I’ve posted tips several times over the years, but with YALLfest 2023 coming up in a couple of weeks, I wanted to repost them because I have things to add!
This will be my ninth year attending the festival and the tenth anniversary of my very first YALLfest (HOW has it been an entire decade since I started attending?!?!) and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED! It’s always chaotic, but SO. FUN. This festival is non-negotiable in my schedule and I look forward to it every single year! As soon as the festival is over I’m already pining for the next one. The only years I’ve missed since 2013 when I started attending were 2020, when it was shut down due to COVID; and 2021, because I was on my honeymoon. You can see my recap of past years here!
Tip #1: PRE-ORDER YOUR BOOKS
Books at the festival are list price, so they are expensive! I always order from Amazon in advance and take my books with me to save money. Sometimes I even get books second hand because they’re so cheap. (Half Price Books FTW!) There’s also been a couple of years where they sold out of popular new releases, so you may not always be guaranteed to get them at the festival.
They do usually have extra signed books available in the big tent after authors sign, so if there’s someone you miss, try hitting up the tent to see if you can still snag a signed copy!
My best advice is to bring a suitcase, or anything with wheels. I carried a suitcase for the first 5 years and it worked great for me. I’ve also seen people with collapsible cloth wagons. The past couple of years I took a rolling backpack so I can navigate tight crowds easier (the suitcase is unwieldy, and I also have less and less books to bring every year because they have many of the same authors attending). Carrying around 20+ books all day long gets exhausting, wheels are a lifesaver! I always bring an extra bookish tote or two with me to put my free swag in, but a lot of the publisher booths have free tote bags up for grabs too.
Pro tip: Take the dust covers off the books you bring so they don’t get damaged. (I’ve also seen people use book sleeves to protect their books!)
Pro tip: Have your sticky notes for personalizations ready to go. I bring my own from home so I don’t have to find a festival volunteer with a pen and stickies. Write your name on them and stick them on the title page in advance, then you won’t have to worry about it later.
Tip #2: BOOK A HOTEL IN ADVANCE
If you plan on staying the night, PRE-book. In 2014, a friend and I skipped pre-booking because we knew we were going to be driving through the night and checking in super early. That was a HUGE mistake! We had a hellacious time finding a place that morning. We had to call about 20 different places before we finally found one that wasn’t booked. It was an absolute nightmare! Definitely make the reservations in advance so all you have to do when you arrive is check in. If you plan to do what we did and drive through the night, try calling the hotel to see if they’ll let you check in early.
My absolute favorite hotel in Charleston is Staybridge Suites (Ashley Phosphate)! Last year was my first year staying here (I usually stayed at Hawthorn Suites previously) and I was BLOWN AWAY! They are pricey, but the rooms are 1000% worth it. They’re super fancy and impressive, great for a little luxury getaway if you want to splurge for a night or two. They offer a full kitchen and the most comfortable beds you’ll ever sleep on in a hotel. The bathroom is swank AF too! My favorite part was their complimentary breakfast. I have never had a better breakfast at any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. They had a large variety of choices, the food was quality, and you could tell it was actually cooked and not pre-packaged. Their omelettes were literally perfect. Best omelettes I’ve ever had. None of that gross textured egg stuff. They also offer complimentary “social hour” with appetizers and alcoholic drinks M-W (which kind of sucks for us because we usually check in on Thursday and leave by Monday). How many hotels can you say offer free wine!!
Pro tip: If you have friends going, split the cost and share a room!
Tip #3: LEAVE PLENTY OF TRAVEL TIME
In 2015, my ex and I planned to drive down on Friday for the events on Friday afternoon. We left pretty much just enough time to make it down there – it started at 4 and I think we left at like 5 am, and it takes 10 hours to get down there. What we didn’t plan for? Blowing a tire. And of course, it happened on I-40, which is basically BFE and the exits are oh, about 978364 miles apart. We spent a good two hours searching for a tire place – mind you, this was driving FORTY MILES AN HOUR ON THE HIGHWAY (talk about scary!!!) on a donut tire – so by the time we finally got down there it was about 7:30 and we completely missed everything that happened Friday.
I never did that again! Now I always plan to book the hotel for Thursday night (unless I don’t plan to attend Friday’s events), so I can drive down on Thursday and have plenty of time to make it down there and rest after the drive before Friday’s events.
