Galley Drops, Grumpy Cats And J.R.R. Tolkien As Screenwriter? A Comic Con Vet's Guide To Book Expo

By Ray Flook

I was going to begin with a line about my not knowing how I ended-up at BookExpo America (BEA)/Book Con  this year, but that's not entirely true. I may not have known what to expect, but I knew exactly why I was going: lots and lots and LOTS of free stuff. If you're a fan of reading, you'll love this event. Love trees? You might want to consider skipping this one.


But before I go any further, some background: BEA/Book Con 2014 (sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and the Association of American Publishers) was held from Thursday, May 29, through Saturday, May 31, at the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center in New York City. BEA was a professional event geared toward publishers, retailers, librarians, etc., that took place over all three days; while Book Con (previously known as "Power Reader Day," which sounds less like an event and more like a marathon or some type of social movement) was on Saturday and open to the public (though about half of the Exhibit Hall was sectioned-off for BEA attendees only, which surprised me). On each of the days, there were book giveaways (sometimes known as "galley drops," with a "galley" being a copy of a book that has yet to go through the final editing process), autograph signings, conference sessions, guest speakers and (hopefully for everyone involved) lots of business getting done.


There was a part of me that went into this with an expectation that since this was a conference/convention about books, as opposed to comic books/video games/movies/television, that there would be a different "vibe" or "feel" to it. To be blunt…I felt like it would be classier. Not saying that's right…just trying to be honest. So that was the angle I decided to go with: as someone who's attended every New York Comic Con (NYCC-and reported for Bleeding Cool on the 2013 edition), how would an event like this compare to a comic con? Granted, the number of book publishers attending NYCC has grown over the past few years; and there were a number of comic book publishers in attendance at BEA/Book Con this year. But while there is some crossover, we are still talking about two distinctly different (and rabid) fan-bases. So with all of that in mind, here are four thoughts from a self-confessed "book con virgin" diving head-first into…"The Land of a Million YA's!" LINES ALONG YELLOW CARPET

Book and comic cons both have their problems with lines. Human nature dictates that when we want something, we usually want the path of least resistance to get at it. In this instance, those "somethings" are free stuff, autograph signings, sketches/artwork, etc., and are usually "while supplies last" so you can imagine that wouldn't make for a calm and relaxing experience. The difference between the two came down to two things: staffing and communication. I felt like the staff of BEA/Book Con were really on-point when it came to keeping things under some level of control and actually "being around" to answer questions or deal with problems (can't even come close to saying the same thing about the NYCC staff over the past two years). Kudos in particular to the two staff members who worked the Stan Lee and Jeffrey Brown signings, respectively, for realizing that "non-loitering loitering" is a smart practice in creating unofficial "wait areas" to avoid last-minute stampedes.

Honestly, does anyone really think a Lee signing would require a line formed only an hour before the signing? NYCC has an advantage over BEA/Book Con because there was much better communication between the event's reps and the Javits Center back in October than what took place this past weekend. I'm not saying line formations were great at NYCC, but you wouldn't expect it to actually get a little worse. Every morning seemed to be a different way to handle people blocking the glass doors, and there were many instances at BEA/Book Con where exhibitors would tell the waiting line one thing and then a Javits rep would come over with a different set of instructions. I'm not trying to purposefully single-out the Hachette Book Group's Cary Elwes signing (because he was great), but that was a perfect example: a signing line that went from being single-file to resembling a deformed octopus, and the mad dash toward the signing area where someone who was fifth in line suddenly found himself/herself deep in double-digits.


Free! Free! Free! Free! Free! Free! Free! Free! Free! (Did I mention, "Free!"?). This is pretty simple: BEA/Book Con almost dares you to try to walk out of there without a stack of books and autographs in your arms. By the end of the three days, I left with sixty-plus books, fourteen comic books and eight tote bags…along with forearms that would rival Popeye's and a gift certificate for a seven-day stay in traction. I remember when NYCC used to give out "welcome bags" to all attendees, and you could walk the Exhibit Hall and pick-up some great stuff from the major names as well as smaller and indie publishers; now, it feels like you have to pay $10 just for the "privilege" of breathing the same air as the person you're there to see while you take your "free" pic of him/her (with your phone…without flash…not posed…and from no less than 250 feet away). Interestingly enough, book publishers have stepped-up their presence at the last couple of NYCC's with giveaways and author signing: I never thought that I would get a chance to meet and spend a few minutes speaking with Chuck Palahniuk at a comic book convention, and walk away with three books and a mini-poster signed by him. Having said that…


It was great seeing the comic industry "return the favor." There were a number of book publishers promoting their graphic novels, but it was great seeing "comic book usual suspects" like BOOM! Studios, Image and IDW exhibiting at BEA/Book Con and pushing not just their trade paperback and graphic novel selections but also their individual comic book titles. For Mel Caylo, Marketing Manager at BOOM! Studios, the mission is pretty clear:


BookExpo America is attended by book buyers, book store owner, librarians…people who we feel are on the front lines of getting our books into the hands of customers and the consumers: the fans. So we're here to sell to them…to educate them on the books we do, the different types of titles that we carry, the different genres that we publish and the different age groups we appeal to.

