Monday, May 26, 2014

On Volunteering at #RT11, #RT12, & #RT14 and Attending BEA

In my freshman year of college, through frequent use of the local bus, I discovered a nearby Borders. I remember this with awe because even though Borders was a chain, sometimes it seemed like every Borders store I'd ever been in was magical. Yet I didn't return as often as I would have liked. I vaguely remember buying Beautiful Creatures among other titles and later on, not wanting to host/attend a party for my hall (aka sponsor group) because I'd gotten absorbed in some book... But I was in college. It was my chance to be the extroverted, charismatic party attender who everyone knew; my chance to be different. Mhmm. In so many ways, sophomore year was my transitional year, my hard year, my realization year, and so, on occasion, I returned to Borders with gusto. I remember seeing a special pyramid table all for Ally Condie's recently released Matched, which was discounted and clearly a popular title; working and laughing with my best friends in the teen section where a Lady with Square Glasses looked down upon us, disapproving; studying for my finals while sipping on Seattle's Best Coffee concoctions (blended/iced mochas, because I'm a coffee wimp and a chocolate addict); returning for the release of Spells because when I bought Wings from my local Borders, the bookseller smiled and said: "I just read that. It's a great book." and that was one of the first YA PNR series, pubbed after Twilight, which I'd read and liked. All of these experiences were what inspired me to keep up with my favorite authors, to learn more about the worlds they had created and when their next books would be released. And so these experiences were also how I'd first found out about, and then volunteered at, the RT Convention (Romantic Times Booklovers Convention).

I have the great fortune of not only having two best friends who went to the same college as me (and thus know of the Sagehen ways) but also having two best friends who are writers and avid YA readers and who share some of my hobbies and future aspirations. I first bonded with one of them over our mutual love of Vampire Academy (and the then impending releases of Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice! ...and, er, the Gingerbread man in Shrek). So, in October or November, when I'd read about the convention on one of the author blogs that I followed and how, in April 2011, it would be held in LA, I'd immediately told my friends. They were just as enthused as I was until I'd discovered the cost to attend. It was a good chunk of my meager wages as a monitor in the college gym. I had no conception of what a convention was and would be like. I mean, after all, we'd gone to the LA Times Festival of Books in freshman year and my friend had seen John Green, had him sign her copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson -- all that for free. College students are not the best spenders. The convention was a lost dream.

Not entirely, though. My other friend asked about the volunteer situation via email. It was a blessing, a privilege. Our plans were set: we were told to come to the volunteer's meeting the Tuesday before the convention (?). As for my friend, this was exactly what she wanted: an inside look at publishing, hopefully her future career. The meeting wasn't revolutionary, but we packed books, we learned when to return, we met a few people, and we decided to come again. One of my friends couldn't come because she had a taiko tournament and she had to teach a writing workshop for our creative writing club, 5Cs Out Loud.

Highlights from 2011 RT Convention:
Volunteering Friday-Saturday (April 8-9)

** less memorable but still activities: handing out tote bags at the entrance of the Book Expo. It was the first time I realized just how many bags people seem to receive at conventions. Organizing the books that were being given away at Graham's Vampire ball. And then...

** Avon's Dusk to Dark Mixer: setting up the books on the author signing tables beforehand. Making sure the posters and decorations and everything were in order before the authors arrived (and before they let in the attendees). I particularly remember this event because it was intimate. There were snacks and maybe like thirteen? tables. It was a small room and you knew that if an attendee was there, she would get to talk to her favorite author for a bit. This was also when the other volunteers and RT workers told my friend and I that they loved how we were so energetic and smiled so much. Our energy and enthusiasm made the event better for them. This is an attitude I hope to emulate my entire life.

** the moment when we, shocked, were allowed to take a book as thanks for our efforts and then, by the end of the night, the moment when we were lugging all of our books -- now quite a bunch! -- up towards the train station, panting, stopping, cursing the train even as we were glad for its existence... and the moment when we saw one of my spiblings (sponsor group + sibling) in the Village and his face when we explained why we'd stopped at Yogurtland with all these books.

