Saturday, June 17, 2017

303. BookCon, Where Booky People Try to Geek Out

         The last post told of the preparations by my young assistant Silas and myself as first-time exhibitors for BookCon 2017, the last two days of the biggest book event in the hemisphere, when the book trade, having networked for two days at BookExpo,  invites the public in.  Our booth was in the somewhat remote BookCon section of the show floor, reserved for small fry -- indie authors and small presses -- who chose not to rub shins with the biggies at BookExpo.  The post ended when the gates at the Javits Convention Center swung wide open at exactly 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 3, and the first attendees poured in, some of them rushing in our direction.

Day 1 at the Javits

          It began as a trickle of visitors who rushed right past us and the other booths selling books to buy postcards and other non-book items at the Strand Bookstore booth next to ours, and at Book Beau across the aisle.  Then, by mid-morning, the trickle had become a steady flow, and people began noticing the other booths as well.  Besides the anticipated hordes of female millennials, some of them in very short jeans or jeans with holes in the knees, there were moms with kids in strollers, people in motorized wheelchairs, black women with buns atop their head, young guys in skinny jeans, bored older males accompanying enthusiastic women, one woman in a burka with only her eyes visible, and clusters of girls in head scarves who giggled and darted about like other girls their age.  Many had totes with lettering: I READ YA, ROGUE BOOK NERD, GET LOST IN THE STACKS.

Our aisle at a quiet moment, with me on the left.

         As our aisle filled up, everyone's gimmicks went into full swing.  I flashed my silly signs, reaped smiles; across the aisle author Jill Hynes offered free bookmarks to anyone within reach; another booth had on its counter a little gizmo that flashed lights; and the Kirin Rise Studios booth opposite us, manned by two husky males in black T-shirts, had some sort of whirligig that drew visitors while emitting a soft clickety clickety clickety.

         Among the attendees, wild effects abounded.  Some wore unicorn horns on their forehead, or crowns or flowery headbands, or what looked like sprouting mouse ears, all of them probably giveaways from booths already visited.  Young women strolled by in fancy long dresses like belles out of Gone with the Wind.  Another woman sported a white parasol that looked like it was covered with mothballs, and yet another wore a weird yellow-and-blue cloth or fake-fur helmet that clasped her head on either side, a headdress that my helper Silas identified as a “spirit hat.”  Both men and women of all ages appeared with curlicues of black face paint on one side of their forehead, an adornment administered by another booth previously visited.  One tall young woman so adorned wore a long black dress and a white face mask that made her look absolutely spectral.  But if some attendees were obviously onstage, others hurried by with a determined look on their face, bound for who knows where, while many  lingered and browsed.

No, I'm not sticking my tongue out; it just looks that way.  Note my 
new motto: GEEZERS ROCK.  And the little card pinned to my shirt:

         This parade went on past our booth for an hour, without our making a single sale.  Then, as if out of nowhere, buyers began to appear.  The first was an Asian American mother with a school-age son -- the last person I expected as a buyer – who bought No Place for Normal: New York, my stories about the city, probably in hopes of helping her boy with his English.
         At intervals – sometimes annoyingly long intervals – others followed.  An older woman came and perused our books.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Can’t you tell?” she said with a thick Southern accent. “Ah’m from Alabama.”  I welcomed her, delighted to have an out-of-state visitor, and she explained that her daughter – to her amazement – was obsessed with gay male coming-out stories.  “Are you gay?” she asked bluntly, and I said that I was, hoping she might buy my gay-themed novel The Pleasuring of Men.  But no, she wandered quietly off, perhaps not attuned to the diversity of New York.  (Should I have asked her if she was heterosexual?  Probably, but gentility prevailed.)  Then my spirits rose again when a professor from Rhode Island appeared and, heeding our “Buy two, get one free” offer, gladly took all three books.

         The strangest encounter of the day was a fiftyish woman who appeared and volunteered an account, with wild gestures, of her earlier years in the city.  She had come in the 1980s as a young woman hoping for a glorious jo, stayed at the legendary Chelsea Hotel (see post #299), and when no glorious job appeared, spent the next ten years as a prostitute working with a pimp.
         “Wow!” I said.  “You’ve got a story right there.”
         “I’m trying to write it,” she said, “but I’m stuck.  And there’ll be a sequel, too: my life in the 1990s as a white girl in Harlem.”
         “That’s another story,” I said.
         “It is, but I’m stuck on the first one.”
         She then drifted off, and I had a hunch that those stories would never get written.

