On Saturday, September 28th, I drove eight hours to get to Austin for the Austin Teen Book Festival, which was rather a surprise as I'd only been reminded about it the day before. This was perhaps for the best since it didn't give me an opportunity to get super anxious--or to go shopping for my usual 100 pounds of snacks for the ride. Also, when I say I drove eight hours, I should say, I was driven, which meant that I could focus all of my attention on breathing and keeping my heart beating, which is a full-time job at 4 a.m. (Or, put another way, I could focus all my attention on the GPS system and entertaining the driver to keep her awake.)
Unlike WorldCon, the ATBF is a one-day affair; focused largely on fans and readers rather than a mix of fans and writers; and most panels are repeated during the day so that you can catch any you miss. The map and schedule for the festival also does a neat thing by presenting each author through their most recent book and their twitter account, so it's easy to follow any that interest you. Also, the festival was free, which was pretty nice. (I did hear that the bookstore attached/co-sponsoring the fest sold over 2,700 books. So there's that.)
The panels were largely organized by some loose theme: "Truth and Consequences" was about serious issues in YA fiction, "Tales of Tomorrow" was about science fiction and the future, etc. There were two panels organized by publisher: HarperCollins and Macmillan. But all the panels basically had the same form: no moderator other than one of the authors, a nice Q&A section with the audience, and a general "getting to know you" vibe that was a pleasant introduction to the author and a soft sales pitch. Given how many books got sold, I'd say the soft pitch works in this context.
The major talks--Maggie Stiefvater's opening remarks; Rob Thomas and Sarah Dessen's lunch remarks; Holly Black's closing remarks--were good, if a little loose. That is, there may have been some point to them, but they weren't all that pointed. For instance Stiefvater told us several stories of her strange car-ownership, with the over-arching point (I think) that we have to delve deeply into our own dreams, both good and bad, in order to bring out anything worth reading. Black presented a "you can do it" sort of subtext with her reciting of some terrible 8th-grade vampire poetry ("Forgive me, let me drink you!"); and a discussion of how she re-vamped (ahem!) her fear of vampires into a love of them and used that to fuel her writing. Which is a pretty good message for a teenage audience: your fear can be your strength, your trouble can be your art.
Really, the major issue I had with the convention was the food at the convention center and the total lack of coffee.
(Also, I was told by a few people that last year's opening remarks by Libba Bray were epic; I have found, but not yet seen these youtubes of that event.)