IT IS TIME TO TALK ABOUT YALC 2017.
This year, I made plans. Big plans. I booked a weekend ticket, I got time off work, I made plans to stay at a friend’s house during the event (she was on a Mediterranean cruise – poor her), and found online friends to spend time with. This year, I was killin’ it.
YALC 2017, despite attending for the last two years, has been a completely different experience than any other years I’ve been there. It was bigger, more crowded, and I felt so much more confident in myself where everyone I hung out with I had met over our love of books on the internet. I also happened to receive a lot of free books!
Here are the overwhelmingly good parts of YALC 2017.
While only getting around to a few talks, the ones that I did watch were absolutely fantastic. I loved the genre-bending panel (and not just because V.E. Schwab was on it) but it really spoke to me. I often struggle with what category I want my stories to be in; I often worry about what will be marketable, what neat little boxes publishers and agents will want my idea to fit into in order to sell it. But this talk gave a bigger perspective: right what you love, change things up, don’t restrict yourself.
Another fantastic talk was In Conversation With Patrick Ness, which I had watched last year but mainly revolved around the release of the movie adaptation of A Monster Calls. This year was all about Release, Ness’ newest…release. A book I adored and read in about a day. He and Juno Dawson (who was a FANTASTIC chair and I honestly wouldn’t have minded if it was In Conversation with Juno Dawson and Patrick Ness) talked deeply about #ownvoices, about Patrick’s books, and writing from experience. It was incredible how Ness can stop for a second, think about his answer, and come up with most poetic thing I’ve ever heard. There’s a reason this guy’s a writer.
The Kindness of Strangers
I made a whole blog post about stumbling across some strangers who comforted me during my first few days at work, but YALC ended up being not only the kindness of strangers, but the generosity of strangers.
It’s news to no one that YALC 2017 was the year of rushing for arcs (which I talk about the negative side later on). People were poised at the ready, with Twitter on their phones and publishers’ accounts notifications on. It felt a little like The Hunger Games, however I had no ARC in mind that I was excited about getting. If I got some, then hey, I got some. When Story HQ dropped a three ARC giveaway, I was excited; one ARC wasn’t even professionally bound, it was that early of an ARC! I looked on the table and saw only a few left of a book called Blackbird. I wasn’t that interested, but hey ho I got one and I’ll be reading it soon enough. I looked up the other two that were being given away, and one was called City of Brass. When I read the synopsis, I was already hooked. A historical fantasy set in the Middle East. The final cover even had a silhouette of The Hagia Sophia. I got instant And I Darken/Now I Rise vibes, and needed it. While everyone at Story HQ was preoccupied with ARCs of Zenith, I thought maybe they had a few to giveaway, however, they informed me that they had 6 left.
It’s Saturday night, I’m thinking it’s worth a shot.
And lo and behold, as I’m running out of options, SUNDAY MORNING SOMEBODY MESSAGES ME. This lovely person doesn’t even want to swap a book with me, she’s just going to straight up give me City of Brass.
I get to YALC, and I find her; she’s got a suitcase full of books, and just pulls out City of Brass like it’s no big deal and hands it to me. OH. MY GOD.
This happened multiple times throughout the weekend, where a girl had won a copy of A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris, my friend Anna’s favourite author. She had met the girl before she had won it, and had mentioned that she didn’t even know who Joanne M. Harris was, and so when we saw her later on, I beelined straight for her and was willing to swap for it. She brought it the next morning, wanting nothing in return, and I told Anna, who had a little cry of joy.
BOOKISH PEOPLE ARE GREAT.
The Queuing System
I was actually really pleased with the way in which *some* of the queues for author signings were handled this year. While last year I stood in a line for an hour to meet V.E. Schwab (which wasn’t so bad because I met one of my good friends, Kate!), this year it was first come first serve for a ticket with a specific number. When your number was called, you went in a queue of about 20 people. For Laini Taylor, I was 177. Bleh. But it meant that, when I knew they were at numbers 1-20, I could continue to wander around YALC and LFCC without worrying about losing my place. It was the same with Patrick Ness, where I grabbed a ticket despite not being sure about getting my stuff signed. My friend Anna suggested I take a ticket, because at least I have a place in the queue if I decide to get something signed. And I did! .
