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YALLFEST 2015: Highlights from an Amazing Book Festival

When you love something, you want to share and celebrate it with the world, right? If you follow my Food, Fitness & Fiction blog you know that I’ve always been a writer. But it’s only been over the last year and a half or so that I’ve developed a true and deep love for books, especially young adult fiction books. And when I meet or discover others who share my newfound passion, I get excited!

I recently attended—and had a blast at—the fourth annual YALLFEST in Charleston, South Carolina. YALLFEST is a young adult book festival that brings together a who’s who of young adult authors (not to mention some top literary agents and editors) to sign books and share their wisdom, humor and so much more with fans in a variety of panels and other activities.

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Although this was my first YALLFEST, I had some idea of what it would be like because I attended its sister festival, YALLWEST, last spring . (You can read about my incredible experience at YALLWEST right here). Like YALLWEST, YALLFEST did not disappoint. The crowd of thousands also seemed to have the time of their lives.

Although I could only attend Day 2 of the festival, visiting beautiful and quaint Charleston was well worth the trip from New York City. I chose not to do any of the book signings and instead took full advantage of many great panels, especially those with authors I haven’t yet seen or wasn’t yet familiar with. Here are some highlights from a few of them:

Opening Keynote: From Goosebumps to Vamp Hunts. In this panel moderated by Kami Garcia, R.L. Stein revealed that there’s no magic formula to his success. He told the audience that, at his editor’s suggestion, he reluctantly agreed to try to write a scary book series for 7- to 12-year-olds. He came up with the title Goosebumps after reading, “It’s Goosebumps Week on Channel 11” in TV Guide. He attributes the success of his books to kids telling other kids to read them. Richelle Mead revealed that as a teacher, she never talked down to her kids or sugar coated anything. She says she approached writing Vampire Academy as she approached the adult world knowing that kids can handle things and deal with a variety of issues. (See R.L. Stein and Richelle Mead pictured below.)

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In Real Talk About Writing, a panel with Rachel Caine, David Levithan, Jane Yolen, Victoria Aveyard, Natalie Standiford, & G. Neri (see photo below), David said he loves to write at other people’s kitchen tables with minimal distractions. If he gets stuck, he said he’ll talks to others about what he’s working on or he’ll just plough through it and lets it suck! 




And Victoria (see photo below) said she treats writing like any job, and aims for 10-5 each day.



But the best advice for aspiring writers also came from David. He said that it’s most important to work on learning the craft and writing the best they can rather than focusing on getting a quick book deal. Amen to that! If you learn the craft and put that first, the rest will follow.

There were lots of laughs in Show Some Emotion (mostly about Panera Bread), with Sabaa Tahir, Victoria Aveyard, Rachel Caine, Meg Medina, Susane Colasanti, Michelle Falkoff, & Kwame Alexander (see photo below).

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Kwame said that observing and eavesdropping can teach you so much. He likes to write mostly at Panera Bread, which he considers a metaphor for being a part of life. (Check out the interview I did with the amazing Kwame, pictured below, right before his panel: Why I Write at Panera Bread: My Interview with Kwame Alexander.)




I also enjoyed My Big Break Q & A: Industry Insiders, a panel with agents and editors including Sarah Burnes, Jo Volpe, Emily Meehen, Barry Goldblatt and Erin Stein. As an aspiring YA author, the take home lesson for me was to finish my manuscript and have it be in the best possible shape before submitting it. That’s the plan! The panel also reiterated how important it is to submit to agents who like the kinds of books you’re writing and to know who you’re pitching to.

The Closing Keynote: Brandon to Brandon—Brandon Mull & Brandon Sanderson Live & Unplugged—was fantastic (the two Brandon’s are pictured below). They were honest and hilarious, talking about what it’s really like to go on tour, and about what inspired to write. Brandon S. even admitted that in 8th grade, he hated books until one of his teachers encouraged him to pick up a book. It was a fantasy book that opened his eyes about his own life experience and helped him understand his own mother better. Reading that book inspired him to learn how to write in a way that elicits emotions similar to the ones that he felt.