The three kinds of buyers

         By the end of the day I had buyers classified as Impulse Buyers, Cautious Buyers, and Vanishing Buyers.  Impulse Buyers came, took a quick look at the books, grabbed one, glanced at the blurb, thumbed through the pages a moment, and (God bless them) bought the book.
         Cautious Buyers, more numerous, looked at the cover, read the blurb on the back, looked through the pages, read the blurb again, looked again through the pages.  By now our hopes were high.  Some then wandered off, while others bought.
         Vanishing Buyers came, looked at the books with seeming interest, pondered, then announced, “I’ll be back,” or “I’ll bring my mom,” or “I’ll bring my friends,” or “I’m going to an ATM, back soon.”  “We’ll never see them again,” said Silas, who had experience selling software.  To reinforce his view, he told how he had once gone to buy a honeycomb from a local farmer at the Union Square Greenmarket.  Finding he was short of cash, he told the farmer he’d go to an ATM, then return.  When he did indeed return to buy the honey, the people at the stand were amazed, explaining that once people leave, they almost never come back.
         Usually Silas was right: when they’re gone, they’re gone; no sale.  Some probably meant to return, but got distracted by other booths, other events.  And some, having spent some time at the booth and raised our hopes, probably were embarrassed not to buy a book, therefore exited with a promise to return.  But there were two exceptions, both on the Sunday following.  An older man, probably gay and himself an author, returned as promised with his publisher, who had a booth nearby; taking us up on “Buy two, get one free," he scooped up all three books.  And a woman who said she needed to get money from an ATM returned minutes later and likewise took all three books. 

A busy BookCon scene.

Day 1: Taking stock

         So what did I know by the end of Saturday, June 3?  I had sold 15 books, hoped to sell as many more, to reach the minimally acceptable number of 30.  And I had reaped a number of insights:

Female millennials aren’t interested in my books.  No surprise.

People want things.  Postcards, magnets, totes – something they can hold and show to others: souvenirs.

Buyers want the author's signature.  They often asked me timidly, almost apologetically, if I would sign the copy they were buying, and were deeply grateful when I did.

The crowd effect.  If one person comes to your stand, it may attract another, then another; a stand with no visitors attracts no one.  (A thought for the future: bribe your friends to come and pretend to buy books.)

Gimmicks don’t sell books.  Silly signs and banners and free bookmarks and whirligigs get attention, but only books sell books: the cover, the blurb, the content, plus a few cogent remarks from the author, if desired by the buyer and appropriate.   

No claustrophobia.  The Javits is vast; no matter how great the crowds, it never felt  crowded.

          Since I obviously wasn’t going to achieve my goal of 40 or more sales, alas, prudence dictated that I take home 10 books, so as to ease the final take-home load Sunday night.  But Silas and I vowed from then on to scan the attendees' badges and get contact info; preoccupied with other matters, we’d forgotten to do this consistently. 

Day 2 at the Javits

         In many ways a repeat of Day 1, but with fewer attendees.  Once again, with our table arranged most fetchingly and lots of candy heaped in the bowl, we waited for the first buyer … and waited and waited.  Then, after 12 noon and once again out of nowhere, came a dynamic math and science teacher from Colorado Springs who wanted to orient her students toward literature as well; to that end, after giving it a good look, she bought Bill Hope, obviously not put off my the narrator’s torrent of words and his faulty grammar.  She asked me to sign it, so I did, wishing her class a good read.

         After that, others came as well.  Two women from West Virginia, one now a South Carolina resident, were drawn to the New York stories; I thought they would share a copy, but no, each bought one for herself.  With them and many who followed, I noticed that the book that got immediate attention was indeed the New York stories, because the cover had bright colors and the magic words “New York.” 

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

         Unique was the visit of Sweet Young Thing, who looked at my books, took to one of them, and asked if she could have it.
         “Of course,” I said, “for fifteen dollars.”
         A look of surprise and dismay.  “It’s not free?”
         “No, miss.  But it’s only fifteen dollars.”
         Crestfallen, Sweet Young Thing wandered off, leaving me with a twinge of 
guilt at having destroyed her innocence.  The big publishers often scheduled book giveaways at a certain time, and she had probably taken full advantage, thus fostering the illusion that all the books were free.

