James Hannon – a self-published Cosplay Author tries to promote himself and his book at these two very different events at the same place, and learns a lot about the publishing and book reader worlds in the process.
#TheBookCon #BookCon #BookCon2019 #BookCon19 #BookExpoAmerica #BookExpo #BookExpo2019 #BookExpo19 #Unbound
During the last week of May and the first couple of days of June 2019, I made the trip into New York City to hit BookExpo and BookCon 2019 at the Javits Center. I was there to promote my book Anatomy of A Cosplayer: Tales From Behind the Mask and try to increase my footprint in brick and mortar bookstores and libraries.
BookExpo was on May 29th – 31st and BookCon was June 1st and 2nd, and they existed in the same space of the convention hall. On the surface they look the same with many of the same vendors and exhibitors, but they are totally different events for totally different target audiences.
BookExpo (also known as BookExpo America or simply “BEA”) is the largest annual book trade fair in the United States. According to Wikipedia:
“Nearly all significant book publishers in the United States, and many from abroad, have booths and exhibits at BEA, and use the fair as an opportunity to showcase upcoming titles, sell current books, socialize with colleagues from other publishing houses, and sell and buy subsidiary rights and international rights. Authors, librarians, and buyers for book retailers also attend the event. “Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 30). BookExpo America. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:42, June 14, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=BookExpo_America&oldid=899506457
BookCon, on the other hand, is a fan-based convention very much like New York or San Diego Comic Con, but with a focus on books. Most of the exhibitors kept their same booth locations throughout both events, and just switch from being in “industry networking” mode to “promoting their product to fans” mode.
I figured that as an author trying to promote my book and increase my distribution network, it would be a good idea to attend both of these events as they seemed to have all the people I needed to reach in the same place. So I applied for an author pass at BookExpo (only industry people allowed) and was approved, and bought my BookCon weekend passes for my wife Jackie and myself.
A few days later, I signed up with the Combined Book Exhibit to display Anatomy of a Cosplayer throughout both events at their 2019 New Title Showcase exhibit. They also offered an opportunity for me to have a book signing during the show, but the price was a little above my budget. As I kept visiting their exhibit area over my time at both BookExpo and BookCon, there were actually lines for the authors who were signing, and I felt a little jealous that I didn’t have that signing moment at a big con. That being said, I still would have made the same decision to not do the signing.
At this point, I’m going to split this review into two sections since I had a very different experience at each event.
Walking into BookExpo, I was very optimistic about being productive over the three days based on the “Welcome to BookExpo” message where they proclaimed in their program guide:
“BookExpo Loves Indie Publishers – Independent publishers have always been a vital segment of our exhibiting customer base. Being small and nimble allows these publishers the ability to put some of the most unique and powerful books into the market and we are excited to deliver a new way to give them a spotlight”
As I read that paragraph walking into BookExpo on the first day, I was confident this was the perfect place to help me get my book out to the right people – all in one place! Looking back a week after the show, I realized I was rather naive and uninformed as to what BookExpo actually was about. Independent publishers are NOT the same as self-published authors. Even though I have a large publisher behind my book (AuthorHouse), they did not attend BookExpo, nor did I expect them to…
A little behind the scenes here:
Anatomy of a Cosplayer and my previous book Lost Boys of the Bronx were both published by AuthorHouse Publishing. And they did their job turning my manuscript, photos and artwork into a beautifully formatted hardcover, softcover and eBook that is on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and a bunch of other online retail sites. However, unless you spend a few thousand dollars more, they are not going to help you market your book or get it into the hands of libraries and brick and mortar stores. They are pretty upfront about that, so there are no unreasonable expectations, and I probably will use them again for my next book.
So, I am pretty much on my own marketing the books. And that is a exciting and great place to be – where I am responsible for my own destiny… But at BookExpo, it wasn’t a very good place for self-published authors. Nobody tried to kick me out or was rude in any way, but I was told quite a few times that the distribution channel people would only talk to publishers and not authors. After a few occurrences of this, and seeing their face drop while reading the “Author” on my name badge, I just gave up any hope that any of my business goals were going to be achieved at BookExpo.
So, I decided to just enjoy BookExpo as a spectator with access to stuff most general readers do not have. And that made the event so much less of a total waste of time for me.
I went to the Combined Book Exhibit to take some pictures of Anatomy of A Cosplayer being displayed on the shelves of a big con, and while I was there, I heard the Downtown Stage (which was right next to the CBE) starting a new panel introducing Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of one of my favorite bands – Blondie. I have no idea how I missed this when planning out my BookExpo trip, but Debbie has a new book out called Face It and was promoting it. Well, Fate had me in the right place at the right time, so I went and watched the panel – which was great, and even tho she wasn’t autographing, I got some great pictures of her and Chris Stein from pretty close up.
I also ran into George Takei who was signing his new book They Called Us Enemy at one of the vendor tables. His lines were long and I wasn’t sure if I had to get a ticket to get an autograph, but I was able to wave at him and grab a photo.
