Oh, the people you’ll meet … at BookCon

View from the floor of BookCon 2019. Photo by Joanne Soriano, EBC New York Bureau, Eagle News Service.

By Joanne Soriano
EBC New York Bureau

NEW YORK (Eagle News) — Long lines and crowds wrapped around the different booths within the main hall of the convention center. The scene was typical for a designer sample sale with young women hauling tote bags and backpacks filled to capacity. However, instead of carrying designer goods, their cargo was much more precious to these customers. These readers were acquiring books.

BookCon, hailed as the literary event where storytelling and pop culture collide, was held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City in early June. Readers flocked to the various book events to meet authors, attend panels and get their hands on free swag and ARCs or advanced reader copies provided by publishers before mass publication. Lines formed hours in advance at booths where readers could get autographs and take photos with their favorite authors. With so many activities and literary celebrities present at the convention, the audience was unsurprisingly, disproportionately female.

The YA Phenomenon

Rebecca Phillips returned to BookCon for a second year with her niece.

“I wanted to introduce my niece to the world of YA [young adult] novels,” Philips said. “The first time I came, I realized it’s a lot of YA so I thought it would be great for her to see that world a little bit and get interested in more adult themes but for children still.”

The young adult book market is targeted to individuals between the ages of 12-18. Typically the hero or protagonist of these novels also falls within this age range. The storylines tackle diverse issues from emotional internal and external struggles, to coming of age, fantasy, romance, family issues, bullying, and everything in between. Publishers Weekly reported that 55% of YA books are actually purchased by adults over the age of 18, with the majority of this group falling between the ages of 30-44. The Harry Potter series is an example of a YA novel that has been embraced widely by both young and adult audiences.

First-time attendee Maria has enjoyed reading since she was young. Visiting New York for the second time, she attended both days of BookCon. Comparing this book fair with others she attended she said, “This event is great. I got some free books and free stuff. This one’s bigger and for sure has more free giveaways than the other ones.”

Matt Wasowski, Content Director of BookExpo and BookCon, explained the demographic of attendees attending BookCon.

“One of the trends that we’re seeing now is actually a continuation of a trend,” said Wasowski. “The veracity and tenaciousness of the young adult reader, particularly female, is still just carrying the industry. It’s a tidal wave.”

Desirai Labrada traveled from Orlando, Florida, to attend the literary festival.

“Part of it was getting together with friends and other people who I know that love to read. And of course, I love hearing about books before they come out and just all the bookish things,” said Labrada. She is part of an online community called BookTubers, which she explains is “a very small community on YouTube that’s full of different channels of people that just talk about books.”

While YA fans are the main audience of BookCon, the organizers are making an effort to diversify the range of books reflected at the expo.

“We think it’s one of the more, if not the most, diverse shows like this in the world because we’re really trying to make sure that everyone is represented,” said Wasowski. “Inclusivity — that’s where we start and we try to go from there. And I think that’s really the trend that we’re trying to stay ahead of and pay attention to.”

The Exhibitors

One of the publishers present at BookCon who gave out free ARCs, was Harlequin Books. Lisa Wray, Manager of Publicity and Events for Harlequin commented on why the company loves the event.

“We love BookCon because it’s an opportunity to foster the love of reading and joy of books and to have lots of our authors in attendance,” said Wray. “They get to meet and speak with attendees, which is really awesome.”

Authors were also prominent on the show floor to promote their books to new audiences.

Corey McKinney, CEO of GoFor2, wrote his first book, Coach Daryl’s Colts: Going for Two, a true story about a football coach who went above and beyond the call of duty for his players, teaching them about discipline, hard work and having character.

“In the six years playing for him we were 89-1,” McKinney said about his football coach. He hopes his readers get meaningful life lessons from his story. He wants the youth to understand that success has to be earned and for adults to realize that “one person can make a difference in many, many lives. What you do, as far as giving back to others, can have an impact on our youth and everyone else around you, and generations and generations to come.”

McKinney is now outlining his second book, drawing from his past eight years as a foster parent.

Rod Sanford is another first-time exhibitor introducing Rod’s Reading Room to the book event.

“We wanted to see how well we’d shake out on the world stage,” said Sanford. “And also build awareness of our brand — the Teke Manion mystery series, the Dying Hard mystery series, and our flagship, the Legend of the Tigris, a children’s fantasy adventure, which has been having a lot of good exposure. We wanted to see how Sasha the tigris compares to other protagonists at BookCon.”

Resources for Writers

Another popular part of the convention were the resources geared towards writers through workshops and different exhibitors. Malaika Santa Cruz, Community Director for Shut Up & Write, explained why it was important for them to be at BookCon.

“We know there’s about 20,000 people that show up. I think there are a lot of writers out there who would love to be a part of our community. They just haven’t heard of us yet,” said Santa Cruz.

Shut Up & Write is an international writing community with approximately 40,000 members. They host free weekly events for writers all over the world where writers write side-by-side. Santa Cruz said, “All genres, all skill levels are welcome. We just want to support writers all over the world.”


In terms of trends that have been seen at BookCon, Wasowski said, “the biggest thing that we’ve seen in terms of growth the last six years of BookCon has been the broadening of the audience. When we started in 2014, it was almost purely a YA show and since then we’ve been able to expand into sci-fi and fantasy. The romance panels on Sunday were off the charts and now we’re starting to get into a little more horror and things like that. So we’re just trying to slowly build out from the YA core but that’s still going to be the heartbeat of the show.”

How long will young adult women continue to drive the book industry? Will the YA audience push growth into other literary genres, say classical or nonfiction? We’ll see what transpires at the next BookCon slated for May 30-31, 2020. To be continued…


(Eagle News Service)