         Whenever there was a flock of attendees close at hand, I flashed my silly signs:


Usually they brought smiles in passing, and some people lingered to see the whole series.   But one older woman came over and asked, "Why are books sexy?"
         "Because they're fun," I said.
         She looked unconvinced, so I went through the whole series of signs.
         "That one is better," she remarked and then, a sign or two later, "Ah, that one I like."  Having settled the matter in her mind, she walked off.

         Some of our neighbors continued to puzzle us.  The booth promoting TRADE SECRET TRILOGY / 13 CUTS had few visitors; we still didn't know what they were up to.  And for some reason the two husky men in black T-shirts manning the Kirin Rise Studios booth across from us had put away their crowd-drawing whirligig and sat in their unvisited booth hour after hour, seemingly unperturbed.

         Meanwhile much was happening around us, both close by and at a distance.  Every so often we would hear a great muffled roar from far away, probably a throng of excited fans responding to some event with a celebrity author.  But whenever music was played, it was barely audible where we were, so I had no opportunity to display my sign GEEZERS ROCK.  And when I kept seeing a long line of attendees stretching out into a hall nearby, including many older women and one with a cane, I finally went to investigate and discovered that they were waiting for a precious minute or two with a popular author of romance who was signing their books.  I didn't envy that author; all those signings must have left her fingers cramped.

         Quick trips to the men’s room let me see young people sprawled in groups on the carpet, many of them with their nose in a tablet or a smart phone.  And if some booths were besieged by attendees, there were others, even big ones, where a lone exhibitor waited in vain for visitors, so sad a scene that I almost went over to one or two of them just to say hello and give the exhibitor a moment of company.  But my own booth beckoned, so I resisted this generous impulse.  Some of those near-deserted booths may have been there primarily for BookExpo, with BookCon and its hordes a sequel of slight importance.

         At other quiet moments I said hello to fellow exhibitors whom I had already been in touch with by e-mail.  In the same aisle with me was Jill Hynes of Staten Island, displaying copies of her debut novel, I’ve Been Running for Miles … and Found Myself, whose title can only be fully grasped once you’ve read a good part of it.  Piper Evans, the protagonist, is indeed a runner, but the Miles she is running for, or rather after, is an aging rock star whom she has a crush on and pursues relentlessly, and often futilely, from concert to concert.  I have read the book and reviewed it on Goodreads, and can affirm that the real point of it becomes clear only at the end, when Piper takes stock of her obsession and achieves a resolution.  It is all about true maturity and self-knowledge, something the young women flooding into BookCon could well come to terms with, though such awareness probably ripens only with time.  The “hook” for readers, as Jill explained to us during a visit to our booth, is the protagonist’s being a single mother, which indeed hooked more than one reader.  Even for those who, like myself, have little knowledge of, or interest in, the rock concert scene, the book is an excellent read.

         In the next aisle over from ours was the booth of novelist David V. Mammina, a dark fantasy author from Long Island who proclaims himself “self-published and proud" -- a statement that I relish, having self-published one book myself.  I haven’t read his novels, but their testing the boundaries between fantasy and horror, while also featuring plot and character development, should appeal to the young people flocking to BookCon.  His website ( is ingeniously organized.  It asks which genre you prefer – sci-fi, mystery/crime, horror, or young adult – then lets you state the length, setting, kind of protagonist, and other features that you prefer; finally, with all this in mind, it presents an appropriate title.  If these genres appeal to you, you can’t do better than search out a title on David Mammina’s website.  David was very helpful in giving me tips for successful exhibiting at BookCon, and told me that, having tried other venues, he had settled on BookCon because its attendees really like to read.  He is a prime example of the truly independent author who bypasses the gatekeepers -- the agents and acquisition editors who erect barriers for so many new authors.  Yet he assured me that, even now with all his experience, he's still learning.