** the Book Fair. The (huge) book fair on Saturday, Teen Day, is probably one of RT's most famous events because it's open to the public. I wrote way back when that I helped control the different lines -- helped direct people according to whether they had one day passes, a convention badge, or were only there for the fair -- but what I most remember is meeting various authors. I remember how funny Sarah Rees Brennan was, how nice Alexandra Monir, Jenna Black, and Sophie Jordan were. I remember handing out wristbands for Cassandra Clare's signing and I remember recognizing one of the attendees - a fellow blogger! - but feeling entirely too shy to say anything to her.

** eating lunch with the RT workers & volunteers. Nothing had made me feel more accepted as a volunteer than when we were invited to eat lunch with everyone in the hotel's restaurant. To this day, I'm not entirely sure how we'd gotten invited -- did we talk that much? did they like our book arrangements that much? We were on the end with an older (2009?) Mr. Romance and another volunteer whose name now, three years afterward, escapes me. Funny story: after the lunch, my friend and I were sometime later in the lobby, trying to find our way to the next event when we ran into him again. I don't remember what prompted this, but he suddenly got real close to my face really fast. Like almost kissing range. I remember being too shocked to do anything. Uh, sir, what are you doing? But the real clincher was his question: "Are those real?" He was asking about my eyes. My friend loved this awkward encounter and said "I got romanced by Mr. Romance" o.O.

** waiting for the Teen Day party. Sometimes as a volunteer, you're just waiting for when the room for the event you're going to help with is cleared and you can't really do much until it is. So that time we sat outside the YA panel hosted by Holly Black on how the authors got their ideas. I remember Ally Carter talking about how she wanted to write about a character named Kat who was a cat burglar (aka Heist Society). What I remember most was Sarah Rees Brennan standing on her chair during the panel to talk about a bridge (?) fight scene. I know that a convention can be really, really tiring, so I found her enthusiasm even more awesome.

** Teen Day party. That year the bags were separated by age - pink for teens, green for adults -- and the authors helped give away the bags at the very beginning of the event. I handed out the swag bags and bookmarks (for the Morganville vampires) with Tina Ferraro and Rachel Vincent and my friend did the same with C.C. Hunter. This was also my first expose to Melissa Marr as an organizer extraordinaire. She was one of the authors who I wanted to see and who first inspired me to tell my friends about RT... and well, I was flabbergasted. It's one thing to admire someone for her work, and another to see her in charge of such an amazing event.

** set-up for the late night banquet mixer (for the adults), which was really pretty in a classic type of way with red, silver, and black tablecloths and red rose centerpieces stacked on top of vases filled with water and red beads sparkling at the bottom.  There was even this silver halo-like thing at the front of the stage that looked pretty cool.  After that, we helped assemble some of the giveaway baskets and tada!

Highlights from the 2012 RT Convention:
Chicago; at least Thursday-Saturday (can't quite remember).

The first year we were able to go out of convenience. We'd taken the train to LA and carried our books back to school and woken up early for public transit etc. etc. 2012, we applied for funding from our college based on the premise that what we learned at the convention, we would teach to the members of our club for our monthly event, April Out Loud, which celebrated National Poetry Writing Month and was generally when our club held almost all of its events. So then our time at the conference was paid for in full by our college - airfare, food, hotel, etc. And this time it was all three of us.

** Some of the same things from the previous year: helping out at the book expo (though, this time, helping register authors at the start, arranging book cloths and name placards, etc.) and with the posters for the Pitch a Palooza event; stuffing the giveaway bags for adult and teen events and stuffing registration bags. But you know what? Sometimes the "boring" stuff becomes a highlight, like when my friends and I were stuffing those bags and listening and singing to music until the workers knocked on the closed door and were like... "were you guys just singing in here?"

