Thursday, 23 July 2015

I went to YALC and this is what I found out – Jess Vallance

If I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to YALC at all. (The Young Adult Literature Convention. More about what that is here if you don't know.)

Not because I didn’t think it would be well run or because the programme of speakers didn’t sound interesting or because I didn’t want to meet book fans and publishers and authors. But because like any self-respecting introvert, my natural impulse on a Saturday afternoon is to sit at home in my pants and watch MasterChef repeats, not to get up early to go and spend a day hanging out with strangers in odd clothes in a windowless conference room.

But I reasoned with myself that these things are usually better once you get there, so I sourced a last minute ticket and off I went.

And it WAS better than I thought. In fact, I had a brilliant day.

Lots of other people have done proper, detailed round-ups of the events – people who took part in more of the official programme than me – but this is what I took from it:

Book people work really bloody hard

All the people there in a professional or organisational capacity – I think they were mainly publicists and Book Trust people – were clearly working their absolute lanyards off.

It was the unrelenting cheerfulness and enthusiasm that really struck me.

‘So great to meet you!’ they’d say for the three thousandth time that day.

‘Oh my god, this book is so WONDERFUL!’ they’d say, about a hundred different books to a million different people, before delivering an articulate and engaging pitch – and without needing even a moment to think ‘Now which bloody book is this one again?’

But the smiles never fade. NEVER.

I prodded some of them – I was curious: ‘You’re tired, aren’t you? You’d rather be at home. You’d rather be in a pub garden with a nice dog. You don’t even like people. Or books.’

‘Oh no,’ they’d say. ‘I am a bit tired but we’re having a great time.’

That is a truly admirable level of professionalism.

Niceness probably did trump debate but that’s OK

I don’t think YALC is really about controversy or rigorous debate, but I don’t think it pretends – or wants – to be.

There was a bit of good-natured disagreement on a few of the panels but largely the conclusion was that we are all on the same side. I think this is for two reasons:

From what I’ve witnessed, people in children’s publishing just ARE on the same side a lot of the time, in terms of points of view.

But more importantly than that, I think people go to YALC to:

  1. Buy books
  2. Sell books
  3. Meet people – even make friends.

All of these activities tend to be rather more successful in a friendly, inclusive, non-confrontational atmosphere (especially as us bookish types tend to be a little on the shy side).

YALC’s got that atmosphere nailed. I’ve never been so friendly to so many strangers in one day. (Might’ve been the gin).

I think it could perhaps be exciting to see some truly divisive opinions being batted about at some point – I think there probably are some of those around, hiding somewhere – but probably not at YALC.

Twitter is a magnificent thing

I was sceptical about Twitter not that long ago – I thought it was a lot of noisy attention-seekers broadcasting pointless info (and that probably is true of all of us from time to time) – but I’ve got quite into it in the last six months or so because it is a genuinely nice way to talk to people with similar interests, who you just wouldn’t meet otherwise.

And I think Twitter makes all the difference to YALC. I don’t know how many times the words, ‘Oh yes, I know you from Twitter’ were used that weekend but I do know that straight away it makes a potentially awkward situation easier.

So thanks everyone who organised, appeared or had anything to do with it at all. I had fun. And so did everyone else judging by the number of exclamation marks in my Twitter feed this week.  

Twitter: @jessvallance1


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Great that you had such a good time Jess! Exclamation mark! Yes and book people are friendly and supportive because we've all had our ups and downs in the industry. The generosity of spirit comes through. I didn't go because you sort of feel redundant if you have no YA novel out there. But perhaps that's just the very reason to go!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

PS your remark on Twitter is spot on. Even though I blog with ABBA, got yo you this morning through Jim @yahyeahyeah's tweet.

Nick Green said...

You know, it's only introverts who get tired in company. Extraverts can mingle and promote books until the cows come home. That probably is the single biggest reason why authors need publishers.

Jess Vallance said...

I suspect a lot of tired extroverts would have disagreed with you on Sunday night!

I don't doubt they all have certain innate qualities which make them better at it, but I think there's a lot of hard work too.