Every year, thousands of people in the book business gather at the premier industry trade show, BookExpo.
The BookExpo experience is all-books-all-the-time for three days or so. There are ticketed breakfasts and lunches where hundreds gather for a meal, free books and a chance to come face-to-face with authors.
Mostly, though, there are publishers. Hundreds of them. Their booths fill the Javits Center from one end to the other, and each is there to do one thing: showcase their newest, most exciting books to the mostly independent booksellers who come from near and far, far and wide, to see what they’ll be selling in the months to come.
The publishers who want to grab some real attention make advance copies available. Stacked up by the hundreds, or handed out at autographing sessions, these advance readers’ copies (ARCs if you’re into the lingo) can be like gold. And they go fast. It’s not uncommon to see people filling tote bags (also given away by publishers) with every kind of book: fiction, non-fiction, travel, romance, mystery, memoir, you name it.
In the aisles things move fast, so there’s little time for getting a sense of what a book is truly like before you take it. Often it’s the title or the author or the cover that compels you, and only when you get home do you know if you grabbed a diamond or a dud.
Every year, there’s at least one Big Book. This year, it seemed like there were two: City on Fire and Illuminae (both coming from Knopf in October). ARCs of these were readily available — the piles were mountainous — and I doubt one was left when BookExpo closed up shop.
There were authors galore this year, from names you don’t know (yet) to bestsellers to movie stars. Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire, signed copies. Mindy Kaling signed copies of her upcoming book. So did Julianne Moore. So did John Grisham. So did Brad Meltzer. Jonathan Franzen was there to talk about his upcoming novel, Purity. Lee Child, James Patterson, Nathan Lane, Judy Blume, Al Roker, Bernadette Peters, Jesse Eisenberg, Gregory Maguire, Brian Selznick, David Baldacci — all were there, all with books coming out soon, along with hundreds of other authors, along with publicists, marketing people, editors, agents, and booksellers.
This year, BookExpo was held on a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and the next two days were filled with BookCon. While attendance at BookExpo is limited to people in the book trade, BookCon is open to the public.
By 8:00 am on Saturday morning, there was an enormous line outside Javits, and the doors didn’t open until 10. I was blown away by the size of the crowd, which only grew as the opening bell ticked closer. BookExpo usually pulls in around 25,000 people, but that crowd is made up of every sort of person: author, editor, publicist, etcetera, with, in the end, probably a few thousand bookshop owners, librarians, bloggers and press, a good cross-section of the industry.
BookCon’s numbers, it seemed to me, were far greater — and this was just people who attended.
The massive crowd swarmed Javits, ducking in and out of booths, attending author events, schmoozing with fellow fans, and standing in line for autographs. I was impressed by the sheer number of people, as well as by the fact that these people love reading enough to buy BookCon tickets, fly or drive or train to New York, get up at dawn, weather the lines, and show up for their favorite authors while screaming like fans at a rock concert. They are true fans, and no matter what kind of books they love, they love them big-time. Anyone who doubts that people love to read just need to spend a few hours at BookCon — and surely the people who make it to BookCon represent so very many more who couldn’t. These are the people writers write for, the people publishers publish for. In other words, for the people who trek to BookExpo, the BookCon crowd is pure gold.
Together, these two events have become the center of the publishing universe. Next year, BookExpo will be in Chicago. No idea yet about BookCon — but if you like books, get there. I’ll see you in the aisles.