This past weekend New York City played host to thousands of book lovers, authors, publishers, and various exhibitors for BookCon, organized by ReedPop and sponsored by EPIC Reads. From 10:00 AM on Saturday morning to Sunday evening, convention-goers could attend panels, walk the showroom floor to browse exhibitor booths, meet-up with fellow book lovers, and get their books signed in the autographing area.
Though BookCon was perfect for every kind of book fan or anyone interested in publishing, the panels tended to be especially beneficial for aspiring, young writers. Every panel we had the pleasure of attending was chock full of advice, anecdotes, and inspiration from both the authors and the moderators.
For anyone at all interested in the book industry, here are some key pieces of info we learned at BookCon:
Get It Done!
From Jason Reynolds to Marie Lu, there was a common thread of advice through every panel we attended: get the first draft finished, even if it is utter crap. Danielle Paige, author of the Dorothy Must Die series, said her advice to new writers was, “Try the thing that scares you. Write that thing down because, I mean, that’s how we all got here.” She and every panelist we listened to this weekend were terrified to become writers and are still second guessing themselves even if they’ve put out dozens of books. Finally, taking the leap is how you get better, how you get anywhere in your career. The entirety of the “Magic of World Building” panel, other than Danielle, used to write fanfiction when they were young and panelist Melissa De La Cruz actually encouraged it! Getting comfortable writing in someone else’s world, in her opinion, is a big step to getting comfortable building your own.
One of our favorite panels of the weekend was “Magic with an Edge,” a panel filled with the hilarity of authors Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo. “Magic with an Edge” was decidedly marked by Holly and Leigh’s friendship as it was filled with silly anecdotes and behind-the-scenes info that readers were aware of. Our biggest takeaway: the buddy system does wonders. When asked about their writing process, both authors said that writing with friends always helps and having a second pair of eyes gives you a perspective outside of your own. Even having friends in your peripheral space helps, especially when writing about difficult material. When Shannon Hale was writing her current book, Real Friends, she had to put herself back into the mindset of her younger, bullied self. However, she told the audience that the YA author group chat she’s in was an unexpected but welcome reminder that she wasn’t in that dark place anymore.
Don’t Be Afraid to See Yourself in Your Writing
Surprise! Realizing your original characters are actually a lot like you isn’t as selfish as you think it is. After an audience member asked how to pull herself out of her writing, E. Lockhart promptly told her to do the opposite. She said, “When you put your vulnerability on the page, that is when people connect.” Previously, Lockhart had said that she writes women that are real and morally flawed for a reason. She writes messy, angry women that she wasn’t seeing on the page, women she saw and still sees in herself. Leigh Bardugo began to find herself in her work as well when writing Kaz, a fan favorite from Six of Crows. While coming to grips with her own disabilities, Bardugo found herself writing a disabled character she never saw, a disabled character that is strong and so terrifying “you cross the street when you see them coming.” Even after Leigh saw that Kaz was, in a way, a self-insert, the disabled and newly empowered fans she began seeing at her signings and at conventions seemed more than worth it to her. Writing the character you need isn’t selfish; it’s cathartic and a service to so many people who need that character just as much as you do.
Write the Stories You Need(ed)
This tip, and the previous bit of advice, consistently went hand-in-hand throughout the weekend. No matter the genre, every author had a similar experience: they are writing books they needed when they were younger or the books they need now. The topic of representation came up multiple times throughout the weekend, both directly and organically. Adam Silvera gave a beautiful sentiment about how, despite publishers advising him otherwise, he writes books about the queer Puerto Rican boy he needed to see in novels as a teenager; the result of his hard, heartfelt work is a host of fans across a broad spectrum of ethnicity, gender, and orientation who frequently write to thank him for his work. During the same panel, “Write Here, Write Now,” Adam’s fellow panelist Jennifer E. Smith took a different spin on using fiction to deal with sociopolitical issues. She earnestly told the audience that, “Books are cracks of light in the dark.” Yes, all of us are trying so hard to be as socially conscious as possible, to stay vigilant, but Smith made a good point: escapism and small bits of hope are what help us stay sane during the constant barrage of stress we’re faced with daily. Needing that release does not make us weak, nor does it make us bad activists, it makes us human. The moral of the story was: write the story you need or needed to see, even if all you need is a break.
BookCon will return June 2 & 3, 2018