It’s hard to believe that it has been almost three weeks since YALC 2022 already! I meant to have this post up and running quite quickly but, to be honest, I caught con-flu and have been run down ever since.
This year was the first time it had opened since the pandemic started and expectations were high, pulses were raised and book budgets were unlimited.
Or so we hoped.
After the full three days, I can safely say that it was pretty much a mixed bag as far as Cons go.
This year they had done away with any chasing over the place to find ARCs or secret bats/ stickers. This meant that getting ARCs ( Advance Reader copies or Proofs) or Free books was far easier (for some, more on that later).
All raffle tickets were given with the details of which publisher, which time and for which book, written on the back. All of which made it so much easier to keep straight what you had put your name down for, what stand it was on and where to go to check your ticket. A lot of them had also put the winning ticket numbers on social media so you could check that too.
The books all started fairly cheap and the vendors were brilliant at deals and there were many “buy one get one free” deals. Then prices lowered and towards the end of Sunday, vendors were practically giving books away. I ended up with 45 books which was a BITCH and a half to get home on the train but damn if it wasn’t worth it.
This year we had air. We could breathe! It was still warm and I had a fan permanently affixed to my face but at least there was a slight breeze.
We were blessed with a veritable cornucopia of guests. From Jacqueline Wilson to Non Pratt, Derek Landy to Holly Bourne and more in between, there was such a great scope for authors we were spoiled for choice.
Games for ARCs
I genuinely enjoyed the different ways of getting ARCS this year. Not just raffles but translation challenges, picture drawing, colouring in and answering questions. It was far more fun than in previous years and I didn’t have to run. Also, almost every table had sweeties for free. This is perfect as you were so interested in the books that you forgot to eat! I blame the instant sugar hit for my buying so many books.
There were far fewer vendors than before. We had only one book box this time and that was Illumicrate which was swamped within seconds. There were no booths for Fairyloot or Book Box or any of the others which was a shame.
There was even a lack of some big-name publishers and much fewer smaller ones. I know things are quite precarious in the publishing world at the moment so that could be why but it would have been nice to have a few more.
Also, I remember us having vendors for book jewellery, bookmarks, mugs, stickers etc I assume that the price of the tables as well as the high levels of covid put smaller vendors off. I used to make and sell book jewellery but in order to have a small table you had to lay out over £350. So if you only had smaller items then you were unlikely to make your money back, much less make a profit on your items. That put a lot of people off which is a real shame.
Most vendors had card machines this year which was great because you didn’t have to search for the nearest cash machine and pay stupid fees to take out your own money. However, the card machines worked intermittently. The unreliability happened often enough to be frustrating- not just for the vendors but the customers as well.
Space between vendors
While many of the tables were large enough, I felt there could have been a little more space between some of the booths as it was very difficult to reach the front of the table.
Last Minute Changes
I was going to put this in the bad section but it wasn’t all that awful. Although we didn’t have our own room/rooms and the mezzanine was often inundated with LFCC visitors there was enough space for the vendors and it wasn’t as horrible as we had imagined.
When I first attended YALC, there were plenty of things for you to do in between sessions. There were tables where you could colour quietly or make felt books. There was a book-swap section and a quiet reading zone. This year there wasn’t really anything except for the “Bookstagrammer” booth which was in use pretty much constantly.
Queuing with the LFCC lot.
Rather than have our own entrance we had to queue with those going to LFCC. This meant, for some, that they were queuing for hours to get in. Some missed talks or workshops because they couldn’t get in on time and some- I was told- waited outside most of the day Saturday because the building was too full and presented a safety risk. One girl was furious because she had bought several books to be signed by an author but couldn’t get in during that signing session.
Also if you left the building for any reason, you weren’t allowed back in through any other door except the entrance- which meant if you had nipped out to catch some air or get some food- you then had to re-queue at the front door.
There wasn’t one.
This was my biggest annoyance of the whole weekend. On the map we had been given a nice large area as a ‘Chill Out’ zone. But, in practice, this area was alongside the Comic Con photograph queues. If you sat down you were at risk of being trampled, it was so noisy you couldn’t hear yourself think AND once the LFCC attendees realised it was there, they used it to sit between photo sessions and signings. Most YALCer’s ended up sitting in-between stalls, against walls and on the dirty ground. Not conducive to reading quietly.
I saw one girl, with an “Extra Help needed” band, obviously under a lot of stress from the bad situation.
