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If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. -Stephen King

Stephen King is right. Writers tend to draw inspiration from the books we read. For the past six months, I’ve been focused on drafting a new project while simultaneously editing and submitting another. It hasn’t left me time to nurture that inner reader.

So, over Veteran’s Day weekend, I hopped on a plane and flew to Charleston, South Carolina for YA’LL FEST, a book fest that brought in 67 YA authors from around the United States and beyond.

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Some people may look at that and be turned off by the fact they’d have to travel. But YA’LL FEST is free! So all you need to worry about is travel, room, and food. I’m lucky enough that my parents moved to Charleston a few years ago, so I had a place to stay. But Charleston can be cheap, if you know the right places.

YA’LL FEST takes place over a day and a half, offering so many opportunities for both the avid reader and writer. They have keynote speeches, book signings, panels, and just fun presentations.

While I was there, I attended a variety of panels, the opening keynote speech (which cost $8), 7 books signings (3 were at the same place), and managed to snag two ARCs and a free book. Some books I brought with me, others I bought there. Here is what I managed to reap:

My YA’LL haul!

Since this was my first YA’LL FEST, I learned a few things which I would like to share for anyone interested in going next year (I’ll be there!)

  1. It’s a LOT of walking and stamina.

YA’LL FEST isn’t like BEA which is inside a center, instead it’s spread over all of Upper King Street and down a few side streets. They take over ice cream shops and museums, anything they can. So, if you want to get to as much as possible, wear comfy shoes.

  1. Be prepared to stand in line.

They give each signing and panel an hour slot. However, for many of the signings (especially the best selling authors) the lines can form up to two hours before the signing and last longer than the designated hour. With some of the bigger authors, they only allow a certain number or else it would be too much. Veronica Roth (Divergent series) was capped at 100. And normally those authors won’t be able to chitchat with you. Don’t get offended. They’ve got a lot of people to talk to.

  1. Don’t set expectations.

This goes with the long lines. If you’ve planned where you want to be every hour of the fest, you probably won’t make it to all of them. For example, I had tickets to the opening keynote with Sabaa Tahir and Victoria Aveyard. However, I also wanted to go to Sabaa Tahir’s signing, which was right afterward and capped at 200 people. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do both. But I figured out how. That brings me to my next point.

  1. Make friends in line.

So many things can happen if you start talking to people in line around you. On Saturday morning, about half an hour before the opening keynote, I made my way toward the building, but first I stopped in the area where Sabaa Tahir’s line had begun to form. I got in it and began talking with the people around me. I told them I had a ticket to the opening keynote and they generously offered to hold my place in line. So, I ran to the opening keynote and managed to get back in line easily.

The people around you are also readers, some are press, others bloggers, or agents. I began talking with one girl in line on Friday. We hit it off and soon learned that we both live in Massachusetts. We hung out all weekend and are planning to see each other this month.

  1. Take advantage of the panels.

Yes, getting signatures is awesome! I love having signed books. But especially as a writer, I’d rather hear what the authors have to say about certain subjects than just stand in line to say hi to them briefly. I chose panels, not only for the topic, but for the authors in them. At one point, I’d been torn between Unlikable Female Protagonists and Drama vs Dr-AH-ma. Normally, I would have easily chosen Unlikable Female Protagonists, but one of my favorite authors was in the Drama panel, so I went there instead.

  1. Bring books to the panels.

All right, sometimes you shouldn’t do this. But you never know. Usually the authors have to run right out of the panel to something else and don’t have time to mill around and chat, or they want to catch up with other authors. However, some of them will sign your books right there if you ask nicely. I wish I’d brought my Jonathan Stroud book along because he signed someone’s book after his panel.

  1. Grab ARCs!

One of the best things is they hand out ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). The timing is not as well advertised as the other events, so you have to do a check before hand. I managed to get three different ARCs as well as win trivia for a new book. This helps expand your reading platform. And they’re FREE. Who doesn’t like free stuff?

  1. Don’t just follow your favorite author.

With over 60 YA authors, you’re bound to know a few, but there are plenty you may not know or have only heard of in passing. I used this opportunity to get books I’d been meaning to read for awhile. Now, I have a whole extra shelf that doesn’t fit on my bookshelf. But I’m excited to read all these new books.

  1. Make sure you have room in your bag!

You’ll be carrying a lot of books all around Charleston. Then, if you’re flying, you need to carry them with you on the plane. Be prepared to add more books to your already full bag. It may be best if you check it (I hate checking luggage and managed to get mine on the plane, but with difficulty.)

YA’LL FEST was one of the best experiences I had all year. I encourage everyone to look into going next year (November 10 & 11) or even go to their sister event (YA’LL WEST) in Santa Monica, California, in April.

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