Panels, buzz, readers, books: BookExpo America


This year’s BookExpo America ran from May 29th to May 31st at the Jacob K. Javits Center. Publishers showcased their titles for the upcoming season, passing out advanced reading copies and swag to readers. Team Interrobang hit the floor to bring you all the news and recaps from the three day event.

Readers are tastemakers

While publicists passed out books and editors clamored about their favorite titles, it was ultimately the readers who showcased what titles to note by raving about them and standing in line – sometimes for hours – to get the book they were waiting for.

Heir of Fire, the third in Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, had fans standing in line up to three hours early to meet Maas and get advanced reading copies signed. Bloomsbury’s smash high fantasy hit had fans clamoring at the booth throughout the day, especially once Throne of Glass tote bags were given away. The book will hit shelves in September.

Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun had fans lining up forty minutes early to snag a copy of the much talked about contemporary novel. Those who didn’t get the book could be heard clamoring about it as the days went on. The contemporary novel, about the friendship between twins Jude and Noah, will hit shelves this September.

Afterworlds features two worlds: the worlds of author Scott Westerfeld’s publishing industry, and a world where ghosts live only for as long as they are remembered. Fansafterworlds scott westerfeld snatched up Westerfeld’s latest novel, which focuses on a young girl named Darcy who completes NaNoWriMo and alternates chapters with the novel Darcy wrote. Westerfeld’s story earned much buzz among bloggers on the floor, especially those eager to see what authors might make thinly-disguised cameos in Darcy’s life. The book will hit shelves this September.

The line for E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars wrapped around the entire Random House booth – and around much of that side of the building. The contemporary, which promises to surprise, earned much buzz and high praise from many on the floor. The book is on sale now.

Described as a masterpiece of freedom and feminism, A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future tells the story of a girl who can see the future. Glory envisions a world where women’s rights vanish and a second civil war breaks out. She record everything in an attempt to change the future. It hits shelves October 2014.

the darkest part of the forest holly blackThe Darkest Part of the Forest, which the marketing team proudly proclaimed as Holly Black’s “triumphant return to faeries,” had many bouncing around, looking desperately for a copy. Hazel and her brother Ben discover a faerie town where fey and human live peacefully side-by-side until a young fey boy awakens. The book will hit shelves in January 2015.

The line for Julie Kagawa’s signing wound itself around and around and around the Harlequin Teen booth. The fantasy author’s newest series, Talon, has had fans clamoring for it ever since it sold for seven figures. It features modern shapeshifting dragons who must fight off the group trying to kill them. Talon hits shelves in November.

Maureen Johnson charms bloggers

Though Wednesday’s BloggerCon remained a less than impressive event for many, Maureen Johnson’s keynote speech charmed all in attendance. The bestselling author of the Shades of London series discussed the importance of bloggers in the community among a myriad of other topics while shamelessly showcasing pictures of her puppy Zelda.

“Comparing all YA novels to Twilight is like saying that there haven’t been any TV shows since Dallas,” said Johnson, adding later that “we need voices that stand up for the readers.”

Editors buzz over best YA titles

The crowd stared excitedly with phones and notepads at the ready as the editors from five different publishing houses climbed up on stage to tout the best of this year’s upcoming crop of books at this year’s BEA Young Adult Editor’s Buzz Panel.

Alvina Ling of Little, Brown talked about the upcoming “hystopia or dystory” that is Ryan Graudin’s The Walled City. Told through three different perspectives, the standalone novel takes place in a city heavily based off of Hong Kong’s Kowloon. The historic city grew up and became the most densely populated area in the world. raudin’s story follow three teenagers who live in a fictionalized version called the Walled City, where there are three rules: run fast. Trust no one. Always carry your knife.

“There are some marketing challenges – when they’re not in a brothel, they’re on a drug run,” laughed Ling.

Daniel Ehrenhaft of Soho Teen brought I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil to the table. Weil, a Grammy-award winning and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, heavily based the 60s murder mystery on her own time in the music industry. The story follows JJ Greene, a 16 year-old songwriter who gets caught in the middle of a cover-up. Weil wrote four original songs for the novel.

T.S. Ferguson of HarlequinTeen sang the praises of Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves. After the previously all-white Jefferson High School is integrated, white Linda Hairston and black Sarah Dunbar are forced to work on a project together. The novel is told in both of their points of view and features subtle LGBTQIA+ themes as well as focusing on the civil rights issues of the time.