** volunteering again at the Avon authorial display. Again being impressed by the intimacy - though this one seemed larger than how it had been in LA - and by the decorations (Christmas lights and silvery columns and an all around romantic yet cozy gathering feeling). We didn't help with the decorations, but again with the books... and when that was finished, we were each assigned to help an author. I helped Katherine Ashe. In college, I was always surprised when the library cafe worker, Nancy, was so enthused to see me and the same for the dining hall worker, Irene. I thought that their enthusiasm must be because I always polite with them, not because we'd had in depth conversations. And that's what I was reminded of with Ms. Ashe. Her friendliness and politeness came from inside and had a way of making that day feel less stressful. As her helper, all I did was pass her the next book to sign and rearranged her books so that they continued to look neat. I got to hear her interacting with her readers and it inspired me to buy some of her books as well.

** being allowed to go to the Faerie ball. The costumes (and lack of costumes / clothes lol for the men) were amazing. Authors and attendees mixed together and some were so nice to us! I remember when everyone was taking pictures with the two Mr. Romances on the dance floor and the sketchy look my friend had in our picture as she eyed a very, very handsome Mr. Romance. Again... the enthusiasm.

** Book Fair. If this experience taught me anything, it's that I'd always advise you to purchase your books from the very beginning when you're at a convention. If you want the authors to sign them, purchase them and then go back in to get them signed. The line to purchase books always, always, always ends up being so long and makes the fair end an hour later than it should. I was working in the check-out line, using a blacklight pen to see if everyone's books were stamped (if they weren't, you had to pay for them). I remember my voice becoming hoarse because I'd wanted to make things easier for everyone, but that line was so long, it was almost impossible for that to happen. Before the fair started, I also got to meet a couple of authors. Amy Plum, Aprilynne Pike, and Veronica Roth. That was before Insurgent had been published, and she had one hardcover - without the cover - and said that she should probably put that away.

** Teen Day party. That time instead of hanging the bags out at the beginning, it was closer to the end, with my friends and I standing guard over them until then. There was no distinction between adult and teen bags, and like in 2011, people asked what we were planning on doing with the extra bags. And again I was impressed with how Melissa Marr organized the party.

Highlights from the 2014 RT Convention:
New Orleans, Thursday (12:30 - 2:30ish) and Saturday (9:30ish - 2:45 p.m.)

We didn't go to RT in 2013 because our senior week was around then... but when we saw 2014 was in New Orleans where one of our close friends works as a teacher, we decided that NOLA would be our reunion time. And well, since it was mostly reunion time, we didn't volunteer as much as we did in the past.

** The Ruby Slipper Burlesque Revue. You see the girl with the peacock design and the black leggings? That's me. I was assigned the Polaroid camera. I was supposed to go around to all the attendees and see if they wanted souvenirs. Mostly I was trying not to get hit or interfere with the burlesque lesson while doing this (and learning a few things myself!), but as you can see in the picture on the left, I'm very close to Bella Blue, the instructor. I hope she didn't get irritated with me. At any rate, this was such a great event, a great way to get audience participation. Bella Blue was a delight to listen to in between the photos I took. She talked about her personal life, but mostly she talked about how a woman can feel sexy. How burlesque was designed for that. And when the Chicago song came on and the women started to dance and the authors hosting the event showed off their costumes (corsets, ruby slippers, the red boas given to everyone, etc.), it was absolutely wonderful. At one point someone draped a red boa over my shoulders too and I stopped worrying that I was ruining people's times with the photos. Two other things that really amazed me about this event were the casual introductions by the authors at the very beginning (what genres they wrote, experience with dancing, etc.) and the fact that these authors had clearly put so much time and energy into planning this event for their readers. To engage with them.