         In the booth right next to me, on the opposite side from the Strand, was Janelle Gabay, who lives with her husband and three children in Florida and exhibited for the first time at Chicago in 2016.  She has authored two self-published books of fantasy science fiction where mortals and immortals mix -- thriller fiction that should appeal to the young women flocking to BookCon.  First Born (2016) and its sequel, First Awakened (2017), will be followed by a third novel so as to create a trilogy.  Janelle says that driving long distances inspires her; her office is her car, with voice dictation a must.  She is another great example of an author who bypasses the gatekeepers to get her books published and into the hands of readers, and all this while raising a family. World, take note: Indie authors make things happen.

Day 2: Taking stock

         So where was I at, after two days of this madness?  Exhausted.  As the closing hour of 5 p.m. on Sunday approached, Silas and I with our last grains of energy desperately begged people to feast on our candy, so we wouldn't have to tote it home with us.  At 5 p.m. we and the other exhibitors were packing up our books and other stuff and, within minutes, heading for the nearest exit.  As Silas and I did so, workmen began rolling up the carpet right behind us.  And once we got out of the Center, took a taxi to my West Village building, and got everything up the four flights of stairs, we were both in a state of near collapse.  Silas then went home, fell into bed, and slept eleven hours straight, which he told me he had never done before in his life.  I got what sleep I could, but it was several days before I could get the experience out of my mind enough to have a full night’s sleep.  On Monday, the first day after the close, I was so tired that every time I tried to count the books that I had left, I got a different total; frustrated, I finally started giggling and couldn’t stop.  BookCon is not easy on exhibitors.  Vast and intense, how could it be? 

          Yes, we were worn out, but at least we didn't have to go back for the big Monday move-out, when all the vast carpeting is rolled up, empty cartons are returned to exhibitors to be used again, and the super-glitzy stands of the big publishers are dismantled and their books and other stuff carted of by forklifts to the loading docks nearby -- an epic spectacle that I had once hoped to view but now was happy to forgo.

The numbers game

         I had taken 20 copies of Pleasuring and 20 of the New York stories to the show, and 40 of Bill Hope.  I had sold 15 books the first day and 11 the second day, for a total of only 26, four short of the minimally acceptable total of 30.  Under any other circumstances, selling 26 books in two days would vault an indie author to pinnacles of bliss.  But this was BookCon, the once-a-year blockbuster event drawing multitudes of buyers, and I had hoped for more.  Was my adventure, then, a waste of time?  Not at all, for I had learned a lot.  Who were my readers?  Of all three books -- to my vast surprise -- older women.  Some older men as well, but above all, older women, meaning women older than millennials.  And where else could I have connected with a dynamic schoolteacher from Colorado, or two ladies from West Virginia, or all the others who bought my books?

         Which book did best?  I was offering three: The Pleasuring of Men, a historical novel about a young male prostitute in 1860s New York that could be labeled gay romance; No Place for Normal: New York, stories celebrating the weird and wonderful craziness of New York City; and Bill Hope: His Story, a historical novel in which a young pickpocket in 1870s New York spills out in a torrent of words his life in and out of prison.  According to my less-than-perfect accounting, my sales were as follows: 
5 Pleasuring, 7 Bill Hope, and 14 No Place for Normal: New York.  So the self-published New York stories did best!  Yet to my and Silas's surprise, several women who bought only one book took Pleasuring.  And how many leads did I capture?  With Silas’s help, 14.  It should have been more, but we got distracted the first day and forgot about this strange high-tech phenomenon known as lead retrieval.

More insights

Lead retrieval works.  On the second day, when we asked everyone who bought a book if we could scan their badge to secure contact information, no one objected.  As a result, I know their name and e-mail address, age range, and genres of interest.

Aisle traffic is essential.  Though I had posted my exhibitor profile online, no one sought me out because of it.  My sales were all a matter of chance, of people coming into the aisle and for some reason noticing my books.  My sales (though maybe not everyone's) depended completely on traffic in the aisle.  With a more central location on the show floor, I would surely have done better.

Is there a young adult option?  Could some (not all) of my books appeal to young adults?  They weren't written with this in mind, but my first sale on both days suggests this possibility, and the genre preferences expressed in my lead retrievals confirm the widespread interest in YA.  Something to ponder.

