Sunday, November 4, 2012

As a Writer at YALSA YA Lit Symposium

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This weekend I attended the YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium in St. Louis, Missouri. Now YALSA is an organization for librarians and the Lit Symposium is a conference by and large for them. So you are probably wondering why I as a writer wanted to attend this conference. I myself wondered the same thing as I approached the registration desk Friday afternoon and the ladies there asked which category I fit into for my name badge. I looked at the list, school librarian, public librarian, student, and off to the side the pre-printed and stuffed blue badges for the authors. I quickly discovered there wasn't a category for writer, unpublished, and aspiring author. And when I said aspiring author/writer I got some strange looks from the ladies behind the desk. My heart sank, and I hadn't even attended my first session.

As I walked into the opening reception Friday night I was more than a little nervous. I wondered if the people at this conference would question why I was there. But as I started filling out the Bingo mixer card and talking to the librarians something changed. The first question out of their mouths was "so what kind of library do you work in?" The first time I heard this I paused, took a deep breath, and cautiously responded with "well actually I'm a writer. I'm here to learn about the other side of the book world." And the reaction without pause was always (and I'm not exaggerating it was every time) met with a "That's so cool! What do you write?" I instantly relaxed. I quickly learned librarians are some of the coolest people I have ever met. Not only are they some of the friendliest people, but they want to talk about books because they love them. This is music to a writer's ears because we too at our hearts, love books, or else we wouldn't be writing them.

Once the tension was released I was able to really enjoy the conference. Even as a writer, I found the sessions extremely informative and helpful. I learned about trends, what kids and teens today are really into, and where there are gaps in the young adult genre, from a first hand source. Something every writer and author struggles to keep on top of. Not that any writer/author should write to the trends but they should be very aware of the next big thing, and how their work fits into the genre. I learned even more than I already knew about fandom (fan fic, fan art etc.) something that many authors are surprisingly not aware of but should be. There's a whole world out there of teens who latch onto books and want to use their favorite characters and stories as inspiration for art, writing, videos, podcasts, etc. It gives teens a sense of belonging. And in fact, quite a few writers were born out of fandom. They started by using the inspirations of other authors and when they learned the craft of writing, they could then pursue their own ideas. And not I'm not talking about a certain badly written, published, fanfic that got a lot of attention this year, but I'm talking about wildly popular YA authors like Cassandra Clare who made her jump into publishing starting with fandom. In fact, any author tuned into their fandom through the internet has equally as frequent an opportunity to interact with their readers as a librarian does. Something that has changed significantly in recent years.

The sessions aside, which were extremely valuable, as a writer at this conference, I had access to a whole crowd of published authors. I spent a good chunk of Saturday having one on one chats with authors in my genre, picking their brains and getting advice on writing, querying, and the publishing process. It was some of the most valuable time I've spent as a writer at a conference. These authors not only generously gave me their time, but they met my questions with words of encouragement and support. They said that the fact I was attending conferences like this showed I was not only serious about the craft, but that I had a desire to learn and understand which is important for any writer. Some of them even went as far as to say they wish they'd attended more conferences before becoming published.

So this weekend I've learned a lot of amazing things about myself as a writer and writing as a craft. Authors are fabulously, supportive people who write and do amazing things like support librarians. But most of all librarians are not the stuffy, mean, old ladies we remember growing up. They are fantastic, cool, fun, caring, wonderful people that just love books. They love to read them, to talk about them and to get kids and teens reading them. And for that I realized, I don't have nearly enough librarians in my life!

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