I attended one workshop zone which was the Dream Journal one. I loved it, it was interesting and educational and I got to speak to new people and make new friends. BUT it was so hard to hear anything because we were on the mezzanine above all the very loud LFCC. Also, the room was tiny for how many people wanted to join in the various workshops.
The stage was right by the mezzanine centre and it was so difficult to hear the authors talk because of the LFCC below. Also because there was no real quiet area, the stage seats were filled with people who just needed to sit down. Quite right too. Since the LFCCers had adopted our quiet area there were only the stage seats to sit on if you couldn’t sit on the floor (see below for accessibility issues) That meant that if you wanted to hear the talks you had nowhere to sit and there ended up being standing room only for several of them.
This wasn’t an issue for me as I didn’t want to get any books signed this time around. However, I spoke to a few girls who told me that signing tables were moved without telling the people in line (or the authors) and that the virtual ticketing system was ignored. One girl told me that she went to get a virtual ticket for Bridget Kemmerer and there seemed to be no queue so she started one. Moments later the lady at the desk shouted at the girl telling her she had jumped the queue and to get to the back of the line- the line that had formed BEHIND her. Because of this the girl ended up joining the very back of the queue and was unable to get a virtual ticket.
Once again this is the big issue at LFCC and YALC.
I spoke to @the_blind_scribe who is registered blind and who has mobility issues about her experience.
She said “I had an extra Help band but it was like staff didn’t care. Basically, I am registered blind, can’t stand for long and have difficulty with crowds and anxiety (I was also stood on a broken foot for three days). With the YALC queues nobody cared to help those with disabilities, I was waiting for Jonathan Stroud for over two hours. In Yalc loads of people were bringing suitcases to put books in…they just block up every space and they’ve been rolled over my feet too.”
I also found this, I tripped over so many cases that weekend. While I understand -and have bought cases myself- a drop-off area for books would be so much more useful and less hazardous.
Another lady I spoke to, who was in a wheelchair, commented that her feet and shins were sore from the number of rolling cases that had been slammed into her chair.
As the LFCC goers came upstairs to have a look around at the books the aisles got smaller and it became almost impassable for those with crutches or wheelchairs to get by. I remember watching as two wheelchair users who were coming from separate sections couldn’t get past each other due to the streaming crowds. It looked like a jousting stand-off.
Because the LFCCers decided to use the quiet area to sit and wait for their next photo shoot or whatever there were no places for those with mobility issues to sit and rest- other than the stage area. Those chairs are not designed for long use and are quite uncomfortable. If you were on crutches or had mobility issues, you had to sit at the edges of the room which made it harder for others to slide by to sit in the rows.
I mentioned earlier that I liked that there was no need to run about the place to get free ARCs this year. I also liked to do the colouring or the translations or searching for ravens.
However, @the_blind_scribe had a different experience “In YALC a lot of stalls do giveaways but didn’t take disabilities into consideration. Having games to look for this or scavenger hunts just aren’t fair when you are blind. It made me feel like they were actively working against me.”
To my shame, I hadn’t thought about those who might not have been able to see the various competitions. Surely there has to be a way to make these competitions more accessible?
Fun for everyone? It was especially ironic as a few of those giveaways were for books with disability rep.
Finally, there were scheduling concerns, some authors turning up late to signings which meant that @the_blind_scribe was, again, left standing for long periods of time. Sadly she also caught Covid from the con and tells me “I have a long letter of complaint for LFCC and YALC. It was such a terrible set-up and I don’t think I ever want to go back again.”
I don’t blame her at all. If her experience was that awful and she felt singled out because of her blindness and ignored despite her need for help, then I wouldn’t want to go back either.
Thanks to @the_blind_scribe for her input and good wishes for her covid recovery.
YALC have sent out a form this year asking what they can do better:
A few suggestions.
1) A book drop off area so there are no huge cases blocking areas
2) More Vendors/ publishers this might mean reducing the price of a table to attract smaller sellers
3) An actual quiet zone with seating
4) A different time of year than the height of summer
5) Not during Comic Con or perhaps at a different site?
6) More accessibility
7) Staff/volunteers who know where things are and what time they are taking place. Maybe offer a deal to get more volunteers from the YALC community. Spend one day volunteering to help and get 50% off ticket price or get a swag bag or something.
8) Things to do during down times such as an activity table
9) Free water or water bottle refill stations
10) Book swap area
Well, that is my experience of YALC this year. Please let me know if you had a similar experience or if you thought it was perfect. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.
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