Last but not least, while I spoke to many people throughout the day, I thought it would be fun to share the experiences of three lovely ladies I met at YALLFEST. They came from far and near and love books as much as I do. Their enthusiasm and excitement for attending the festival was palpable, so I thought I’d celebrate them!

Elysia Regina is a writer and an entrepreneur who owns Inspire Thread Company. She writes at, co-writes at with Matt Keenan, and is currently seeking representation for her sixth novel. This was her first YALLFEST. To get to the festival, she drove for 19 hours—19 HOURS!!!—from Bangor, Maine. Talk about going to great lengths for the love of books! Here’s what she had to say about the festival:

The festival exceeded my expectations. The highlights for me, besides meeting the authors (see photo with Victoria Aveyard below), was the Creativity & Jealousy & Fear & Success panel with Gayle Forman, Marie Lu, Libba Bray, Margaret Stohl, Daniel Handler, & Scott Westerfeld. I mean, how could a panel not be amazing with that author lineup?  

Another highlight was the YA Smackdown at the end of the night. A bunch of the authors read juvenilia, and Alexander London (author of Proxy), sang a song from his Death Metal Fish band. Basically the best thing ever. An all-star lineup of authors then played Hollywood Squares (think tic-tac-toe with people), and the Smackdown closed with a set from Libba Bray, Barney Miller, Natalie Standiford, & Daniel Ehrenhaft’s band Tiger Beat.

It was also amazing to meet readers and writers from around the country that had come to YALLfest. It was pretty much inevitable that I’d meet some spectacular people while waiting in the lines for signings. I find it amazing how many people were more than happy to wait multiple hours for singings from big time authors like Veronica Roth, Marie Lu, and Marissa Meyer. Yes, I was definitely one of those people! The YA community is nothing short of wonderful. I’ll absolutely be attending next year (perhaps taking a plane my next time around!), and am even considering going to YALLFEST’s sister festival, YALLWEST. I can’t wait for more YA fun!

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You can connect with Elysia on Instagram and Twitter at @Elysia_Regina.

I also met Courtney Clark and Jenn Weston (pictured below), two lovely librarians who live in Charleston and work at the Charleston Library Society. Founded in 1748, it’s one of the 16 membership libraries and one of the oldest continuous circulating libraries in the country.


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“Yallfest is all we’ve been talking about since March,” Courtney said. And although you might think she was attending YALLWEST wearing her librarian hat, really she attended because she loves to collect signed YA books. “They’re my treasures,” she said. This was Courtney’s second YALLFEST and Jenn’s first.

Here’s Courtney’s take on the festival:

YALLFEST exceeded my expectations this year (and does every year) because the list of talent keeps growing and there is so much to do that you can’t possibly do it all. The highlight for me is getting to meet the authors—having them sign your books and having a quick 30 second conversation with them and realizing they are real people. Photo ops with authors are also the best! They make sure the memories last for years to come. Meeting Victoria Aveyard this year was amazing. I am so glad she came, and hope she returns next year to sign and talk about her new books. I will definitely be back in 2016! 

You can follow Courtney on Instagram at @guenevol and on Facebook at Courtney Clark.

Here’s what Jenn had to say about YALLFEST:

YALLFEST was absolutely fantastic! This was my first time, and I ended up not making it to any of the panels I wanted to go to since there were so many books that I wanted to get signed. I DEFINITELY want to go again. I think next time I’ll have to plan things out even better and make sure to bring even more minions to take my books around for me. Highlights probably included confusing Richelle Mead (see photo below) into thinking I had an ancient phone that didn’t take pictures (my phone’s camera doesn’t work very well and tints all my pictures horribly red), meeting so many wonderful people in line, and getting the last free signed ARC of Gwenda Bond’s newest book.




You can follow Jenn on Twitter at @fearfalls and on Facebook at Jenn Weston.

Did you attend YALLFEST? What were the highlights for you?

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

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