Reed and Javits

         Reed Exhibitions, the organizer of this huge event, did an excellent job.  So many things could have gone wrong, but with the exception of some initial glitches in the BookCon website, and the delay in setting up the BookCon booths, to my knowledge nothing did.  There were online complaints back in 2015, the second year of BookCon, but Reed has learned by doing.  There was lots of useful pre-show advice, including two videos of the 2016 show in Chicago telling you what to expect and how to appeal to attendees.  During the show their reps were on the floor and from time to time touched base with BookCon exhibitors, asking if we had any questions or suggestions, and urging us to give feedback at the end.  Their attention was appreciated.

         And the Javits Center?  With an anticipated 25,000 people flocking onto the show floor over two days, massive littering might have been expected.  But there were waste baskets everywhere, and employees turned up at frequent intervals to empty them and sweep up any stray bit of litter in sight.  Never has so vast a public space been kept so clean.

Will I or won’t I repeat?

         Should I exhibit again at BookCon in a year?  On the basis of this year’s sales, no.  At least, probably no.  Not that I expected to break even financially.  So what would nudge me the other way?  Above all, a more central location, assuring a greater traffic flow and therefore more sales.  Also, BookCon's offer of lead retrieval; it works.  And the indoor setting, protection against the whims of the weather.  Also, being past the BookCon for Dummies stage, I wouldn’t pester Reed with constant e-mail queries; it would be much easier.  Just as appealing is the chance to connect with real flesh-and-blood readers, and with other indie authors as well.  But I still need a bit more of a nudge.  What might it be?  The possibility of promoting some of my books as young adult?  Maybe, but that's chancy.  So I’ll keep my mind open; a convincing idea may come.

          So much for me.  And BookCon?  At its busiest, it was wild, it was crazy, it was New York -- just the kind of event that this blog celebrates.  EMBRACE  THE  MADNESS  said one of my signs; to the best of our ability, and with a full blast of energy, we did.

Coming soon:  Americans Are Ghouls.  Mummies, science, voyeurism, and our lack of respect for the dead.

©   2017   Clifford Browder

Sunday, June 11, 2017

302A. BookCon, Where Authors and Readers Collide

         Here, as promised, is my post about BookCon 2017, with emphasis on exhibitors, to be followed in a week by another on attendees.  First, what is BookCon?  Advertised as being “where storytelling and pop culture collide,” BookCon is an annual book fair, usually held in New York at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center following BookExpo.  So what is BookExpo?  

BookExpo and BookCon

         BookExpo is an annual event, held this year at the Javits Center on Thursday, June 1, and Friday, June 2, where the book trade talks to itself.  The public is excluded, for this is a gathering only of those involved in the book trade, meaning publishers, authors (especially bestsellers), agents, and librarians, as well as filmmakers looking for the next blockbuster book that might be made into a blockbuster film.  It’s all about networking, keeping in touch with old contacts and developing new ones, and sniffing out the latest in publishing trends.  It is most definitely not about finding an agent or publisher, and to approach someone on the floor with this in mind is to brand yourself a pushy newbie and suffer the consequences.

          BookCon, which only dates from 2014 and follows hot on the heels of BookExpo, is an event where the book trade welcomes consumers (hence “con”) with open arms, and feasts them with titles old and new, author talks and signings, giveaways, and geeky book-related products.  This year it was held at the Javits on Saturday, June 3, and Sunday, June 4.  So if the trade excludes the public for the first two days, it then repents of its action, rediscovers readers, and throws its gates wide open.  And the event is BIG: held last year for a single day in (to the dismay of many) Chicago, it expected and presumably got 10,000 visitors.  But this year, held for two days in New York, which likes to do things BIGGER THAN BIG, it anticipated 25,000, of which I was one.

Into the labyrinth

         So ill informed was I, as a very small published author, that until last winter I had never heard of BookExpo or BookCon, and had never set foot in, or even glimpsed from a distance, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (named for a deceased but well remembered U.S. senator from New York) at Eleventh Avenue and West 34th Street, on the booming west side of Manhattan.  What alerted me to these events was an unsolicited e-mail offer from some outfit I’d never heard of, promising – for a tidy sum – to get me into the book event and connect me with an agent.  Though I was justifiably skeptical of the offer and deleted it, it occurred to me that maybe I should look into the matter myself, with the result that, after much time spent online, I enrolled in BookExpo as an author to the tune of $400, which I thought a bit steep, since other participants got in for less, and without authors there would be no such event, no publishers, and no agents either.  Then, poking about further online, I realized that BookExpo was not for me, since what I needed at the moment was readers, not contacts with agents and publishers, who today couldn’t be bothered with small fry like myself.  Result: I got my $400 refunded and, by forking out a mere $2,000, rented a 10' x 10' exhibitor’s booth for BookCon.  Sheer folly, of course, since I had no idea what I was getting into.  But it would look good in a query letter to small publishers, who want to know an author’s marketing plan, and it would satisfy my modest appetite for adventure.  So began the BookCon for Dummies phase of my adventure.