Bad photography of the trad. pub side FTW
** The Book Fair. The first thing we did was stamp consignment books and get authors to sign their consignment forms (Courtney Milan explains consignment books here; a quick but incomplete explanation is that the authors selling books on consignment were selling nonreturnable books). We were paired off into groups of two, which with my two friends meant that I was with someone else. Surprisingly: Heidi from YA Bibliophile, who was holding an Anna/Lola/Isla tote bag (I did not realize who she was until much later but kept thinking: why does she look familiar? Is she a blogger? But she said she was a teen librarian... And I'd approached her because of the tote bag). When that was done, I was assigned to count off the number of people who were leaving the fair. For the first time this year, the fire department intervened and said that the two rooms together could not have more than 1,250 people there otherwise it became a fire hazard. So with me counting at the entrance the number of authors/staff/etc. leaving and with another volunteer counting at the exit the attendees who left, the head worker could subtract from the count of people entering and let others in (apparently there was a huge line snaking around buildings outside). It was a much more boring and less involved job than I'd had in the past, but that led to some interesting moments like when one of the "hunks" (there was an event the previous day or so called "dancing with the hunks") passed by and another volunteer was clearly checking him out - we all were, I guess lol - and she was like, "mmm, I like 'em in all colors." And when Jo Carol, who's essentially the head organizer, came out looking so stressed... I'd felt so protective of her. She looked so tired that I'd rubbed her back a little before I remembered that I've spoken to her maybe twice in all of my time volunteering. She gave me a little smile and it just made me think of how massive this entire convention is and that she's able to do it all. Such an amazing woman, and I hope that she gets the appreciation she deserves. At the end of the fair, I helped fill out the rest of those forms and talked with Courtney Milan without realizing until it was too late that it was Courtney Milan (aka: she was one of the authors whose form I was helping with but then, when I realized that, she was talking to her fellow author). The same thing happened when I was asked to escort Chloe Neill to the check-out line - to the front - because she had a panel right after the fair and couldn't wait in the massive line.

--> A volunteer's perspective on some of the issues raised here and here: If you were following the #RT14 tag or read about some other accounts, you know that during the book fair, there were two separate rooms for signing. To the left was the traditionally published authors, two authors per table, and to the right was the indie or self-published authors, three authors per table. The indie group was selling books on consignment. But as you may already be able to tell, this separation lead to hurt feelings and confusion. Firstly, based off of what one of the indie authors told me when I was getting her signature for the forms, the authors were all told that they would be in the same room and they definitely did not expect to be crammed together in the way that the traditionally published authors were not. There was hardly space when I finished stamping books to put them on the table and for the author to still have signing space. Secondly, I imagine that having the split did not help much with sales for the indie authors given that there's still a stigma with regard to your avenue of publishing (e.g. apparently a volunteer was saying that real authors were in one room and aspiring authors were in the other). Still, I wouldn't say that readers were not made aware of the split and its meaning. For at least the first two hours, Jane, the head of the volunteers, was shouting to the entering attendees about the indie/traditional split. A hotel woman stood not far behind her said the same thing. It was also printed in the information booklets. If the attendees didn't know about that split, they weren't paying attention. And yet a misunderstanding will undoubtedly happen when you have a situation without an explanation that would immediately come to mind (e.g. having 2 rooms full of authors for the same signing fair). It definitely made it easier to have all the authors who needed consignment forms in one room, organized alphabetically by name in their rows, but completing the forms hadn't been an issue, as far as I know, in the past when all the authors were in the same room.

Why did I write about all three years?

A.) RT is awesome  - I don't know if I've managed to convince you of this with my looooooong post, but I've had a lot of fun at RT. It's the reason I kept going back and my friends and I have arranged to keep meeting each other around then. Maybe our experiences with the convention aren't the same as they would be if we were regular attendees, but I know that my volunteer experience has been more than enough.

B.) Don't get discouraged - You look at the costs of attending and think that you can never do it. But you don't know, people might surprise you. I know I was surprised with the way things have worked out and I would encourage you not to get discouraged. Always check in. Always.

