It probably comes as no surprise considering the number of book reviews that I write for our site that I am a huge reader. I love books and one of my favorite things about San Diego Comic-Con is how readily the publishing industry embraces it. Most major book publishers – and a ton of smaller ones, too – have a presence at SDCC and they are out in force promoting their upcoming prose novels right alongside the comic publishers.
While it’s certainly not BookCon, SDCC offers a lot of great opportunities for readers to connect with their favorite authors, pick up some cool freebies, and more. Their booths aren’t necessarily as big or centrally located as some of their comic publisher counterparts but they have all kinds of fun stuff planned for attendees all weekend long.
The best way to keep track of what publishers have planned is to pay attention to their social media pages and blogs – but you can also stop by their booths at SDCC, where they often have schedules available with all their panels, signings, and giveaways handily outlined for you.
But let’s say you’ve never explored the book-side of SDCC before. What can you expect?
Generally the central hub for a publisher’s SDCC activities, you’ll want to check out the exhibitor list and hall map so you know where to find your favorite publishers before the convention. Once you’re on the floor it’s super easy to get distracted – or lost. With the obvious exception of the Penguin Random House booths, publishers aren’t generally identified by logo on the map. You may want to keep a handy list of booth numbers in your phone or written out somewhere so you’re not frantically trying to find them later.
Most years the majority of the book publishers’ booths are close together – and this year doesn’t seem to be an exception. But even when the majority of them are in one place, there’s always that one publisher who is as far removed as possible from the rest. I’m looking at you, MacMillian imprints – though you guys have an awesome location.
Booths are a great place to start because – like I said earlier – you can get the skinny on all of a publisher’s SDCC plans early on.
Plus you have the opportunity to buy books, sometimes limited edition merchandise, and more. Some publishers even let you buy books early that haven’t been released yet at SDCC, which is really cool. You’ll have to talk with them about any potential discounts – but at the very least it’s nice to know that if you don’t have a book for an author to sign you can always pick one up at last minute!
Not that you have to buy everything at these booths. Advanced review copies and paperback releases of popular books are given out all the time – as well as other book swag. And they’re a great place to just hang around for a bit. You’ll get to meet all kinds of other book fans as well as some really awesome publicists who work for the various publishers.
PRO TIP: If you’re looking for Star Wars books do not go to the Penguin Random House booths. You’ll find the Star Wars specific section of Del Rey’s imprint in the Lucasfilm area. I say ‘area’ instead of booth because last year they had a whole temple facade built up in the middle of the exhibit hall floor so who knows what they’ve got planed for this year!
Okay, so, what about those giveaways I mentioned earlier? Clear out some space in your suitcases because if you play your cards right you can score a ton of free books at SDCC. Publishers given out a bunch of books every year – most often at their booths. Some books are given out at specific times but there have been plenty of times that I’ve just happened to be walking by a booth when suddenly staffers are piling tables up with all kinds of free books!
Some of the books are advanced review copies while some are actually retail trade paperbacks. Sometimes publishers actually giveaway specially designed free copies of books with SDCC-specific branding. In some cases, those versions even come with sneak peeks for other titles from the publisher or upcoming books in a particular series, which is pretty cool.
Now, I can’t tell you what books are going to be given out for free this year but in past years we’ve gotten seriously popular titles such as Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir to name a few.
That said, one of the greatest giveaways every year is Penguin Random House’s Comic-Con Mad Libs books. You can pick them up free and they’re amazingly fun. They also give you something silly to do to pass time if you’re ever stuck in a line at SDCC.
The publishers also give out other fun stuff, too. You can get tote bags, pins, bookmarks, and sometimes silly things like cardboard hats and masks throughout the day. Often, they gets creative with their giveaways, too. There have been prize wheels utilized in the past and last year there was just a cube fixture filled with copies of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. If you’re not sure if something is free or not – just ask.
Now, I do want to let you all know that sometimes giveaways aren’t always at the publishers’ booths. We got our copies of Red Rising handed to us randomly while walking through the Gaslamp District. So while you can definitely up your chances at giving cool, free stuff by keeping up with booth schedules, you also might find yourself surprised by free books elsewhere, too!
