Although I’ve technically aged out of the young adult (YA) demographic—which, according to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), is ages 12–18—I am still an avid consumer of the genre and admire the zeal of younger readers. To see that excitement firsthand, last month I attended the third annual Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF), a recent addition to the Boston literary landscape. The BTAF is a one-day, free and public event that consists of discussion panels and author signings. This year, the BTAF welcomed 24 authors with books published in the YA genre. Panel sessions consisted of author discussions on “Criminal Minds: Writing the Bad Guy,” “A Whole New World: World Building at Its Finest,” “Platonic in Love: Writing Strong Non-Romantic Relationships” and “Choose Your Own Adventure: Characters Who Forge Their Own Destiny.”
To get a behind-the-scenes look of what it’s like to start a book festival from the ground up, I interviewed co-founder Renée Combs, a fellow Emerson alumnus. Renée works as a marketing and promotions assistant at Big Honcho Media in New York and holds a bachelor of arts in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College. She first started the BTAF when studying at Emerson and continues to coordinate the event while living in New York City.
Q: What was the genesis for the BTAF?
A: I went to school in Boston thinking it would be like New York City, with YA book events every other day. When I realized that wasn’t the case, my co-founder [Marisa Finkelstein] and I decided Boston needed a way for the YA lit lovers to celebrate the genre.
Q: As a college student, was it intimidating for you to line up the authors?
A: Surprisingly, no. I had been a book blogger for years, so I’d overcome my fear of reaching out to authors, and I’d been to enough book events that I knew what needed to go into planning one. It was the logistics of it that frightened me—finding a location, raising the funds, and convincing people that the event had a place in the city [of Boston].
Q: How has the BTAF evolved from its inception?
A: It’s grown exponentially! The format has remained the same, but the number of authors and attendees has definitely grown since year one. We had hoped for this progression, but for it to actually happen is thrilling. Going forward, I’d love to offer more panel choices with a broader range of topics, more along the lines of the Rochester Teen Book Festival, but we’re a few years off from something that ambitious. [Editor’s Note: Please see the last paragraph of this post for a link to the Rochester Teen Book Festival and other YA events across the nation.]
Q: Are there challenges coordinating the BTAF from NYC?
A: Not as many as you’d think! Most of the planning is done by email, so I can do that anywhere. Most people didn’t even realize I no longer lived in Boston! It’s the footwork that is challenging—scouting a location or passing out flyers closer to the event—but I have lovely local helpers to lend a hand in those instances.
Q: Is it likely the BTAF will stay in Boston?
A: The festival will absolutely stay in Boston. NYC has a thriving YA scene with several festivals similar to the BTAF, whereas the BTAF is the only event of its kind in Boston.
Q: Do you have a target demographic for the BTAF? Does this line up with the audience that attends?
A: Teens, teens, teens! It is very important [to my team] that teens get to connect with local authors and share their passion for reading and writing with people who are lucky enough to do it for a living. Meeting a favorite author when I was in high school was ridiculously exciting, and I love giving that opportunity to other young adults. This year the majority of our audience were teens, and we were so happy to see it.
Q: Why is YA literature important to you?
A: The young adult genre has no boundaries, and it’s constantly pushing limits. It allows us to be un-ironically enthusiastic and creates a community of passionate and energetic readers that I think would be hard to find in another genre. YA offers the stories I’m drawn to, and their fast-paced, plot-driven story lines offer many other readers enjoyment as well.
Q: How do you feel about criticism of YA only being for the YAs? What do you think adults can get out of it?
A: I think it’s absurd. The genre lines are put in place to say, “Hey reader, there are a lot of books to choose from, here are books that are similar to other books you’ve liked.” They’re not meant to say these books are only for these readers. I don’t think adults can necessarily get anything different out of reading YA than reading any other genre. For me it’s all about the story.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for you? What is the most rewarding aspect?
A: Time management. There’s so much to do and so much that I want to do, it’s hard to find enough time in the day for it all. But getting to that finale, seeing 170 “squee-ing” teens meeting their favorite authors, finishing that first draft of a book, taking that next small step toward another big goal, that’s the most rewarding aspect.
Interested in attending the BTAF? Be sure to check out the event in 2015! Not going to be in the Boston area? Next year offers similar events, including the Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival in Rochester, New York, YALLFest in Charleston, utopYA in Nashville and in the Austin area, YAB Fest and YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium.
Did You Know?
In addition to working at Big Honcho Media, Renée offers her own design services. She has worked with a variety of authors, mainly in the YA/middle-grade genres, designing covers, promotional materials and even reader guides for use in the classroom. She ran the successful The Book Girl Reviews blog for five years, which contributed to the world of internet author–fan friendships, many of which continue today.