         By way of preparation, I saw on an online plan of the show floor that my booth #2876 was in the BookCon section -- the section for small presses and indie authors who wouldn't attend BookExpo -- way up in the northwest corner of the floor.  I wondered if visitors would find their way to me in what looked like a remote backwater, but when I learned that the famous Strand Bookstore would have a big booth right next to me, I breathed a sigh of relief: they would draw traffic into my aisle.  On the BookCon website I also watched two videos showing hordes of visitors swarming into the one-day 2016 show in Chicago, and informing me that attendees were 52% female millennials, the rest being older women and, in smaller numbers, men.  A problem: these young women read genre fiction -- romance, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult, horror, thrillers -- which I don’t do.  So could I entice them into historical fiction and nonfiction?  KNOW YOUR READERS is standard advice to authors these days, so for each of my three offerings I tried to do just that.

Know your readers

         The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011).  New York, late 1860s.  A respectably raised young man decides to become a male prostitute, servicing the city’s elite, then falls in love with his most difficult client.  Gay romance, if it must be labeled.  I decided to put out 20 copies.  Probable readers: older gay men, as I had learned in hawking it at the Rainbow Book Fair five years ago.  Not a likely hit for BookCon, alas. Yet the reviews of it on the Goodreads website have all been by women, which gave me pause for thought.  (Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

         No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (self-published with Mill City Press, 2015).  An award-winning selection of posts from my blog, with such subjects as Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, alcoholics, abortionists, grave robbers, peyote visions, my mugging in Central Park, steamboat wars on the Hudson, and an artist who made art out of a blood-filled squirt gun and a blackened human toe.  Again, 20 copies.  Probable readers: anyone who lives, has lived, or would like to live in New York, and anyone who is visiting, has visited, or would like to visit the city.  Pretty broad, perhaps, but the best that I could do.  (Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

         Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017).  New York, 1870s.  From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, a young street kid turned pickpocket spills out in a torrent of words his career as a thief who wants better, his numerous prison stays (escaping once in a coffin), his forays into polite society, his testimony before an investigating committee, his hate of snitches and bullies, and his stay in a lunatic asylum, from which he emerges to face death threats and possible involvement in a murder.  Forty copies of this one, since it was the most recent, just hot off the press.  Probable readers: anyone interested in history, especially history of New York, anyone interested in action adventure and crime.  Again, pretty broad.  Maybe older males.  (Available from Amazon.)

         And how many books did I hope to sell?  Not many, by bestseller standards, since female millennials were probably not my audience.  I hoped for 40 or more sales, would consider 20 disappointing, and decided that 30 would be minimally acceptable. A modest projection, I thought, though I didn’t dismiss the grim possibility of my sitting glumly in my booth, totally neglected by the multitudinous swarm of young women hurrying elsewhere.

         Such were my assumptions about readers and sales.  Regarding readers, I was completely and outrageously wrong.

         Next, learning who some of my future neighbors in the BookCon section of the exhibit floor would be, I contacted them by e-mail and, being in the BookCon for Dummies stage, asked if they had any advice for a newbie.  They were all delighted to hear from me and offered lots of advice.

Put out lots of swag

         Attendees love swag, meaning free stuff, so put out lots.  I decided on candy and at first thought about Hershey’s Kisses, since everyone loves chocolate, and the double entendre possibilities were endless: “Would you like some of my kisses?” or “Don’t leave without a kiss,” and so on.  But then I thought about fingers smeared with chocolate getting near my beloved books and opted instead for hard candy, specifically, lollipops with lots of colors.  A big heap of it in a bowl on the table in my 10’ x 10’ booth.

