The Disaster that was the Rochester Teen Book Fest – Adult Readers Matter Too

May 21, 2017 Rochester Teen Book Festival 7

Yesterday I attended the Rochester Teen Book Festival for the 5th time. I haven’t written a follow up on this event in a few years but I was planning to this year, especially since Sarah J. Maas was to be there and I was so excited to see her. She was supposed to attend a couple years ago but was injured days beforehand and had to cancel last minute. I debated how much time I’d have for signings, packed my tote bags full of books just in case I could get to more than a couple authors, and went on my way! Unfortunately it was a complete letdown.

Before I get into the chaos that was the Sarah J. Maas portion of the event, I feel like I should give a few details on how the event works.

 

This is just a sample of the schedule as there are between 25-30 authors in attendance. They split them up throughout the college campus where the event is held, and in some cases put a couple authors together to speak to groups during time slots/sessions. The chapel location is where they put those who they expect to have the largest amount of seats to fill since it seats about 300 per session.

 

I arrived at the Sarah J. Maas session at 12:45. She was currently on lunch and wasn’t due to speak again until 1:30. I was already expecting not to get into the session due to what happened to me a couple years ago (at the Sarah Dessen session in 2015, despite arriving early to a near empty room, I was asked to move to the back with the possibly of needing to give up a seat entirely and stand in the back, as seats started to fill to make room for teens), which is why I didn’t even bother trying a session earlier in the day. But I wanted to get a head start on the signing line, at least.

The signing was due to start at 2:30. There was already quite a line formed so I asked a volunteer where the signing line was. She said the session and signing line was one for now and priority would be given to teens, which they expected to fill the whole event. Like I thought, I wouldn’t get in. But what about the signing? I was then told that they were also prioritizing teens for that as well. What? But they had stamped bookplates they could give out. Nevertheless, I got in line just in case as they suggested. The line grew and grew and grew. When looking at just how large it got, I was more towards the front at least. They started letting people in late, around 1:40, and as we moved farther to the front, they started to tell all adults to line up against the wall and let teens bypass them. Adults who came from hours away just to see Sarah J. Maas who had then waited in line for an hour or so, were bypassed by teens who arrived only moments before. Adults that were there with their teen that had to let them go in alone. After the chapel was full, more bad news. They were going to let all of those in the session already be the front of the signing line. Sarah could only sign 300 books and that was the exact number in the chapel. So my hopes of seeing her at all were crushed. The bookplates? They didn’t have many and those were prioritized for teens as well. So what was I waiting around for? Another couple hours to see if I may be luckily enough to snag one when the teens stopped showing up? Maybe? Meanwhile miss out on the two other authors I came for as well? Not worth it. The kicker is that the book Sarah was on tour promoting isn’t even YA, it’s NA. Meaning adults too. I was in line between two mothers who sent their teens in alone and they just wanted to wait with them in the line for the signing afterwards and to take a picture but they couldn’t even get a straight answer if that would be allowed (it didn’t sound like it would). One girl was 13. As an adult I don’t even like being alone in crowds that large for hours, let alone as a young teen.

What happened after that I cannot say for sure because I left after waiting from 12:45-2:00 and once multiple volunteers confirmed that the signing wouldn’t be happening for me. I wish you could have seen the line wrapped along the hallway filled with disappointed adults being told they didn’t have a shot but could stick around for another hour or two for the potential of a bookplate (There were a few bookplates left later on and I went back and grabbed one). Adults sharing how far they traveled, what family obligations they skipped to come. I had to leave the line to make my trip to the event worth something. I got over in Renee Ahdieh’s line and was thankfully able to see her, twice, as I had more books than the limit that needed to get signed. I’m super bummed I didn’t even get to see Renee Ahdieh speak in a session though because she was paired with Sarah J. Maas.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my past experiences at the Rochester Teen Book Festival. Living in Western New York, not much comes out this way and unless I travel quite a distance away, I’m out of luck of seeing any of my favorite authors. I’ll never forget all those years ago when I realized the event existed and the joy it brought to my face in that moment. But it has become obvious that as the event grows it is the Rochester TEEN Book Festival and not the Rochester TEEN BOOK Festival. Adults are not welcome. I am so very grateful an event like this exists for young readers, I really am. I wish I took pictures of the amount of people that showed up. I can physically see the growth from year to year. It is absolutely teen centered and I’m totally fine with that, I just wish the small percentage of adults in comparison that attend could be a part of it all too.

