YALC, or Young Adult Literature Convention, turned five years old, this summer. Five years of celebrating authors and books, and bringing together the world of YA – both readers and creators. YALC draws visitors from all over the country and beyond, with fans desperate to meet their favourite authors, attend panels, and get their books signed. YALC is, at the moment, tied into London Film and Comic Con (LFCC), an event run by Showmasters. Unlike LFCC, YALC does not charge for autographs, only for entry, which sets it apart from the main event on the floor below.
But as YALC turns five, there are, sadly, recurring issues that have gone another year without being addressed. In 2017, an article in The Guardian, and posts by several twitter users, drew attention to the fact that accessibility at YALC left a great deal to be desired. The disabled toilets were, for instance, inaccessible, and the lifts often crowded. Access for those with Extra Help wristbands was difficult to come by, and there were multiple complaints about the handful of inflatable chairs being the only place to sit. So, had things changed this year?
We spoke to some attendees to find out.
“…no one knew what they were doing,” said Zoe Collins, book blogger. “I was made to feel like a huge inconvenience for needing extra assistance, which was definitely not the case downstairs at LFCC. It just seemed vastly unorganised…” Indeed, those of us at SHIFT who experienced the queuing system downstairs at LFCC certainly saw people with Extra Help wristbands being sent to the front of the queue with no fuss. So why wasn’t this the case at YALC?
Layla, a 25 year old book blogger said: “The staff of LFCC who were meant to be running the floor of YALC were quite rude and abrupt. I understand it was a stressful time, but these particular members of staff should have training to understand how queueing works and to understand other things like extra help wristband access.”
When we asked further about the discrepancies between the staff working LFCC and the staff working YALC, blogger Lauren Johnstone suggested Showmasters could “…fix this is by having volunteers who are specific to the YALC floor, who know who’s who, comfortable in a book environment and for Showmasters to fix their system of volunteers.”
It is quite disappointing that, after five years in the running, YALC is still experiencing these kinds of problems. The queuing system does differ to that of LFCC downstairs (where to get an autograph, you obtain a virtual ticket, and numbers are called throughout the day – guests also sign all day when they are not on breaks or giving talks, etc. This is a definite difference to YALC, where authors’ signings are limited to two hours.
“The signings really could be organised better,” said Layla, a blogger and attendee. “There were some huge authors this year and many people didn’t get a chance at all to get a book signed or to say hello to an author. I witnessed people in [a] queue with up to seven copies of the book to be signed, which really doesn’t make it fair when many people are waiting. I feel that publishers should take into account how popular some authors may be for YALC as many people come from afar to visit the convention.”
Indeed, despite such a large number of people attending, the YALC Twitter account answered only ten tweeted questions over the weekend. Several authors took their signing queues over to their publishers’ tables once their allotted time had run out, in order to see all their fans, but this created problems in itself, as there were sprawling queues all over the YALC floor and, once again, no seating. Where last year there had been inflatable chairs, this time there was nothing. Once again, attendees were sitting on the floor, leaning on the walls where they could. There was a large empty space behind the cloakroom that would have been ideal for tables and chairs, or even picnic benches… When there were so many complaints about the seating in 2017, why wasn’t this used?
But YALC 2018 wasn’t all complaints. “I always love YALC as it gives a safe place to meet all your friends, and see publishers and authors,” said Zoe Collins. “I found the new proof ticketed system was a lot fairer, and made sure people weren’t just taking proofs for the sake of it.” Indeed, this seems to be a popular opinion, with many people who got in touch telling us: “The competitions and raffles worked well, and, as a result, people weren’t running across the convention floor and the atmosphere was a lot calmer (Kate, Blogger)”. Every single person we spoke to said they would attend YALC again.
When it comes to the queue management and timed signings, we remain unsure of a fix. Perhaps the solution is to copy the Diamond Pass system of LFCC, and guarantee signings for people who purchase an additional pass (we are aware, however, that this creates a tiered system, and YALC signings have, historically, always been included in entry price), or else have the Information Desk give out numbered virtual queue tickets (again, like LFCC) from the start of the day, and have numbers called during queue times? It may also be worth ensuring that the Showmasters staff running YALC have a clear idea of what is expected from them, and that the YALC social media makes the queuing system clear ahead of time for attendees.
We look forward to seeing how YALC addresses these issues next year.
SHIFT contacted YALC back in April to try and arrange an interview about how YALC is organised, but, despite multiple chasings throughout May, June and July, we did not receive any answers to our questions.