I explored the BookExpo some more and found myself in the Unbound section of the event. This was a section set aside from BookExpo/BookCon that had non-book items for sale. There were vendors that sold greeting cards, tea, fancy writing pens, and items like that. I walked by a vendor with artwork on his walls that cause me to dead-stop seeing the vibrant colors on the prints. It was Nakatomi Inc and I struck up a conversation with the artist Tim Doyle about his work. It seems he is an artist that produces concert posters for acts such as Metallica and Weird Al Yankovic. His artwork on the walls were not those items, but they were amazing. We talked about my book cover artist Angela McKendrick (@cuddleswithcatsart) and how wonderful her art is. Hopefully the two of them see the potential of a team-up down the road.
As the day got later and I wanted to get out of New York City before Wednesday rush hour traffic kicked in, I decided to hop on the ferry back to my car in New Jersey. But I will say my mood had changed for the better with the artistic interactions I had – even if my plans for getting help with distribution had fizzled early on.
I didn’t go back Thursday or Friday, and I probably would not go to BookExpo 2020 after this experience, but I will keep an open mind about it. If you are reading this, and have any suggestions that would have made my trip more fruitful, please email me or post in the comments!
Full album of my experience at BookExpo on my Facebook Photo Album:
Now lets talk about a much more fun and productive couple of days!
Going into BookCon, I had a much different strategy than I did for BookExpo. As a cosplayer, I have been to New York Comic Con and other fan conventions for the last 10+ years. Its a large part of my Anatomy of a Cosplayer book, so I knew exactly what to expect. Kinda…
I had heard there was some cosplay going on at BookCon in recent years, but nowhere near the amount at NYCC. So I figured I’d ask around to see if costuming was ok. Being that I have a lot of DC Comics based costumes, I figured I’d ask the fine folks at DC Comics if they’d be interested in having me and a couple of my friends there to help promote the brand in an official capacity. (And my book… cough cough)…. They saw right thru my ruse, and told me that they wanted to highlight their authors who were appearing, and didn’t want to take away from their thunder. A perfectly legitimate concern, and they were nice about it, so I didn’t press it. I did ask a moderator of the official Facebook page of BookCon if cosplay was ok, and she excitedly told me that they would LOVE to have cosplayers there (in an unofficial capacity). So I decided to enlist a couple of friends and do some cosplay promoting – I mean I am the Cosplay Author right? LOL
On Saturday, I appeared as Jay Garrick – the Golden Age Flash from the CW show The Flash. I recruited Karen Gaebel as SuperGirl to carry my book around for photos, and my wife Jackie Hannon to wear a colorful shirt with the image of my book’s cover. We walked the con floor for quite a while and got a LOT of positive feedback and requests for pictures – Even got a few requests to purchase the book right there and then – but I read that was against the rules of BookCon for non-official vendors, so I just passed my information to them (and believe it or not they emailed me later that they bought it!). I took a lot of pictures, and met a lot of people. Saw the Adam Savage panel, and had just a great fun time…. Then BookCon closed for the day, and we went home in a much better mood than BookExpo.
On Sunday, I didn’t cosplay due to a blister from the day before. But I had no regrets because I had a secret weapon – my talented cosplayer friend Renata Gatti wore her Handmaidens costume from The Handmaid’s Tale, and it was accurate. If I thought we got a great reaction on Saturday cosplaying, we got an even bigger one on Sunday being The Handmaid’s Tale was a book before it was a TV series, and the new season was starting later that week. We (well, Renata) took well over 200 pictures with fans of the show and the book, and we got a lot of interest in Anatomy of a Cosplayer. Again, a few requests to buy my book right there and then. And again, I couldn’t sell without breaking the BookCon rules, but gave info to the requestors.
As a weird side note, on Sunday an older woman came up to Renata and myself, and started a conversation with us about her Handmaid’s costume. She didn’t ask the usual fan questions or request to take a photo, but she was more grilling us about WHY Renata chose to wear that particular costume. (There is a political movement regarding that costume, but Renata is just purely a fan of the show.)
It was an interesting convo, and when it ended, we both went our separate ways not thinking much about it. However, today, while searching for photos Renata’s Handmaid costume at BookCon, I ran across a picture of Margaret Atwood – the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, and Renata and I swear it was the same woman who talked to us. Now, I looked for a while, and there was absolutely no record that Ms Atwood did appear at BookCon on Sunday, and I assume that if she actually did appear, there would have been a bigger deal made about it. But that woman who approached us looked exactly like her – and it makes for an interesting story…
BookCon was a big success for me… I had a really great fun time and was very productive. I met a lot of people, got some excellent tips for marketing the book from other successful self-published authors, and took a lot of great photos. I will absolutely go back again!
One thing I will mention is that there were a LOT of women at BookCon. I would guess the crowd was 90% women. I expected there to be large number but not THAT big…. I saw a photo posted for a male with a shirt that said “I’m just here to stand in line and hold books for my wife”. Everyone was really nice to me, and I only mention it as a curiosity and a mental note about a potential marketing opportunity.
Full album of BookCon available on my Facebook album:
Thanks so much for reading! Any questions or feedback, please drop em in the comments, or email me.