At the end of January (I know, I haven’t blogged for um… quite some time), I was lucky to attend a brilliant Young Adult book event. YA Day was organised by two lovely girls who have been stalwarts of Melbourne’s #LoveOzYA community for a couple of years now. Sarah and Alex of @TheYARoom started by organising monthly bookclub picnics and enthusiastically supporting Aussie YA. This year, they moved to new heights with YA Day and its ‘Teens to the Front’ theme.
Yep, YA is so popular with adults we need the catchphrase ‘Teens to the Front’, so they can actually have their say about the books aimed at their readership. There’s nothing wrong with us adults liking, writing and especially buying YA, but we must ensure teens aren’t scared off at events like book launches, or nervous about having their say on social media.
When YA Day was first announced, I was keen to attend but concerned about taking seats from teens. Luckily interest was so high, Sarah and Alex decided a bigger venue was required and ran a Kickstarter project. So we adult fans were able to pledge money as support and attend without feeling like we’d shoved a kid out of the queue!
They hired a room at the Wheeler Centre, housed at Victoria’s State Library, and despite the 40 degree heat outside, over 80 people attended. It ran so smoothly that it seemed Alex and Sarah had been event organisers in past lives (I believe they’re still officially teens themselves, if not far off it).
There were four panels, the first being actual real-live teenagers! Book bloggers 😀 (Sam @marbledlibrary, Anisha @sprinkledpages & Lissa @joysofbookworms) reminded us to not drown out teen voices; that teens are not the teens we were growing up; and it’s really important for them to see themselves in the books they read. Diversity is the key, people!
The second panel was BookTubers (using YouTube to talk about their favourite books – Piera @pieraforde, Chami @isthatchami & Lily @LilyCReads). One is still a teen and the others not much older. They talked about how to start in booktubing; how welcoming and supportive the book community is, across social media; and how they’d gained friends and a community IRL* from being online.
The third panel was authors of varying ages (Michael Pryor, Shivaun Plozza & Alison Evans). They discussed getting into writing (Shivaun commented that you have to write a book in order to learn how to write a book – love that!); ignoring bad reviews (reviews are for readers, not authors, although Alison believes sometimes people may have good points to make); support other writers – #LoveOzYA is a small community, so don’t be a jerk! And read Aussie YA – if you can’t afford it, ask your library to buy it 🙂
The final panel was industry professionals (Danielle Binks, Nadja Poljo, Kate O’Donnell & Catriona @littlebookowl), who spoke about the varying paths they’d taken to get into publishing (apparently you do various degrees which you then don’t use!); and the honest truth about the good and bad of the industry. They all spoke about needing far more diversity in publishing – through management, marketing, editors, authors and the characters they write. We need more than just privileged white men at the helm (AGREED: a worldwide change please across ALL governments, business, education, etc).
(A massive thank you to the fabulous Jes @ageekwithahat for her typically amazing live tweeting during the day – you can find her thread on Twitter under #YADAY #LoveOzYA)
Looking around during the day, I had combined feelings of real excitement and being totally at home. I don’t often feel this, especially as I can be quite reserved in public. And I realised that it was partly because this kind of book community was not around when I was a teen, so I was finally getting to experience somewhere I truly belonged 🙂
In my early years, we didn’t have even a tenth of the Aussie (or any) YA that we have today (NB: calculation may be wildly inaccurate; maths was never my strong point). And we didn’t have social media *gasp* we didn’t even have mobiles! Now, there are many drawbacks about being online, but social media is ideal for book nerds of any age to discuss books with people around the world, no matter how shy they may be IRL.
I loved being able to hear teens talk about what they like and dislike in YA, and their utter passion about what they want: more diversity of all kinds, adults to listen, and to treat them with respect. Remember this, authors!
In a different aspect of age, recently I broke through my shyness by confessing my own* on Twitter, in a response to something another YA author, Emily Gale had re-Tweeted. It raised the question – does age matter when writing YA? Do teens care?
I’ve been very nervous about telling people, because it feels like I’m ‘too old’ to be breaking through into writing, especially for teenagers. Which is odd, because you can write brilliantly or badly no matter how old you are! Oddly, no-one seems to question the age of kids’ picture books and middle-grade authors.
Thinking over it now, I don’t believe teenagers care about an author’s age, as long as they can relate to the books and like the writing. And more so if the author communicates with them and isn’t condescending. A joy of social media is readers and authors being able to chat so easily.
But as Emily pointed out, having young writers around is also great for teenagers, inspiring those kids who want to write – ‘I don’t need to wait until I’m really old to do this!’ It works both ways 😊
Basically, young readers mostly just care about the book (okay, also maybe the cover, for Instagram purposes). And I love being immersed in this community, online and IRL, which promotes and celebrates reading!
*In Real Life (for those who don’t live on Twitter etc)