Tip #4: ARRIVE EARLY TO THE FESTIVAL
In 2013 (my first year – I was a noob, lmao), we arrived in town right on time. HORRIBLE idea. Make sure to leave yourself at least 45 minutes just for parking. Seriously, it’s a zoo. The closest parking garage has itty bitty parking spaces. (And actually, as of like 2019 or so they started shutting down the parking garage on John St. which is a HUGE bummer because it was smack dab in the middle of all locations, and super convenient. Boooo.) The first year, it took me FOREVER to find a spot I could fit into (and that was with a G6…it would be worse for a truck or SUV. Thankfully my current SUV isn’t huge), and by the time I did I was so frustrated I already wanted to leave. Then I was upset for the first couple hours because I missed out on authors I wanted to see. Don’t be like 2013 me!
The first signings and drops are normally at 10 am, but the lines for the 10:00 things tend to start at 9-9:30. Your best bet is to get there around 8 to find a parking space.
Pro tip: Park on the top floor of the garage for less cars and a better view ;)
Tip #5: SCHEDULE CAREFULLY
The schedule of panels, signings, and ARC drops is INSANE. Know going in that you won’t be able to see everyone and do everything. It’s just not possible. When you have 8+ authors and multiple ARC drops in one hour, and it takes 30-45 minutes (sometimes more) to get through one line….well, you can do the math. There are 50+ authors crammed into a 6 hour time span. Your best bet is to choose ONE priority event per hour. Then have a second, lower priority author/drop to go to if you get out of the first one’s line in time. (Unless of course you have someone else with you!)
Something I learned very quickly my first year: It’s signings OR panels. There’s really no going to both, unless you have an hour to spare where there’s no authors signing that you want to see. I’ve always been in line for so long waiting for authors that I didn’t actually attend a panel at YALLfest (other than stepping in at the last 10 minutes after all the signings were over) until last year, and then I only did so because there was an ARC giveaway at the end of it.
Prioritizing author signings and anticipated ARC giveaways is the most difficult part.
Here is a blank copy of my schedule template, you can go to File –> Make a copy, and you’ll be able to name it whatever you want. If you want to see an example of a full schedule and what notes I took, here is my 2022 schedule! I mark my high priority signings and drops in red, ones I really want in blue, and ones that it would be cool if I have time for in black.
Print out your schedule in advance and prioritize the authors you want to see. Who do you want to see the most? Who can you miss out on? Be aware that you may wait in line as long as an hour, if not more, for a popular author. Some of the really popular authors also have a line cap or wristband requirement. Plan waiting time into your schedule. I typically list my need-to-see authors, then authors I’d like to see, in order of priority; then choose one author per hour that I want to see the most. After that it’s whoever I have time for.
Pro tip: If there are big-hitter authors you want to see signing Friday, get them out of the way! It makes Saturday SO much smoother when you get to those major authors on Friday. I try to do as many as I can Friday so I can catch more ARC drops on Saturday.
All of the publishing booths have giveaways for ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of upcoming releases. These lines are almost always long. Last year they were much more organized with ARC drops than back in the first few years they started doing them frequently, which made it easier and less stressful to snag the ARCs I wanted.
The only bad thing about these is that you don’t always know which books will be at which drops. I like to go on the publishers’ websites (or Goodreads) and see what anticipated releases they’ve got coming for the next 4-5 months, so I can try and get an idea of what will be there and keep an eye out for ones that I want to get my hands on. The publishers also release their schedules very late. I think last year they only posted them a day or two before the festival.
Pro tip: Follow the publishers on their social media. They almost always post hints, and that’s where their schedule will be!
Accounts to check out: EpicReads, Fierce Reads, Riveted, Underlined, I Read YA, Penguin Teen, Sourcebooks Fire
Pro tip: Have your significant other get into ARC lines for you if you have two dropping at once! You can also have them go through a line with you if it’s one of the drops where there are multiple books available.
Tip #6: GET INTO THE LINES EARLY
Get to the lines as early as you can for the things on your high priority list. If there’s an author you really want to see, and they’re scheduled for, say, noon: Get into their line at 11:40, or earlier if you can. If it’s someone really popular, try to get in line at least an hour in advance. (i.e. If you know Alexandra Bracken is signing at 3 pm, be in line BY 2! I’ve seen wait times for authors like Leigh Bardugo get as high as 2-3 hours.) The earlier, the better. If you’re the first one in line, you can get in and out quicker, and have a better chance of seeing a second author in that hour.
