They were all nice and humble, and I got signed ARCs for their upcoming books: All the Crooked Saints, Shadowhouse Fall, and The Knowing. Scholastic was also giving out free snacks, which is always a plus in my book.
From then on, it was a whirlwind of walking through the show floor, visiting different booths and picking up free things. There was a lot to see and a lot to do, with the small booths being as interactive as the bigger ones, so I made sure to make constant rounds around the show floor to see what new things pop up (new swag is always being given out).
Some of the lines were super long—the line for the Owlcrate booth was too intimidating to even attempt to line up for it—and I ended up just waiting in line for ARC drops. (ARC drop: a term heard throughout the entire weekend. When a booth has an ARC giveaway scheduled, so people line up an hour before, sometimes even two, especially at the big booths like Penguin and HarperCollins.) Waiting in line isn’t as bad as it seems, since I got to talk to other people and rest up because all that walking takes a physical toll.
The highlights of my conversations in line include: mutual love for Oscar Wilde, mutual love for Wuthering Heights, mutual love for the Kate Bush song about Wuthering Heights, and mutual anticipation for the books being given out. There was an overall feeling of camaraderie, as BookCon tips were shared and people were just genuinely nice and excited. That’s what conventions are about.
And to close off the first day of BookCon, I had back-to-back autographing sessions with two of my favorite writers: Stephen Chbosky and Nicola Yoon.
I was incredibly excited when I found out that Stephen Chbosky was going to be at BookCon. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that is so incredibly important to me (read my review here). It’s a book whose meaning will continue to grow as I grow, so to be able to meet and thank him is such an honor.
I was close to the back of the line for him, and the line moved slowly because he took time to talk to every person. He really listens to what you’re saying to him and has an actual conversation with you. I was able to tell him how much the book means to me, as well as tell him that my friend has one of the quotes tattooed on her arm (“We are who we are for a lot of reasons”). His sincere thanks and appreciation for his readers was truly felt, especially since he said he didn’t do these signings often.
After that, my last event was a signing with Nicola Yoon.
Everything, Everything is such a whirlwind of a book, and according to my Goodreads, I finished the book in fifteen hours. That must be some sort of record, but the story and character dynamics were just so captivating.
I was able to thank her for valuing representation and diversity. The description of Maddy alone is something that made me want to read the book in the first place. After I told her I was an aspiring writer and how much character diversity means to me, she told me that we’re writing in a time where writers, like her and me, are making these experiences commonplace (as they should be!). I also managed to grab a picture with her:
And with that last positive thought, as well as multiple tote bags and a plethora of books, my first day of BookCon came to an end.
Sunday, June 4th
On the second day of BookCon, I vowed to myself to only pick up books that I would actually read, especially since my haul from day one was plentiful. But because I knew that I was going to donate the books I wasn’t interested in, meaning there was no harm in getting all the books, I’m not sure I kept my vow.
This day was significantly less hectic. I spent most of my time walking around the show floor, waiting in line for books, and just overall, basking in the excited and comfortable atmosphere that BookCon has. I did pick up the majority of free books by sheer luck—being at the right place at the right time when new books are being put out.
So the main advice of BookCon: keep walking around and you’ll find books somewhere.
The only major thing on my agenda was an autographing session with Adam Silvera.
I was armed with my copy of More Happy Than Not (which was actually already autographed because I bought the book from Strand without realizing that there was already an autograph in it) and an ARC of They Both Die At The End. I actually got the last copy that was being given away (there were only 25!) at an ARC drop the day before, so I would like to consider it fate.
I was one of the first in line, but I could already tell that he really cares about making a personal connection with his readers. I went up to him excitedly and told him how my copy of More Happy Than Not was already signed, and he told me that he remembered when I tweeted him about it (guilty). I also thanked him for his racial and sexual diversity in his books, and that as an aspiring writer, it means a lot to me and inspires me. And he started asking me questions about the things I like to write, which took me by surprise, his actual care for what I had to say. I said mostly YA (you write what you read, am I right) and that I usually stray away from fantasy and sci-fi and the like.
And then, he gave me unforgettable advice: to write what feels right. He said that the current book he’s writing is a fantasy-type novel, which he never imagined to write, yet here he is. He told me to not limit or box myself into a genre and to write what comes to me, regardless if it’s what your “brand” is. And with this lasting advice, we said goodbye, me feeling more inspired than ever.
I will admit that that was the highlight of my BookCon. Not only meeting one of my favorite authors, but his genuine care for me and my work. That means so much to me, and his advice is constantly echoing in the back of my head now whenever I begin a writing project.
From here on after, it was just more walking, books, and talking to others.
With a last visit to the Scholastic booth (where I picked up an ARC of Vanilla by Billy Merrell, looked at the cover, and whispered to my friend, “oh my god, it has GAY CHARACTERS!!”), I bid BookCon adieu, my back weighed down with books and my heart happy.
And thus, marks the end of my BookCon 2017 experience.
There were some frustrating moments—mainly waiting in line for things only to find out that they ran out—but it was all worth it. Whether it’s picking up book after book, being on the hunt for a tote bag, talking to people on line, or meeting my favorite authors, these two days were some of the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
The book haul is strong and mighty, and I can’t wait to return next year.