Granted, there were definitely some queues that were all over the place; people joining despite their number not being called, organizers not even knowing which authors would be popular (putting V.E. Schwab and Laini Taylor on at the same time…whose idea was that???), and queues snaking around publishers’ stalls and blocking them and other walkways. But overall, the queuing system has definitely improved since the last two years!
Meeting Bookish People!
Before I showed up, I knew YALC would be different. Not only was I attending with friends from Twitter, I also knew I would be meeting online people for the first time ever. Usually, I go to YALC with one friend from university, but since she was on that epic cruise, I took it into my hands to surround myself with new people.
While I mostly stuck with Anna (@aliterarypotion) and Kate (@coffeeinonehandbookintheother), we ended up meeting a whole bunch of new people who I’d only known from Twitter including Katherine (@writinghideout), Bex (@MyShelfMySelf), Jess (@bookendingsendings), Liv (@Livescape), Vicky (@hunguponbooks), Christine (@weereader), and Nazy (@readinghijabsy)! It was great to be around people who were obsessed with books just as much as I am, especially ones in the same online communities as I am. It felt like we all kinda knew each other already!
Unfortunately, with all experiences, the bad parts can often feel like they overshadow the good and the hilarious. YALC, for the last few years, has been a major event in my calendar, and I hate to say that YALC 2017 has been the year of negative experiences and criticisms that I want to share as feedback to the organizers but also to future attendees as a warning of what to possibly expect in 2018 (if they haven’t sorted it already).
Publisher/Reader Power Imbalance
I could write a whole blog post just on this section. I have so many thoughts about the straight up lack of disrespect publishing representatives had for paying guests who were attending YALC. The event, while encompassing all the good stuff I mentioned earlier, can also be described as one big book marketing campaign. Publisher’s stands are there to promote and sell, and what better way to promote upcoming titles by creating buzz with limited advanced reading copies (ARCS) to lucky individuals who took the time to travel far and spend money to attend YALC. However, the process in which the representatives chose who got what, throughout the event, became more and more disrespectful and panic inducing.
The publishers created an environment of hostility and aggression as they tweeted out challenges or even just ‘we have five copies! first come first serve!’ which meant hoards of people stampeding into others and causing a ruckus. They made up challenges off the top of their heads, including making people run to their stall and lie on the ground for no reason, or refusing to tell people what they were giving away at what time, forcing people to constantly refresh their Twitter feeds or even just loiter around their stalls for two hours. A rep from one publisher in particular had the audacity to yell “Dance monkeys! Dance!” when they got a crowd of people to wave their hands in the air to win some books. Some publishers couldn’t even be bothered to put a proper queuing system in place and a number of people suffered panic attacks from being crushed in sudden surges of people, many of whom had no idea what was going on. Publishers didn’t tell us how many arcs they had and didn’t count people in order to send people away, instead people queued for ages only to be disappointed. All the running also meant that many attendees with physical and mobility difficulties did not have a chance at receiving any freebies.
The publisher stands had too much power; they exploited the excitement and passion of many teenage readers by making them literally do anything they wanted for a book, and injuring people in the process. Story HQ and Hodderscape were particularly horrific; Hodderscape making people do stupid things in the 30 seconds they’d tweeted about it, while Story HQ just refused to be organised and caused panic attacks and took no responsibility for the crowds of people blocking other stalls.
While I’m naming and shaming, I also should be naming and congratulating. Penguin Platform did their arc giveaways a little differently, and instead offered raffle tickets to win arcs, and also hid arcs in certain places without tweeting about it, meaning if you stumbled upon an arc, you got it. There were no crowds, there was no mass hysteria. BKMRK (previously Books with Bite) and Chicken House also did a good job by announcing giveaways an hour before, letting people arrive on their own time and also directing queue flow, providing enough arcs for a good portion of people (about 150 a day).