But it wasn't just the heavy-hitters who reaped the benefits of reaching out to other publishers, librarians, educators, retailers, etc. Jonathan Evans (from JR Comics) was very pleased by the reaction their presence at BEA/Book Con received:


In a word: overwhelming. The first two days of the Expo were fantastic for us in terms of meeting librarians, teachers, booksellers, and people who have an industry interest in comic books and graphic novels. And today (Book Con) was all about meeting the readers and we met thousands of them and we handed-out our entire stock of about five thousand graphic novels in three hours. They came early; they came often; and they were excited. And they recognized the titles.


Stopping by the Kingstone Comics table (specializing in Christian comic books and graphic novels, they had some amazing looking books out there and a great display) and got a different perspective, though: very few people came by their table looking to buy…most looking to sell them services or products. Going forward, BEA/Book Con could serve the comic book/graphic novel exhibitors better by grouping them together at a location in the Exhibit Hall that's closest to the main flows of traffic. For Kingstone Comics though, the problem was more…


When is an "Exhibit Hall" not quite an exhibit hall? When you divide it half and do not allow people into half of the area on what's supposed to be the busiest day of the three days. Book Con was the most crowded day of the three days; and yet, they cut-off half of the Exhibit Hall so that BEA attendees could walk the entire floor but Book Con attendees could only walk the half designated for Book Con. Huh? I mean, I understand wanting to make sure that BEA professionals have a "quiet zone" to conduct business but can you imagine NYCC doing that? It created "crowd drama" on the Book Con side that wasn't necessary, though from a completely selfish standpoint (total disclosure) it was nice to go over to the 1000's aisles for a little peace and quiet. For exhibitors like Kingstone Comics, it was worse: their booth location was on the BEA side so they never saw the general public on Saturday because the general public was never allowed over onto their side. It's not cheap for a small publisher like them to attend events like these, so I could understand if they question whether or not it's worth it for them to come back next year.

But BEA/Book Con was far from being only about business and "big issues" so here are some on my personal highlights:


Neil Patrick Harris was friendly, much taller in person and not fully on-board with my idea that he should star in a Broadway remake of The Music Man.


Favorite Books: The Lewis Man and The Black House by Peter May; Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes; The David Foster Wallace Reader (sampler); Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and Kris Pearn; and The Science Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained from DK.


Speaking of DK…nice job with the Chewbacca and Boba Fett Lego statues.


A Sobering, Ego-Crushing Sentence For Those Who Were Signing at BEA/Book Con: I'm pretty sure "Grumpy Cat" had one of the longest lines out of anyone, human or otherwise.


Thanks to John Scalzi, I've never been prouder to be called a "guinea pig"…and you're right: that brown marker just wasn't doing the job.


There's a part of me that feels like Amanda Palmer and I were flirting with each other when I met her at her signing. Granted, that part of me is also sadly delusional and doesn't get outside as much as it would like to.



I liked the book banners and how they were displayed throughout the Javits Center, giving it a NYCC feel.

The daily BEA/Book Con editions of Publishers Weekly were invaluable for getting updates and knowing when/where the galley drops were taking place on that particular day.

BOOM! Studios gave out an obscene amount of quality comic books to attendees. As expected, they didn't last long but you could've walked away with the first three issues of Day Men and a copy of The Woods (for example). Not too shabby.


Andy Cohen (Watch What Happens: Live) is this country's Graham Norton and deserves his own talk show on a major network. He has this uncanny ability to make people laugh and feel comfortable around him, and that was evident by the reactions he was getting from those in line.


Nickelodeon's arts & crafts play area was a great reminder that most of us began our voyage toward "geekdom" as children, and it was nice to see a new generation of kids getting started down that road at even younger ages.


Though he wasn't able to autograph the books in person and we weren't allowed to take pictures with him, I was able to have this brief exchange with Stan Lee, and it still gets to me as I write it:

Me: "I just want to thank you for everything you've done, for making my childhood better and for the influence you had on me as I grew from a boy to a man."

Stan Lee: {smiles} "You're very welcome, son. Thank you."


Rotten Tomatoes hosted a great session on best/worst book-to-movie adaptations, where attendees were given about a minute to make their points and defend their positions against a panel of film critics. I had to take off my "reporting hat" for a few minutes to publicly trash The Silver Linings Playbook, and was surprised that I actually received some confirming applause and laughter from the crowd. My heart goes out to the young man who was defending his love of The Lord of the Rings movies: he was making some great points…until he said this, "...and I read that J.R.R. Tolkien worked on the script." Tolkien passed away in 1973. Whoops.


Dear Jeffrey Brown: You've earned a life-long fan just from this sketch, and I hope Disney wises-up and animates your work.


Cary Elwes will always be "The Man in Black"…and by judging from his reaction to how large the line was waiting for him, I'm pretty sure he's cool with that.

Nice to see that the Javits Center learned from last year's NYCC and installed more areas for people to charge their cell phones…at $3.00 for every thirty minutes of charging time. Proving my theory yet again that if the Javits Center could charge you for the number of steps you take, they would.

An actual exchange I had:

Person In Line: "Yeah, but you're talking about comic books. I'm talking about real books."

Me: "Ummm…comic books are 'real books.' They have covers and pages and words and cool stuff like that."

(Oh boy. Guess some things never change…)

Ray Flook loves pizza and hates injustice. Feel free to tweet him a slice at: @DeliciousCowz; or take his order at:

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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