Gotta have a gimmick

         Everyone agreed that you had to hook the attendees’ attention, get them to notice your modest little booth among those many others.  Possibilities: a big colorful banner, free bookmarks, anything to catch their eye.  My solution -- a series of bold-face signs:         

I would present them on a bookstand on the table and at intervals remove the top one so as to reveal the next one, and then, if I heard music from a distance and began to pulse with it, climax them with


I would probably be the oldest exhibitor there and meant to play it to the hilt.

Polish your spiel

         Some attendees would want to read the blurb and decide on their own, but others would ask what it was about, so exhibitors should be ready with a good spiel to snag their interest.  So I worked up a pitch.  Example: for the New York stories:  “All about the good side and the bad of New York.  My mugging in Central Park was definitely not good, but it made me a real New Yorker – I had joined the club.”  Hopefully it would get a laugh or at least a smile.

Don’t do it alone

         I had thought it might be cool to handle it all myself, but who would cover for me if I ran to the john or went out for lunch?  And how would I get all my books to the Center?  So I asked my young friend Silas Berkowitz, whom I had met a year before at a college alumni gathering, and he jumped at the chance, seeing it all as an adventure.  He works for Microsoft, has a flexible schedule, and is tech-savvy, so he seemed a perfect fit.  His knowledge of tech would let him handle credit card payments and do something called lead retrieval, scanning attendees’ badges to obtain their e-mail addresses for future contact.  And for all the years between us, we laughed at the same things, and our interests overlapped.  With me at 88 and him at 26, we would be an odd couple, though “couple” is hardly the word, since we were not in the usual sense of the word (honni soit qui mal y pense) a couple, just friends.

The odd couple.  No need to say who's who.
(Unless otherwise attributed, all the photos in
this and the next post are Silas's.)
Make it fun

         Of course, that goes without saying.  But from my experience at the Rainbow Book Fair in 2012, and stories my artist friend Henry told of dealing with potential buyers, I know the woes of hawking your wares in person: someone shows an interest – even a keen interest – in what you're offering and then, having fueled your hopes of a sale, they walk blithely away.  But BookCon is a festival, a fun time, so you have to squelch any feeling of annoyance or disappointment and hope for better.  Sour looks and frowns are taboo.  So flash your signs, offer them candy, smile, and have fun yourself; it will (hopefully) communicate. 

Know the lingo

         I picked it up online.  You’ve got to feed the buzz.  You want to be one of their faves, one of their besties.  You want to geek out.  lol

         So much for advice.  But how to get my stuff to the show?

Getting there

         Exhibitors coming from a great distance contract with Freeman, the exclusive provider of freight services for the show, to ship their books and other stuff to a warehouse in Maspeth, New York, for later delivery, or they schedule the delivery so it arrives at just the right time at the Center.  But one reason the show had tempted me from the start was that, living in the West Village, I was only a short ten-dollar taxi ride from the Javits.  The move-in for BookExpo, with all the big publishers bringing hundreds of books and all kinds of stuff for their lavish displays, would be a frenzied horror, but the move-in for BookCon, the venue for small presses and indie authors like me who eschewed the delights of BookExpo, was very precise and limited: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 2, immediately following the close of BookExpo.   

         So it was that Silas and I stacked three cartons of books in my aging laundry cart, plus more books in our shoulder bags, and through the wonders of tech (his idea, of course) summoned a car by Lyft to my very doorstep in the Village, and took a quick ride up to the Javits at Eleventh Avenue and West 34th Street.  When we got out and made for the entrance, we took a quick glance around us and saw towering high-rises under construction nearby, dwarfing by their height the massive glass box of the Javits.  The Hudson Yards just to the south of the Javits were definitely “hot” real estate; the whole West Side was booming.

File:Javits Center (15341738570).jpg
The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Eden, Janine and Jim

         Inside, we found ourselves in a vast airplane hangar-like structure with huge stretches of space, big signs overhead announcing future events, and another giant sign, which we reached after a walk the equivalent of four city blocks, welcoming us to BookExpo and BookCon.  We went at once to the registration counter and collected our red-ribboned exhibitor badges, without which we couldn’t get in, and hung them around our neck.  But we had arrived a little before 5:00 p.m., when BookExpo ended and our move-in began, so we sat for a while nearby and met a couple visiting from China who wanted to see the U.N. building; the wife spoke English, so Silas gave her directions and we wished them well – a reminder of the international attraction of this city and the Javits. 