Free stuff is fun. Feeling like the ant under the boot of a publisher is not.
Seating and Layout
If you’re a YALC veteran, it’s a normal occurrence to find yourself standing around or finding decent floor space, but as the convention gets bigger, gets more popular, I am surprised by the lack of seating, especially when there was so much empty space with no signing tables or publishers stalls. Yes, there were lots of seats in the panel area, but you couldn’t have a proper chat with your mates or just a place to read because there was a talk going on right in front of you. There is a cafe, but it’s small and often crowded, and there’s a bean bag area which, if you have mobility issues, you’ll probably have trouble getting out of them once you’ve fallen in (I didn’t even try out of fear). I saw a lot of attendees this year with crutches, walking sticks and wheelchairs, so a place with tables and chairs just to take a breather would have really helped many.
Laini Taylor Signing
This is probably a mixture of hilarious and heartbreaking. Hilarious now, but kind of heartbreaking at the time. It was no lie that Laini Taylor’s signing queue was going to be one big thing that would last for hours. I managed to snag the prized position of person 177 in queue, and was left to my own devices until my number was called. It would be a while.
Strange The Dreamer is not a small book. The whole of Saturday I had this thing in my bag, on my back, weighing me down. I loved Strange The Dreamer, so much more than I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I was thrilled that I would be meeting Laini Taylor for the first time and I could tell her how much I fell in love with Lazlo Strange (what a puppy!!). We walked, we shopped, we sat around waiting for City of Brass ARCS to drop (they didn’t…despite telling me that they would at some point. You’ve already read my annoyance with Story HQ you know what I’m on about), until eventually, my and my friends’ numbers were called.
Due to the fantastic member of staff in charge of Laini’s queue, we were only stood there for about ten minutes before finally meeting Laini. I immediately forgot about the two hours I’d had to kill before my number actually being called, and was ready to meet an author I had only just begun to appreciate.
When she opens my book…and sees her signature already there.
“Oh, I’ve already signed this.”
“Did you buy this from Waterstones?”
“Oh I pre-signed those. Have you read the book?”
“Yes! I loved it!”
“Oh dear, maybe you forgot you bought a signed one then :). Here, I’ll personalize it.”
And that was the end of my two hour wait and a 12 hour carrying of an already signed Strange The Dreamer. What an idiot.
Non Pratt Head shave
I feel like, if you attended YALC and maybe if you didn’t, you know what I’m going to talk about. I’ve watched vlogs and read other blog posts about it and people asking each other ‘where were you during the Non-Pratt head shave?’. I was pretty damn close to Non, but on the farther side of where the ‘incident’ happened, and so saw practically nothing but people jumping out of their chairs and screaming and cheering.
Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch walked in on us all chanting ‘SHAVE! SHAVE!’ as an author had her head shaved on stage. There is nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been said, but it was damn hilarious.
Benedict Cumberbatch Madness
In fact, Benny-C made so many appearances that weekend that it was getting kind of annoying. The door he would enter the floor from and the door to his green room were so far from each other that he continually had to walk the whole length of YALC with bodyguards that kept multiplying each time I saw him. I understand why his green room was upstairs at YALC; if you left YALC and went into LFCC, the place was PACKED and people were no doubt expecting Benny-C. For us, we were just happy to see him for a minute and then continued to get excited about books. Our floor was a safe floor, and the worst he got was a few of us sprinting to get good pictures of him. He even walked past people and said hello and asked how they were. What a lovely chap.
And that was my YALC 2017! I had such a fantastic time, met new people, got a shit ton of books, and even spotted a few celebrities. I’m still on a little YALC high and have been scrolling through Twitter looking for blog posts and vlogs so if you’ve posted, let me know!