Krista Marino of Random House brought the sequel to Frank Portman’s King Dork to the table. She wouldn’t speak of the plot of King Dork, Approximately, focusing instead on the voice and writing. She read an excerpt of Tom Henderson reflecting on Jane Austen after commenting on how she first obtained King Dork.

“[After reading 50 pages of Frank’s writing, I realized] there’s no story. So what do I do? I buy it. I buy the nonstory,” said Marino. “Personally, I haven’t wanted to read a sequel so badly – not even Game of Thrones!”

Karen Chaplin of HarperCollins raved about Amy Ewing’s new dystopian The Jewel. The story takes place in a circular city where each section is separated into industries. The story focuses on royals, despite Violet being raised as in the Marsh as a surrogate.

“Nothing is as it seems. Ever,” exclaimed Chaplin excitedly.

The authors of each of the buzz books spoke on a panel of their own the next day.

YA writers build worlds

The Uptown Stage played host to many young adult authors as BookExpo America went on, the first being a panel on writing and worldbuilding. Michael Grant (Messenger of Fear), Scott Westerfeld (Afterworlds), Brandon Mull (the Five Kingdoms series), Heather Demetrios (Exquisitive Captive) and Kiera Cass (The One) all discussed the worlds in their fantasy stories and how they came to create them. Each participant agreed that there is no set rule for how to write and build worlds.

“You don’t have to be writing a paranormal or an alternate universe to worldbuild,” pointed out Westerfeld, citing the two worlds in his upcoming novel Afterworlds as an example. “[In my contemporary setting, there’s] nobody jumping off stuff, no airships, no hoverboarding – just a slow increasing of details.”

All of the authors agreed that they shaped the story around the characters and narrative they wanted to tell, rather than forcing characters to obey the rules of a world they had already created. Cass admitted to constantly putting her characters over her world, while Grant keeps the rules of his story to a bare minimum to allow for character growth.

“I like to bring enough stuff to my desert island to survive, and then try not to box myself in,” said Mull.

Westerfeld mentioned to wholehearted consent among the panel that establishing and following the rules and limits set for the world being created is of utmost importance.

It’s Not Easy Being Teen

Fans of young adult literature packed into the Uptown Stage booth for the It’s Not Easy Being Teen panel, ears perked as authors filled the stage. Though faced with technical difficulties, they soon were able to introduce themselves: Amy Zhang (Falling Into Place), Amanda Maciel (Tease), Becca Fitzpatrick (Black Ice) and Kresley Cole (Poison Princess).

Each panelist described their teen selves before launching into a discussion on what makes a unique teen experience. While Cole leaned towards the connection of first love, Zhang pictured the sense of isolation and the first realizations of consequences. All agreed that it ultimately comes down to teenagers figuring out their sense of self, despite the pressures around them.

“Parents always want teens to live a certain way but aren’t always great at guiding them,” said Maciel.

Each gave book recommendations and advice to aspiring teenage authors before the panel ended.

Real YA enthralls readers

McNally Jackson bookseller Cristin Stickles grinned at the crowd tucked in Uptown Stage as she introduced the Real YA panelists: E. Lockhart (We Were Liars), Gayle Forman (Just One Day), Meg Wolitzer (Belzhar) and Jandy Nelson (I’ll Give You The Sun). The contemporary authors talked about their novels and their take on writing out-of-body experiences, twisting lies and unreliable narrators.

“This is the least realistic realistic panel you could possibly have,” laughed Lockhart.

Though the panel was only a half hour long, each had time to mention their take on unreliable narrators. Forman also mentioned how readers tend to remember young adult characters over plot. Lockhart celebrated the growth of postmodernism in young adult literature and the recent combining of various forms of writing and media.

“[Diverse] books are out there – they’re just not on bestselling lists yet,” added Lockhart as they ended on a discussion of diverse contemporary titles, citing David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing as an example.

A conversation on market

On the more technical end of the spectrum, BookExpo America also played host to a panel called A Conversation on Digital Strategies for Tapping the YA Market. Authors Alaya Dawn Johnson (The Summer Prince) and Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things) sat on a panel with publisher Author A. Levine of Scholastic, editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic, marketer Jeff Yamaguchi of Abrams Books, and blogger and reviewer Jennifer Hubert Swan.