So here is my open letter to the event:

To those who run the Rochester Teen Book Festival,

Please change your policies on your event. There is a tremendous adult following of Young Adult books and the way they are treated is atrocious. All readers of any age who love Young Adult and Middle Grade books should be made to feel welcome. Making anyone above the age of 19 feel ashamed for liking YA is cruel and that’s how I feel when I attend your event.  And if you cannot accommodate the number of attendees then you need to modify how you run your event.

Make yourself knowledgeable on the books and authors you are promoting and their following (the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas is considered by many to be more of a New Adult read. New Adult according to Wikipedia – New adult (NA) fiction, also rendered as newadult fiction, is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18–30 age bracket. Though she also writes YA, she was on book tour for A Court of Wings and Ruin).

Making adults stand against the wall for hours as you let every teen who just walked into the door go by is not fair in the least. Those in the last session of the day should also not get priority for signings. What about everyone who went earlier? They don’t even get a chance? If there is a set number of people who can enter the session and a set number of people who can enter the signing, then I recommend holding a line earlier in the day for tickets to attend. That would solve a lot of your chaos issues. First come first serve. All ages. Since it’s just a ticket or two if they want a session and the signing, it should move very quickly. A lot of book conventions do this already for popular authors. It works. Recommend adults who are there as support or supervision to wait in the hallway for sessions if there is not enough room but then allow them to join for the signing line so teens are not left feeling alone and anxious in a large crowd for hours.

I realize the people working the event are volunteers but depending on who you asked, you almost always got a different answer about what was going on, which made the Sarah J. Maas event event more chaotic. Please make sure volunteers running specific events have all the info.

I used to love the Rochester Teen Book Festival. The atmosphere used to be so encouraging and loving, a great place for readers to meet others like themselves and to meet some of their favorite authors, as well as be introduced to new ones. And I love how much you love teen readers, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of others.

Sincerely,

An Avid Adult Reader

 

So I think I’ve officially broken up with the event. Really sucks to have favorite authors in my city that I cannot see, but I don’t like how the event makes me feel so it’s not worth the embarrassment and the disappointment. I’ve never been made to feel like I don’t belong in the YA book community before and it’s quite awful. I’m thankful for all the bloggers and readers I get to talk to through my blog as well as others so at least I know I am not alone and have support somewhere because if I didn’t have that blogging community before I went to that event, I have no idea how much worse I’d feel after attending.

So unless things change or I guess if my kids insist on going when they get a little older, that’s it for me.

I do want to thank Renee Ahdieh and Tamara Ireland Stone who I did get to see and who are truly amazing!

Sara @ Forever 17 Books

7 Responses to “The Disaster that was the Rochester Teen Book Fest – Adult Readers Matter Too”

  1. Alyssa Susanna (The Eater of Books!)

    Wow, this sounds terrible. Truly disappointing. Have you @’d or sent this to the Rochester Teen Festival organizers? You can’t have been the only shut-out fan. I kind of understand the idea of prioritizing teens, but ACOWAR and whatnot isn’t even YA/teen-focused. If anything, they should tickets an SJM event, like they did here in Baltimore a few weeks ago (I didn’t go – tickets sold out in lightning speed). I’m so sorry, Sara! 🙁

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!
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    • Sara @ Forever 17 Books

      There should be a survey popping up soon, if it hasn’t already. I filled it out a couple years ago and mentioned how rude they were to me. I am going to @ them as well and look for places to contact them. I really do understand wanting to make sure teens are getting their place at the event but I don’t think it should be at the expense of those who arrived super early to wait for their spot. There has to be an alternative method. It was obvious not everyone who came would be able to see her but you’d think those who were willing to sit and wait for hours would. They really should do the tickets in those cases. That would clear up the chaotic hallway issue and make everyone plan their day better. It’s a free event but even if they made the first session for the popular authors a free period so they could a line for tickets to the sessions and the signing it would go so much more smoothly.

  2. Ashley

    I stopped going a couple years ago for some of the similar reasons you mentioned. I always felt out of place and almost an annoyance as an older YA fan. I’m conflicted because there are so few teen spaces, so I like that they really make it teen focused — but when the event is being marketed as a tour stop for Sarah they should NOT be limiting adults like they did. And it’s like you said, no one ever knows what is really going on and everyone has different answers. I’m so thankful I did get in to see Sarah Dessen when she was there, but that whole thing was a total shit show of lack of organization. It’s too bad this always happens, because the idea of the event is awesome and I’ve got to meet some great authors there — it’s just getting too big to be run the way it is, with lack of organization and oversight.

    • Sara @ Forever 17 Books

      It’s so hard because yes I agree, I’m so glad there is a place for teen readers. I just feel like the event really is for them in every way and they take up an overwhelming large percentage of those in attendance, so the rather small percentage of adult readers in comparison shouldn’t be an issue whatsoever to be included and they make it one, unfortunately. They definitely need to overhaul it as it grows. They can’t keep up and it’s disappointing those in attendance.