Some of the authors have panels to go to, which means they HAVE to leave for that panel at a certain time, no matter how many fans are still in line. The closer you are to the front, the better chance you have to see them! There’s nothing worse than standing in line for 45 minutes to an hour for absolutely nothing. (Thankfully this doesn’t happen very often!) If making into line way early isn’t an option, you can always go for the method that I prefer:
Pro tip: Prioritize by how popular/well-known an author is. This is what I’ve done the past couple of years and I’ve been able to see more authors because of it! If the author is new or not well-known, chances are their line will be short. If you can do those first and get them out of the way, you can hit up the tail end of the longer lines for big-hitter authors (just make sure they don’t have a panel to go to so they don’t cut the line short). If there’s an author like Marissa Meyer signing at 2pm, you can bet her line will still be going an hour later. Sometimes the authors with short lines leave after their lines empty, so they may be gone by the time the next hour rolls around.
Pro tip: While standing in line, have your books ready to go. Open them to the title page (that’s where they sign) with your sticky note with your name on it (if you have one). This streamlines the signing process.
Pro tip: It’s also a good idea to have a power bank for your phone so you have entertainment while waiting without worrying about a dead battery.
Tip #7: BRING A FRIEND (OR TWO!)
The best way to get more books signed is to split the load. Then you can knock out multiple signings at once! Figure out which authors each of you wants to see the most, and which ones you can get by without meeting (but still get a signed copy, of course). Have your friend (or significant other) take your books and you take theirs. Then go your separate ways and find somewhere to meet after you’re done! (I’ve actually done this with people I’ve just met and befriended AT the signing. Book people are awesome!) Just keep in mind that most signing lines have a 3 book limit. Shorter lines don’t usually enforce this rule (plus you can simply go through twice), but the longer ones definitely do.
Don’t worry about being alone – there’s plenty of passionate bookish people surrounding you. Even if you’re shy, I guarantee you it would take little effort to get a conversation going. You share the same passion for reading, after all! (And don’t be afraid to jump into a conversation, nobody will mind!) BREAK OUT OF THAT LITTLE SHELL, BOOKWORMS.
Tip #8: CHECK THE FORECAST
This is a new addition as of last year, because something happened that has NEVER happened, even with as many years as I’ve been attending: It was supposed to rain. (It ended up not raining, thankfully, but it’s nice to have a contingency for that!) I bought a poncho and was planning to wear it over my backpack, and I had plastic bags with me just in case as well.
There was also one year where it was FREEZING, which is just as abnormal for YALLfest as rain. Standing in line was miserable, and I didn’t pack for cold weather because it’s freakin’ South Carolina and I didn’t think it would ever be that cold, lmao. My friend Kate (who I met at a book signing years ago and meet up with at YALLfest almost every year) had a portable hand warmer and it was amazing! I was planning to either order one or bring Hot Hands if it will be cold.
Pro tip: In addition to appropriate attire for the weather, make sure you wear comfortable shoes! I learned the hard way one year when I chose cuteness over comfort. DO NOT RECOMMEND. I usually hit at least 20k steps every year during the festival because the signing locations span about a quarter mile block. And it NEVER FAILS that I have to run back and forth because the signings I want to go to are on opposite ends every hour.
Tip #9: STAY HYDRATED
As many years as I’ve been attending, I am TERRIBLE about making sure I’ve got a lunch packed. I always have water with me, though! It’s usually pretty hot during the festival so it would be easy to get dehydrated. I drink a lot of water to begin with, so I’m pretty good about making sure I have enough.
It’s a good idea to pack a lunch in a small easy to carry cooler. There are a couple of places nearby that sell food (including a macaroon boutique that I mean to go to EVERY FREAKIN’ YEAR and somehow always forget), but not only are they pretty pricey, the lines are long and it takes more time out of your day when time is already crunched. If you have something packed, you can just eat in line!
Pro tip: Pack some energizing snacks like protein bars, nuts, or easy to eat fruits/veggies like grapes and carrots. 7 hours of walking around makes for a very exhausting day!
Tip #10: DON’T STRESS
Like I said, don’t be like I was my first year. Don’t freak out if it takes you an hour to find a space to park. (If you got there early, it won’t matter!) Go in prepared that you may not get to see everyone you want to see. Don’t get too stressed out if you miss an author or ARC drop. (Sometimes you get lucky and pass the author on the street, or find someone with the ARC you wanted who doesn’t want it or is willing to trade!) If you planned carefully enough, with any luck that won’t happen! But even when I have a short list of authors, there’s still usually something I miss out on every year.
Tip #11: HAVE FUN!
This of course is the most important part! I have had a BLAST over the years meeting awesome authors and bookish people (including Team Epic Reads and a couple of bloggers!), and I am SO stoked to be returning as a TEN YEAR veteran! Whoop whoop!!!
Have you ever been to YALLfest? Who else is going this year?! I’d love to meet up!