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!

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The Reality of Readers

It is very easy in this industry to lose sight of the fact that the majority of readership and the conversations about books exist in the real world. I am guilty of giving far too much attention to social media and online reviews, and forgetting the unbelievable importance of readers in the real world.

It’s an issue of reach. As an author, it seems like you’re reaching more when you are online, being social, and it feels as if EVERYONE will read that review. But that’s not true. Yes, lots of eyes will be on those things, but to what extent they care is impossible to measurable.

However, the readers I meet, the  ones who I have a chance to interact with, and spend some time just talking about story–and not just my stories–provide me a tangible sense of just how much books and my work matter to them.

Friday, this past week, I was fortunate enough to visit Hudson High school and present to various classes about my work, the day before the annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival. The students were great and we had fun together. That afternoon, I got to talk about my work, on air, with Ellen Hopkins, Jack Gantos, Crissa-Jean Chappell, and Laurie Stolarz. Another fabulous experience. But the best was the following day.

This was my third year at the festival and it was busier than I’ve ever seen it. People were there early and stayed late. I signed books steadily and talked to so many adults and teens about my work and writing and books in general. However, this year, two things were different.

One, so many teens who I had met the day before during my presentations in their classrooms, showed up to buy my books. Some specifically came to this event, which hosted over 75 authors, just to get my work. Yeah, those are readers, real, in the flesh, awesome people, who made the effort because we connected. And still others, who couldn’t attend because of prior commitments, sent mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters to get my books. This happened so much, I had only one copy of Dare Me left by the end of the festival. Unreal.

Two, Look Past was available this year. I had a few ARC copies last year, but that was it. This year I was able to get copies of that book into hands of those who were curious, and those, like Max, needed it. Max asked me to sign a copy of Look Past, and when I asked for his name, there was a moment of hesitation, and then he said, “I’m Max.” I began to sign, but heard the teens with Max reacting and asking if he was okay. I paused and looked up. Max was crying. I asked if everything was all right, and he said this was the first time he felt comfortable asking someone to refer to him as Max, and this was the absolute first book he had signed to him as such. The fact that it was Look Past was not lost on me. I made sure to give him props for asserting who he is, and circled his name a half-dozen times on that page in my book, which speaks volumes about his lived experience. “Powerful” doesn’t cut it as a description for a moment like that.

It’s why I write. For the stories, for the readers, those I will only meet virtually, and for those who will stand in front of me and say, “I love your work.”

So, thanks Hudson HS and the entire Hudson Children’s Book Fest crew for keeping such a wonderful event going. As much as it is a day for those readers, it is one for the authors, too. We live in this world, and it’s nice to be reminded that we are seen.

Fun Times at the Hudson Children’s Book Festival

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Between spending ungodly hours prepping my house for sale, and without a book being released in the fall, I haven’t felt very authorly lately. However, the Hudson Children’s Book Festival this past Saturday helped alleviate that feeling.

I had only heard good things about the festival, I didn’t know anyone who had attended. But still, I applied over the winter and was accepted, and then didn’t think too much of it because I had so much time to prepare. And then spring arrived at it was time to drive an hour south and hang out with the Hudson community and the authors and illustrators they had brought in. So, the night before, I checked the site, and was wowed by the names in attendance. Go, Hudson!

When I arrived, the school campus was already buzzing with activity and I quickly grabbed my gear and found my table. And surprise, surprise, I was seated next to the amazing Jennifer Donnelly. You know, the author of A Northern Light and  Revolution and the The Waterfire Saga series, among others. Yeah, her. I immediately turned all fanboy and gushed about her work, which I’ve loved for a while. Then I got my table set up and the floodgates opened.

Prior to the event’s start, I had asked a volunteer what the crowd number would potentially be. She said, “In the thousands.”

And she was right. From 10-2 there was a steady flow of people coming through the doors. And they BOUGHT books. It was astounding to see. And all the orders for all of the authors were handled by a local Indie bookstore, The Spotty Dog. That alone is an amazing feat but combined with the organization of ordering for each of the over 75 authors, it’s truly remarkable.

The highlight of the day was talking to the teens and the parents as they came through and said, “I’m reading that right now. It’s awesome!” Or, “My friend loves Tap Out!” “I need Press Play, I didn’t pick it up at Teen Reader Con.”

Additionally, there was an excellent mix of girls and boys. Readership among teens, across gender lines, in Hudson, is certainly not an issue. And they all had preferences about the books they enjoy, the genres, and why. It was so amazing to hear a tween riff on the importance of Fantasy YA, while her older sister did the same about Contemporary Realistic. There are some amazing things happening both inside and outside the classrooms for these kids, and it is precisely these kinds of events that keep them coming back for more.

On a beautiful spring day thousands of people turned out to spend time with books and authors. After such a long and difficult winter, the Hudson Children’s Book Fest was a nice way to come out of hibernation. I intend to go back next year 🙂