This coming weekend the 24th – 26th July should have been when the book community descend on Olympia for the annual Young Adult Literature Convention. A fun filled weekend allowing book bloggers, vloggers and fans alike to immerse themselves in in a host of activities including talks/panels, a chance to meet authors as well as other book lovers, competitions and of course a lot of shopping! Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be this year and I know I wasn’t alone in feeling very disappointed when YALC was cancelled (I obviously completed understand why!). Luckily the organisers along with many publishers have joined together to give us a book filled weekend of fun. I know I am going to be spending the whole weekend listening to online talks, participating in Twitter take overs, reading YA and watching some vloggers videos from last year. 2019 was the first time I had attended YALC and I had an absolute blast! It was such a positive experience for me but at the time I wasn’t blogging so I never documented my first trip. I therefore thought It would be fun a year on to reflect on my first experience of YALC, all the highs, lows and everything in between.
Getting to YALC was never going to be fun for me as I really dislike the underground and usually avoid it at all costs. However, this year I was determined to get there. It just so happened that the event occurred on the last day of a heatwave so it was ridiculously hot and it set the tone for the day. When arriving at Olympia we were met with a whole host of queues and we a little unsure where to go. We did the typically British thing of finding the longest queue and assuming we needed to join it. After asking someone in said queue we realised we had joined a line for 3-day pass holders. Surprisingly the queue we needed was on the other side of the building and was very short. We ended up being some of the first people through the door, much to ours surprised. We took an empty lift to the correct floor and we were in! it was a pretty stress-free easy experience. I am not sure it would have been so if we had 3 day passes and had to join a very long queue or if we had attended over the weekend as I believe those days were much busier.
Upon arrival the whole of the YALC floor was pretty much empty and immediately felt very overwhelmed, having no idea what to do next. This year YALC had introduced a system virtual queues by giving out numbered tickets for each author to manage the lines at the meet and greet/signings. We were told there would be giving out tickets for all authors and they would decide at the time of the signing if they were going to implement the virtual queue. The only author I met who they did enforce the virtual queue was Alice Oseman. My husband (who was my reluctant companion for the day) suggested we grab tickets for any authors I want to meet. I did just that and all the numbered tickets I got were quite low and impacted on how long I queued later one to meet Alice. I believe that was a good shout and something I would definitely do again.
Once I had my tickets, I went back to feeling a little lost. At that point we just began to wander around and look at publisher stalls. As I mentioned at this point it was still very quiet so many of the stalls were empty. This would be a great opportunity, if you interact with different publishers online to go and speak to the people behind the screens. For an anxiety filled person like myself I just felt quite awkward. I did venture to some stalls though and bought a few books, picked up some book swag (bookmarks, book samplers, pin badges) and got tickets for any ARC raffles that I was interested in.
I did go to one panel; I had planned to go to more but as mentioned I did have my hubby with me and I was conscious that listening to authors chat for 45 minutes wasn’t really his thing. The panel I did attend I got a front row seat for, I arrived maybe 10 minutes before to get this. The panel I watched, the first of the day was chaired my Akemi Dawn Bowman and featured Holly Bourne, Sara Bernard, Emma Smith-Barton & Amelia Manderville discussing mental health in YA. I really enjoyed listening the authors talk about books I have read and enjoyed and coming away with lots of new recommendations from authors I hadn’t read from before.
My next big hurdle was meeting the authors! As mentioned, I suffer from anxiety and I am going to be honest and say I had a small melt down as I was about to join the queue to meet the first author, Sara Bernard. I just became completed overwhelmed with how many people were around, how hot it was and the prospect of meeting someone who is stranger and having to talk to them! I think at one pointed I joined the queue and left again; I was getting in a real pickle. I stepped away from everyone else and took some time to calm myself down. I was really aware that I would regret not getting my books signed if I turned away now. I asked my Hubby to find somewhere to wait whilst I queued on my own as that just seemed to make me feel a little calmer. I am so glad I persevered, not just because I got to meet authors whose books I have loved but because I felt quite proud of myself that I overcome something that felt like quite a battle for me. Throughout the day I met Sara Bernard, Holly Bourne, Emma Barton-Smith, Alice Oseman, Laura Stevens, Anna Mainwaring, Kate Mallinder, Gill Stewart, Rachel Churcher & Karen Gregory, all of which were so lovely. I didn’t have one bad interaction with any of the authors. The longest I waited to meet an author was around 20 minutes for Alice Oseman and as mentioned I was one of the first few in the virtual queue. However, all other authors I met within 5/10 minutes so I believe it was so worthwhile getting tickets to meet the authors right at the start.
As the day went on and I felt more confident, I did chat so some people at the punishing stalls too. This led to some really nice conversations and some great book recommendation. I particularly liked chatting to the lady working on the stall of Barrington Stoke publishers. I had heard of this publisher before as they specialise in printing books in a dyslexia friendly ways. As someone with dyslexia I often struggle to read books if the font is too small/in the a type face I don’t like or the pages too white so I have always liked that this publisher offers something to help with this. It was lovely to talk to someone behind who works behind the scenes to make this happened. I picked up Holly Bourne’s short story What Magic is This?
Before the event, I heard some negatives from people who had attended previous years and hadn’t had great experiences. I had heard people discussing accessibility not being great for various reasons. I had also heard that publishers doing ARC drops could be stressful and had led to people getting a little thoughtless and that in turn impacting on the experiences of others. I can obviously only speak on the one event, but overall, it was a positive experience. I didn’t win any ARCs but that was literally luck of the draw as all the ones I took part in were raffles. I believe this was the first-year publishers had been told that they couldn’t do ARC giveaway that were first come first served or involving challenges as this had caused problems in the past. I saw one instance where a publisher was still doing first come first served and I think, particularly on the Saturday this caused complaints so was stopped on the Sunday. I also found that generally the atmosphere felt very positive, I had been to several craft shows in the past and the attendees can be ruthless when it comes to pushing, shoving and being inconsiderate to others and it can really affect your experience. I didn’t see much of this whilst at YALC (there are always going to be one or two occurrences), people seemed happy and there was a nice atmosphere you get when lots of people come together to celebrate a mutual you all love.
Finally, I, of course bought lots and lots of book! I came with a backpack full of books to be signed and went home with two full tote bags and second rucksack full of new books. I can now understand why so many people take suitcases! I always thought that was a little extreme but, it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment and get very carried away. I personally blame my husband for this as he left me unattended to go to a local emergency dentist (there is a whole saga of teeth removal and infection that this post does not need) However, I left with absolutely no regrets and fully intend to buy just as many next time I attend. I was going to include how many of the books I bought I have read since YALC but I don’t think it’s a good idea to mention that!
I wanted to finish this by saying that although this post is pretty lengthy, I only attended one day at YALC. I felt I packed lots into that day but there was so much I missed. From visiting the Fairyloot & Illumicrate stalls (they always had huge queues) to more panels, workshops and thats not even considering the two further days that I didn’t attend. It’s just such an amazing event with so much to do that YA book lovers can immerse themselves in to. I hope in a years’ time I am sat here planning my day at YALC 2021 but for now, I am off to plan how I want to spend my #atHomeYALC
Please do head to twitter to check out all of the great events YALC and the publishers have organised.