Rockin’ Times at Rochester Teen Book Fest

The hype crew, getting the 2,500 in attendance ready.

Last year I posted about the Rochester Teen Book Fest and my awesome time attending with Albany High’s Book Club. In that post I said that I’d be back, and I meant it, and it happened, but this time with me as  part of the author lineup.

I joined 25 other authors and 5 teen authors for the festival above all other festivals. That’s not hyperbole. To walk into the gymnasium at Nazareth College (bedecked in a cape no less), following a drum line, and take a seat in front of thousands of teens and librarians and teachers was a bit breath-taking. But volume isn’t everything. I’ve attended similarly sized events, and they did not match the intensity and fervor with which the audience reacted to the authors on stage. Some say that reading is dead or dying, but if the pulse at Nazareth is any indication, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Presenting this year, instead of attending, was a blast. However, I would have thoroughly enjoyed listening to any number of the other authors (you checked the link above, right?) My team–I got a team–was on point and took care of everything, including enforcing the teen-first policy that makes Teen Book Fest so special (I’m looking at you Nick).

My man, Nick. A.K.A. “The Enforcer”

I extend a huge thanks to the teens who attended my sessions and let me ramble on about the fears I hold in life and in writing, which are many, and spout off about the various dumb choices I made as a teenager and how they’ve shaped my writing today. Someday I will write a story that includes those goldfish. They deserve a proper sendoff.  And to all who then bought my work, thanks for buying ALL the copies. It happened so fast, I truly don’t understand how. But no complaints, here. I’m just glad my work has found its way into so many new hands.

Hanging with the authors and librarians this year was phenomenal fun. When I get to have dinner with the likes of Brendan Kiely, Bill Konigsberg, John McGoran, Alisa Kwitney, and Taran Matharu, as well as have lunch and great conversation with Gloria Chao, only to then have drinks with Ellen Hopkins and Cyndy Etler, what more could I want? Well, more librarian time. My rowdy table of fantastic librarians, who were ready to party after executing one hell of a day, after one hell of a difficult year, was truly the icing on the cake. To spend time with these individuals, who have volunteered so much time–so much time–to make this incredible, teen-focused event a reality was wonderful to be a part of. Yes, our singing was terrible, and I couldn’t tell a cow from a pig, but the vibe that existed was a carry over from the vibe from the morning. There’s a reason Teen Book Fest is spectacular, and it’s not the authors, it’s the people who work behind the scenes to connect us with the teens. That’s my takeaway from this year, and something I’m proud to have experienced.

Awesome authors

Even more awesome, librarians and organizers that make up the TBF committee.

And so here’s hoping I’ll be invited back next year, so I can jump off more tables, do more cartwheels and hand springs, sign more shirts, tell more stories, and to again ask one question of the teens, who came up to the signing table, full of excitement and exhaustion: “Did you have fun today?”

And to hear the inevitable response, “It was the best!”

Yes, yes it was.

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Hudson Book Fest at its Best

The tenth annual Hudson Children’s Book Fest was held this past weekend and it was phenomenal. The turnout was amazing, the energy over all things books was effusive, and I had nonstop traffic at my table.

This was my fourth year attending, and certain regularities have emerged, which I love. I have the best “table neighbor” any author could ask for. Jennifer Donnelly was next to me selling her ever-amazing books, including the perennial favorite A Northern Light, and her just-released, collaborative work, Fatal Throne

My awesome “table neighbor” Jennifer Donnelly. Go buy her work.

The teens in attendance have now read my work and have talked it up to their friends, who come and have serious conversations about which one to start with. Some end up buying all four, and some buy for friends who couldn’t attend, because they want a signed copy. It’s surreal to have conversations with them about my work, about the previous year, about following me on social media, and talking other books (both those for the classroom and for themselves).

I adore the English teachers and librarians, who come out every year scouting for new material, to have conversations about the industry, and to see if I have anything new coming (I do, I swear, I just don’t know when). Their dedication to their students is astounding, and I particularly enjoy the phrase I picked up this year: “They are not reluctant readers; they are dormant readers.” I am happy to have my work bring them out of hibernation.

Just a portion of the crowd at Hudson.

Then one of the best moments of the event happened, and somehow I have no selfies as proof. My first cooperating teacher from when I was student-teaching during graduate school came to my table. I knew exactly who she was, in spite of not having seen her in eighteen years. Talking to her was the best kind of blast from the past, and we have plans in the works for next year. It will be fun to return to Lisha Kill Middle School where it all started. So, thanks again, Laura.

In spite of the regularities, one thing was very different this year–I sold out of copies. I literally had only a handful of Tap Out copies left by 2:00. And that wasn’t due to under-ordering by Spotty Dog. They do a fantastic job of looking at sales from previous years and making the call. The demand was simply high, and I cannot thank all of the teens and parents and teachers enough for spending their money on my work, when the talent and stories available in that gymnasium were off the hook.

So, thank you again, to all the organizers, especially Jen and Lisa, and to all the volunteers–both the teens and adults, and to all the other authors and illustrators in attendance. What an opportunity to be in the mix of children, teens, and adults, all so very engaged with storytelling. It seems like we’re figuring out the next chapter, together.

P.S. If you were at Hudson Book Festival and want more, head to Rochester on 5/19. The annual Teen Book Fest will be a rollicking good time, and yes, I will be in attendance. See you there!