         At the magic hour of five we entered the huge exhibit floor and trudged this way and that until we saw a distant overhead sign that said 2800.  Since our booth was #2876, we headed that way and found a vast lot of ... nothing.  Right where we thought we should be located: nothing!  At least, nothing that looked like our little section of BookCon.  So Silas took off to find the office of Reed Exhibitions, who were running the show, to learn what the problem was; returning, he said there had been a little error, but the booths would soon be installed.  Exploring further, he found a very empty booth numbered 2876, but no table or chairs, and most of the nearby booths likewise empty.  I in turn scurried off to query Reed and was told: “No need to worry.  The tables are on their way.”  So we waited in the empty booth, screened in back by an eight-foot black curtain, and on either side by a low three-foot black curtain.  Not that the place was deserted; beyond the end of our aisle there was a wide entrance to the loading docks, and fork-lifts came from there lumbering down our aisle like looming monsters, carrying huge cartons to other distant booths with displays far more elaborate than ours.  Finally, about 6:00 p.m., workmen began arriving with the missing tables, and once ours was installed at the front of the booth, similarly draped in black, we felt that the booth, though still minus chairs, at least existed.  Wanting to get a good night’s sleep, we decided to go home, hoping that the chairs would also arrive.  Which they did, for we found them there when we arrived on Saturday morning. 

Me in the booth, with the Strand postcards and magnets close by.

Fellow toilers in the vineyard

         Once we had installed our books, signs, and candy on the table, I took a quick look around at our neighbors.  Just next to us was the Strand Bookstore booth, selling everything but books: postcards at a dollar apiece, magnets to be mounted on a refrigerator door or any metallic surface, T-shirts, totes, and even socks with brief messages like “ I love New York.”  The postcards were mounted on stands right next to us, so we could feast our eyes on their messages:


I couldn’t resist buying one:

                  New York-er
noun – a fast-walking, fast-talking person who lives
in the best city on earth.
ex: “Get out of my way, I’m walking here.”

This is the abrasive image that New Yorkers themselves like to project, but I would argue that New Yorkers are in fact less aggressive, less rude, just direct and to the point.

         And right next to the postcards were the magnets, with similar messages:


How “with it” can you get?  I predicted that the Strand products would fly off the shelves and the racks.

         Just across the aisle from the Strand was Book Beau, advertising itself as “the best way to love your books.”  And what did it offer?   A water- and stain-resistant "sleeve" (thin bag) to protect books and make them look beautiful; there were many patterns, and they were indeed beautiful.

         Next to Book Beau and just across from us was Kirin Rise Studios, with a big banner showing a young woman, maybe Asian, who was evidently the heroine of a novel by an author named Ed Cruz.  Later I would learn that she lived in the year 2032 and used martial arts to fight bravely against government corruption and corporate greed – something we could use in 2017.  But just what the booth was selling was never clear to me. 

         Next to Book Beau was what Silas and I came to refer to as the “mystery booth”: a booth at first empty, with a sign reading TRADE SECRET  TRILOGY / 13 CUTS, which meant nothing to us.  Later an African American family with a young child came to occupy the booth, but what they were up to baffled us.  They were evidently presenting a series of books, but by whom and about what was not apparent.  Later I learned that the author was “DOJ,” which hardly cleared things up.  And a small card that we retrieved from their table had texts in such small print, and in such fancy type, that their enterprise remained shrouded in mystery.  And this right across from the flagrantly and deliciously commercial offerings of the Strand!

         At the magic hour of 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 3, the gates to BookCon 2017 swung wide open and hordes of female millennials, plus assorted others, began pouring onto the exhibit floor.  We saw the first arrivals in the distance, some of them hurrying in our direction.  Our adventure was at last beginning.  “Two against twenty-five thousand,” I said to Silas.  “How can we lose?”

         Coming soon:  Part 2 of BookCon, focused on attendees, plus notes on two of my BookCon neighbors, authors Jill Hynes and David Mammina.  Who were the attendees, where were they from, what did they want, how did Silas and I interact with them, which books sold, and who were the buyers?  Surprises galore; I would never have guessed.

         ©   2017   Clifford Browder