There were two facets to YALLFest: panels of YA authors discussing and sharing about their lives, writing processes, and plans; and opportunities to have fan favorite books autographed by their authors and receive swag giveaways.
As a yet-to-be-published author, the panel insights were fascinating, but I quickly realized that the majority of the content was geared toward the fans—avid, passionate fans of the YA genre. Most that I saw were twenty-something women, white, teachers, librarians, or eager to become literary agents.
While I waited in line for Max Brallier to sign my son's copy of The Last Kids on Earth and the Forbidden Fortress, elementary and middle school aged kids (mostly boys) frollicked as their parents held their spots in the queue. There were people there just to collect memorabilia, and others who dreamed of writing professionally and wanted to find out where to start. Young people in the LGBTQ+ community applauded the authors who made sure they felt seen in their cherished books—authors who wished their own younger selves had the same options at the library.
My first event turned out to be nothing more than a book signing. I'll admit, at first I was disappointed not to receive a presentaton ripe with industry insight, which is what I understood it to be.
But, when I realized that this was an opportunity to gain understanding of the readership I hoped to attract, I settled into anthropologist mode. I was in line with them, mingling among their ranks as they thirsted for autographs and strategized how to collect them all in time.
A young woman and recent college grad also in line regaled me with stories of past signing events. She smiled when she recounted the time a beloved author shared a joke with her. This avid YA fan attended YALLFest every year with her mother, who stood at the ready with a rolling caddy of books. I wanted to understand why she waited in these lines for hours for a few seconds' connection with a writer and a signature to remember them by, and asked her if her signed editions would appreciate in value.
"I'll never sell them," she said and I believed her.
Listening to her, I felt her longing to be near the minds that created the worlds where she wanted to exist. Worlds where she is strong and ready for the next quest, the next level of understanding, the next romance. I am so grateful to have met her and many others whose passion lifts stories like a rising tide.
Going forward, I will remember to seek out and get to know every audience for whom I write.