C.) Budgets/clubs - If you're in college or a part of any higher institution that you might appeal to for funding with regard to these conventions... do it. I didn't expect to get approved back in 2011, but we did and it was worth it, and I'm always learning something new.

D.) Insider's Look at Publishing - For anyone interested in publishing, volunteering at the convention is an amazing experience to have. I'd say probably better than the one you'd have as an attendee. I know that I wouldn't have known about the politics of the consignment books and the indie/traditional split if I weren't a volunteer. I wouldn't have seen how much work goes into a convention - arranging the table cloths so no one slips; arranging the books to look marketable; arranging the centerpieces and decorations to go with the theme that the publicist has dictated. You get to work with the authors and publicists and publishers and whatnot - you won't be the person they're trying to market to but instead the person who can help them make things right. You get to see how authors have to become comfortable with public speaking because it'll always crop up - even with short introductions. I've learned something new every year and it's wonderful.

E.) To explain my apprehension about BEA

On Attending BEA:

This is my first year attending BEA and I'm not sure I know what to expect. Volunteering at a convention is so, so much different from attending it regularly. I remember feeling very incredulous when I first saw people taking suitcases to RT, but now with regard to BEA, it seems impossible not to take one. How will it feel to be on the other line? To be the person who's staring at the books for offers instead of the person "guarding" them until after the event was over? I also generally tend to avoid author signings because they don't make much of a difference to me and now I'm going to a few directly. And it'll be strange to see how perfectly everything looks without thinking of the little tooth fairies (aka volunteers/workers) and how hard they've worked to make it seem that way. You don't have to be recognized to be appreciated, I suppose. I've been planning and panicking and reading posts with tips and the like and who knows what will happen?

At any rate, if you see me at the convention, say hi! I am apparently very oblivious (aka Courtney Milan, Chloe Neill, 2011 blogger example), so do us both a favor and make that first move :). I will be trying to break my ways but better safe than sorry...

Also I look like this. Or this. Or:

Would you ever volunteer at a convention? / any bookish event? Would these experiences work for you? Are you going to BEA or RT another year?


  1. Oh maaaan, I really wish I could go to BEA. Not only are there some of my most anticipated books I want SO BAD, I would love to meet you in real life <3 You are so adorable in the picture on the right!

    If only I had the opportunity, we don't have events like this over here. It was very interesting to read all of this though :)

  2. Those curls! You look adorable there. ;)

    I've never had the opportunity to volunteer at anything remotely bookish before (I mean, we're only having our first YA convention in the UK this year), but it sounds like a lot of fun. It's so cool that you got to do RT! And I am totally jealous that you will be at BEA, but I can't wait to hear all about it. I hope you have fun and get to meet lots of cool people! :)

  3. I'm going!!! Also, your new design is glorious.

  4. So can I stop by and say hi to you at BEA?

  5. I am not volunteering at BEA, but yes yes please say hi if you see me :). I *just* finished making my BEA schedule - you wouldn't happen to be going to the Condie/Marr/Maas signings, would you? Which books are you most excited for?

  6. Aw, thank you! And yes!! I replied to your email :D. Let's meet up!

  7. I wish my curls could look like that now... Are you going to that YA convention? (Is that UKYA?). Volunteering is a lot of a fun and I hope that you'll get the chance to volunteer or go to BEA or RT at some point :). Especially if I'm there so we can finally meet :P ;)

  8. Mel, I'd love to meet in real life! One day it will happen. Either you at BEA or I've finally globetrotted over to you ;). I hope that you'll be able to have an event like RT or BEA someday though or if not, come over here!

  9. It's YALC, which is taking place at the London Comic Con. I won't be there, but oddly I'm not as bothered as I thought I might be. I haven't read many of the authors' books from the list.

    I would love to be at BEA one day though. I need to sneak myself onto a plane. ;)


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