Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Faculty Voices with Emily Jenkins

Emily Jenkins/E. Lockhart
Hi Storytellers!  All my Inkpot posts thus far have been about some aspect of the non-writing writer’s life – professional adventures, I guess you could call them. This one is no different – I’m going to report on YallWest, which is a teen book festival.

There are not so very many teen book festivals out there – but the number is increasing I think. North Texas and YallWest started up just this year. They’re different because most book festivals are geared to a broad audience and feature a wide range of authors. These can be tough if you’re a children’s book person, though occasionally they’re lovely. Teen book festivals are all YA all the time.  That means very often teens come in enormous school groups and book club groups in matching T-shirts. Librarians and teachers organize field trips. The atmosphere is bordering on raucous. Panels can be goofy or important, but they’re nearly always relaxed. (Note: I’ve never been to it before, but this year’s
Twin Cities TeenLit Con is May 9, and I’ll be there with Hamline’s own Gene Yang, Hamline guest speaker Matt de la Pena and the insanely popular Gayle Forman. Plus more!)

Okay, the report: YallWest is an author-run festival and a spin-off of the successful YallFest. Both festivals are organized by Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures, etc. ) and Melissa De la Cruz (Blue Bloods, etc.) – and there are loads of hijinks, lots of parties, and extended opportunities to sign books – all elements I associate with teen book cons as opposed to general ones.

They work you hard – and I find most authors prefer it that way. Why fly across the country to be on a single dignified panel when you could be on two panels (one while wearing a tiara), run a trivia game, sign books for a full hour, give away free cupcakes and t-shirts and sign for another hour, read aloud embarrassing juvenilia and then put on a pink wig and dance backup for an all-author rock band? That’s what my day looked like. I was in front of readers all day long at YallWest. Exhausting, but super fun and productive.

How do you get invited to these festivals? As an author, your publisher pitches you if they think you’re a good fit. Then the conference organizers decide whom to invite. You can ask to be pitched if you have a new book with that publisher and if you really want to go – especially if you can offer to make things easy. That is, if you have a free place to stay, you let them know (as I did for YallWest), or if you’re local to the area – and that reduces their costs. Of course, you can just GO as an audience member, and I recommend it if you’re starting out as a YA writer. You’ll see a lot of writers and get a sense of how people conduct themselves on panels – what makes a good discussion, what connects with the audience, how authors sign so as best to connect to their readers, and so on. 

I’ll leave you with a picture that gives you a sense of the YallWest vibe. That’s the back-up dance team: left to right, Shannon Hale, me, Leigh Bardugo, Coe Booth. We danced to “Whole Lotta Love,” as performed by Libba Bray and her all-author band, Tiger Beat. 

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