  3. Briana @ Pages Unbound

    This sounds awful. While I actually do not believe young adult books are “for teens” (some authors write for that audience specifically, but some just write and their books just happen to be marketed as YA by their publishes), I don’t have an issue with teen-only events in theory. I understand that it can be intimidating for teens to hang out with a bunch of adults, and it’s nice for them to have some events that are for people of their own age group. That being said, if the event is teen-only (as this seems to have been in practice), the event organizers need to SAY SO. Advertise it that way so adults don’t show up in the first place. It’s really appalling they’d let tons of people come to the event and tell them at the door that they’re not actually allowed to participate in anything. This sounds like a horrible bait-and-switch where they want adults to show up so they can say, “10,000 people came! It was so successful!” But if you only have room for 5000 people and you’re going to only let teens actually do anything, tell people this so they don’t waste their time coming to your event!
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  4. Stephanie Squicciarini

    As the Founder and Director of TBF, I want to make sure I respond to the concerns and issues raised here. Please know that TBF is an event that dozens of educators and librarians work year-round to bring to our community. To say that we all literally give our blood, sweat and tears to this free event would be a dramatic understatement. Yes, the priority and main focus of TBF are the teens. It is our mission…”to foster a community effort to celebrate and promote reading by connecting teens and authors.” That mission is at the heart of everything we do. While I understand that many of our guest authors have adult appeal and are now beginning to be marketed as New Adult, that does not detract from our core mission and focus. Teens are why we created TBF and teens will continue to be our priority and focus. We consider TBF a success because each year the vast majority of attendees are teens. We have adult chaperones who share the day and we understand that those adults, and the adults who come by themselves, are very important and they do, of course, matter. But teens will always be the focus of the day and it is the teens that bring so much energy and life to TBF.

    The situation that came out of Sarah J. Maas attending is one that we have learned from and we will be working on better plans in place to make sure a similar situation does not occur in the future. We try very hard each year to adapt and change to make things better and feedback we get each year gets implemented as we are able. To address specifically what happened, we were given guidelines and limitations by Sarah and her publisher late in the process, due in large part to a hand injury. We tried very hard to figure out the best possible way to accommodate this and we went with our focus and mission…teens.

    All of us at TBF deeply regret all the disappointment and frustration. We all felt it too. There were TBF team members who were screamed at and endured hateful and vulgar language that rose out of that frustration. They continued to try to fulfill our mission and focus on the teens. Our goal is always to create an event that is safe and welcoming and we understand that this situation created an environment that missed that mark. We have learned from this and will work between now and TBF 2018 to implement better systems and guidelines that better match our mission. I cannot apologize for our mission being teen focused. It is what drives TBF and it will continue to drive it. I will apologize that this message was not more clearly communicated at different levels.

    I appreciate the open letter, the comments, and suggestions. As we begin to work on TBF 2018, we will be looking at this situation and all the feedback we have received to make the necessary changes we need to make. I am deeply sorry for the negative feelings that this has generated. It saddens me that all that we have done to try to create a positive experience for teens has been in some ways overshadowed by this.

    • Sara @ Forever 17 Books

      I really appreciate that you took the time to read my comments on the event. I am definitely aware of all the work that is put into the event. I understand teens are the focus and I am completely fine with that and realize they make up the vast majority of attendees. No one wants that focus to change. I like the whole teen vibe of every other aspect of the event. But like I said above, there is no reason that adult readers who choose to attend to see their favorite YA authors should feel unwelcome. It is possible to have a teen event without doing that and I know this because TBF used to be that way before it grew so large in size. In comparison to the teens, we make up a small portion of attendees. The Sarah J. Maas session/signing was the first time I’ve seen a large amount of adults at the fest and I’m assuming it was because we all were sort of put together to wait in one area at the same time. Of the the thousands in attendance, we still only make up a small fraction. I don’t want the event to change from the focus on teens, I just don’t think it is right to push aside the small number of adult readers is all. I mean, if someone is willing to sit in a hot hallway for an hour so they are near the front of the line for one of their favorite authors, age shouldn’t matter. No one was trying to say that teens matter less.

      I honestly hope the event takes steps to keep the focus on the teens but in a way that is more welcoming of all ages, like it used to be. I want to be able to attend as it is the only chance I get to see authors I love. I want to be able to go with my future teens and share in the experience and show them the love adults can have for reading too and that it matters. I fear the changes being made are just to overemphasize that it is an event for teens in an effort to ostracize adult readers from attending in the first place. And that solves very little.

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