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 new–adult 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.
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!