Sunday, January 15, 2012

YA Events: Unconventional Thinking.

Today, Type M welcomes back one of its charter members, the redoubtable Charles Benoit. Known for his wit, charm, and grace under fire, Charles has (hopefully) temporarily left the crime writing field for the greener pastures of Young Adult writing. This doesn't mean the fine balance of tension and humor has gone out of his writing – far from it! Welcome back, Charles!

Yesterday I was one of the authors participating in the first ever Young Adult Book Festival in Keller, Texas, fittingly called YAK Fest. A grand time was had by all.*

When I was writing adult mysteries (i.e., mysteries aimed at adult readers as opposed to pornographic mysteries, which may just be the Next Big Thing), I attended a lot of mystery conventions. Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Bloody Words, Malice Domestic, Magna Cum Murder, Sleuthfest, Noircon—I did them all, and most of them several times. Since shifting my focus to young adult novels, I’ve had the opportunity to attend several YA conventions, and it goes without saying that they are very different events, but maybe not in the way you’d think.

The Weekend — People start registering at Mystery Conventions on Thursday mornings and stick around till the end of happy hour on Sunday. This is great since you get to spend time with fans and fellow authors. A lot of time. And since you paid the money to get there and you have the hotel booked for 4 days, you make sure you’re out there, getting the most bang for your booking. YA events, however, are one Saturday from 9 am to 5pm. And that’s it. There’s usually an author dinner on Friday night and sometimes a Breakfast With The Authors event for students who won some academic prize or wrote an essay or who are on the High Honor Roll. But the whole thing is over in one day. But don’t worry, you’ll still see everyone, just not as much.

Panel Discussions — Every Mystery convention I’ve attended has had the same format – one-shot panel discussions that forces attendees to pick This Talk over That Talk. It’s a great format for ensuring the greatest number of authors get at least one panel discussion, and for drawing enough authors to make the convention irresistible to ticket buyers. But every author knows that there are some time slots you want and some you don’t, and we’ve all experienced the same feeling of looking at the program for the first time and discovering that your only slot is 6:45 Sunday morning, or it’s opposite the interview with Michael Connelly (who is being joined that time only by Meg Abbott, Sue Grafton, Lee Child and, back from the dead, Raymond Chandler). At YA conferences, they invite a handful of authors – yesterday there were just 12 of us – and you do the same panel three times in a row. Attendees get to hear every author, and authors get to talk to every attendee. Sure, you’re answering the same questions with the same panelists, but that’s not all that different than what we experience at Mystery Conventions. I always found myself on same Around-The-World panels with the same authors, the only thing changing was the clever title the organizers would give the panel. (My favorite was Frequent Liars: Authors Who Are Going Places). Attend three conventions in a year and you experience the same type of panel as a YA author, just stretched out over weeks instead of hours.

The Audience — At Mystery Conventions, attendees get to meet authors they never met before and authors get one, 45-minute opportunity to sell themselves. That’s kindda true for YA events, but I’ve been surprised at the number of students who show up who have already read the books and want to grill the authors on very specific plot points. They don’t give anything away—they’re surprisingly savvy on that point – but if they disagreed with what you had a character do or say, you are going to hear it. I like it, but I will admit that it’s strange to have to defend your work to a 15-year old, who remembers what you wrote better than you do.

The Bar — We’re talking about teens and pre-teens here, so there are obviously no fan/author drink fests (and if there are, I’d prefer not being invited, thank you). However, authors are authors, so rest assured, quotas are being met.

The Tab – Am I a bad person for saying that I love the fact that every YA event I have attended has paid for all of my expenses? Okay, not the bar tab, but everything else. I know that some authors at mystery conventions enjoy this perk and I don’t begrudge them the privilege since they are obviously worth it, but it had never happened for me. I suppose they can do this since YA events (which are always free to all attendees) have spent a year or more raising funds or securing corporate sponsorship. Plus, like I said, they only invite a handful of authors. What I do know is that it’s great – so when the organizers of YAK Fest asked if I’d mind showing up three days early and speaking (for free) in schools around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, I didn’t hesitate. I’ve included a few pictures from those talks, which were held 5 or 6 times a day. In 3 days I think I spoke to 1,000 kids, one of who may someday buy my book.

So to review, YA events differ from Mystery Conventions in time, structure, audiences and costs. Yes, I miss the mystery world and will come back to the fold eventually. It’s all part of my plan. You see, in a few years my YA readers will be older and will be attending mystery conventions. I’m hoping they’ll remember me, say hello, especially at the bar, where after pretending to say no, I’ll let them buy me a drink.

*Full disclosure – I’m writing this piece in the bar at the Marriott in Westlake, Texas, the night before the event.

A Brief Benoit Bio: His first YA was YOU, published by HarperCollins in 2010. It got the starred review treatment from PW and it’s been described as YA Noir. His new one, Fall From Grace, comes out in May 2012. That one is being billed as a YA Romantic Comedy Caper Novel with a Noir Twist. See? I’m still writing crime novels.


Hannah Dennison said...

Welcome back Charles! I don't know anything about YA conventions ... but since I have a YA book up my sleeve your post was really informative and interesting. I've observed that YA readers are really connected to what they read so it must be a good feeling when they grill you on specifics. What made you transition? I'm just curious.

Rick Blechta said...

It's always good to be curious, Hannah – just not too curious.

I’d like to know too, Charles. C’mon, dish!

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