Signings are always a huge part of SDCC, whether they’re for the actors in the latest, greatest The CW series or the creators of your favorite comic books. But fans of certain authors also have the opportunity to get their favorite books signed by the folks that wrote them. Right now there are about a dozen authors already confirmed to be attending this year’s convention with more still undoubtedly to be announced.
Signings are actually held in a variety of places. Some are hosted in-booth while others take place in the Sails Pavilion autograph area. The majority of signings are open and operate on a first come, first served basis and booths can get crowed quickly. Make sure to keep an eye out for where lines begin and end and listen to the folks managing the booth lines. If a line gets capped it may re-open later. Just keep an eye out, but don’t crowd around in the aisles.
Make sure to check in at the publishers’ booths or on their social media pages to check on in-booth signings so you know when to be there for the best shot at getting into the signing. Signings in Sails Pavillon usually get added to the official Comic-Con website and schedule so they can be a little easier to keep track of than in-booth signings.
Sails Pavillon signings can be limited so make sure you check whether or not you need a wristband to enter like you did with the Sarah J. Maas signings in 2016. And definitely don’t discount the group signings. There are some amazing groups of authors that do signings together – often because they’re on a panel together at some point during the weekend.
For example, last year’s Nerd Trivia Challenge: Author Edition signing had an amazing group of authors, including Patrick Rothfusss, Pierce Brown, Chuck Wendig, Cecil Castellucci, and VE Schwab (just to name a few) all together for one epic signing. Even if you’re not familiar with a couple of the authors you can still go to the signing and say hello. Who knows, you might walk away with some new book recommendations!
Now, you do want to be prepared for these signings so make sure to bring something for the authors to sign if needed. Most publishers will have books available to purchase at their booths so if you forget your copy of a particular book at home you can always pick up another one. Some authors also provide books or posters for the authors to sign. For example, last year Pierce Brown signed free copies of Red Rising last year during his in-booth signing. (A lot of comic book publishers do something similar and provide issues for purchase but also provide free posters for everyone who comes to a signing.)
All right, but what if you’re not a huge fan of having to haul swag back home at the end of SDCC? I mean, books are heavy. Posters are always a pain to get home safely – especially on an airplane. Never fear – the authors who are in attendance are on some amazing panels. I’m not joking when I say that the author panels I attend at SDCC are often times some of the best panels of the show.
Author panels are always fun because the authors are generally pretty candid. Whether they are attending a panel that’s spotlighting just their own work or sitting on a panel with half a dozen other authors talking about some pre-determined topic, they always seem to be having fun. Which means, in turn, that the audience is also having fun. I’ve laughed more during panels with authors (and comic creators, too) than I probably ever have during a Hall H panel trying to hype people up for some movie or television show.
So what kind of panels do authors participate in at SDCC?
Some of the topics authors tackled in panels last year included: retellings of classic stories and plots, ending an on-going YA series, and what it’s like to be a female geek creator. There were also panels highlighting new authors as well as panels spotlighting specific authors and their works over the years. Some publishers also bring together a bunch of their authors to talk about their new books. And some of the book-centric panels actually feature publicists and editors who are there to promote new titles.
Basically, there are ton of different types of panels for you to check out. You can check out panels that focus on your favorite authors. You can check out panels that can help you find recommendations for great new books. Or you can attend panels where authors are just having fun being silly and challenging each other at random trivia.
Since we’re still a few weeks out from SDCC at this point we unfortunately can’t tell you for sure what authors will be attending this year or what kind of panels they have planned. As soon as we have some more information we’ll share it on our social media pages.
Until then, keep an eye out on the SDCC special guests page and on the various publishers’ blogs and social media accounts. And join us in anxiously awaiting the full SDCC schedule which usually drops two weeks before the convention. Once it’s available, there’s usually an option that let’s you show all the book-related panels and limited signings for the whole weekend.