The panel discussed how to connect with both teenage and adult readers in the young adult market. Klein cited the ireadYA campaign recently hosted by Scholastic as an example of how to connect. Swan mentioned the growth of YouTube and Instagram as platforms to connect to readers.

All agreed that social media is not a necessity for authors, and that all should do what they are most comfortable with.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks overflows room*

Though a late addition to the BookCon and BookExpo America line-up, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel packed in fans like sardines into a can. With every seat taken, spectators stood three rows deep in the back of the room or sat along the edges of the aisles. The audience, featuring some of the top editors and literary agents in the business as well as bloggers and readers, screamed and cheered as the panel took their seats.

Ilene W. Gregorio, author of the upcoming None of the Above, introduced the panel and the panelists before handing the microphone over to Aisha Saeed, author of the upcoming Written in the Stars. Saeed recapped the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, explaining how “what [they]needed to do was effect change” after founder Ellen Oh’s call to “raise [their]voices into a roar [others]couldn’t ignore.” Marieke Nijkamp of DiversifYA stepped up after Saeed and passionately explained how readers who lack representation are robbed of a chance to discover themselves in novels.

When founder and author Ellen Oh stepped up, the crowd screamed and whistled, their applause echoing throughout the tiny basement room. On behalf of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and its partners, Oh announced the future of the campaign. First, a partnership with the National Education Association of America’s Read Across America program. The partnership will continue with the National Education Assocation, First Book and #WeNeedDiverseBooks working together in an initiative called Diversity in the Classroom, where a monthly diverse book will be chosen and students will have a chance to meet the author at the end of the month. Most importantly, Oh announced the beginnings of plans for a festival to celebrate diversity in all aspects of children’s literature in Washington, D.C. in 2016.

“That festival, unlike others, will have every panel celebrate diversity,” laughed Oh.

With technicalities taken care of, the panel of authors began to discuss the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Lamar Giles (Fake ID), Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities), Matt de la Pena (Mexican WhiteBoy), Grace Lin (Year of the Dog) and Jacqueline Woodson (Beneath A Meth Moon) beamed at the crowd from the stage. Jung took a photo of the crowd with his phone while Woodson called the turn-out dreamlike. Each spoke of how the movement touched them and those they knew, its importance, and what they and others could do to continue its good work.

“These books are not just for the people who look like us, but for all people, to create a consciousness,” said Woodson. “My biggest vision is that we don’t have to have this panel anymore. That we walk into panels that look like this constantly.”

For more information on #WeNeedDiverseBooks, visit their website.

After hours

Several events of note occurred after BookExpo America’s hours. Teen Author Carnival, hosted at the Jefferson Market Library, played host to roughly two dozen young adult authors who spoke on panels and signed books on Wednesday night. Authors participated in a panel on diversity and played Book Jeopardy while mingling with fans free-of-charge.

Authors include Julie Kagawa (Talon), Jennifer Armentrout (the Lux series), Claire le Grand (Winterspell) and Cara Lynn Schultz (Spellbound), among others.

Bookrageous and Book Riot threw a pre-BEA party at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a used bookstore that uses all of its proceeds to help combat both homelessness and AIDS. Six authors were featured at the event including YA authors E. Lockhart and A.S. King. Spectators competed to get selfies with all six featured authors in attendance around book signings. The event ran opposite of Teen Author Carnival.

On Thursday night, Tumblr hosted a party at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe featuring Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl), John Darnielle (Wolf In White Van) of The Mountain Goats, and debut author Catherine Lacey (Nobody Is Ever Missing). The three authors each had a chance to read parts of their novels on stage to the packed bookstore.

Written by Nicole Brinkley with notes from Shawn Ingram and Meredith Maresco.

*Though YA Interrobang elected not to cover BookCon due to its lack of diversity, the team voted to make an exception for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel, given the nature of the panel.
[EDIT] Two names of #WeNeedDiverseBooks panelists were spelled incorrectly and have since been fixed.

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About Author

Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at @nebrinkley or Tumblr at nebrinkley. Like her work? Leave her a tip.


  1. sarah/appifanie on

    Excited to read all this, thanks!! I would have gladly waited 40 minutes for Jandy’s new book.

  2. Wow people must have been looking forward to Sarah J. Maa’s Heir of Fire! I haven’t read any of her books…maybe someday. I also need to read We Were Liars. There’s so many buzz around that book. I’m just waiting for it to come out in paperback because it’s a short book and I don’t see why I should buy it in hardback.