After a long car ride and a short few moments of panic at being lost in Minneapolis at 11:30 p.m., I was on my way to Kid Lit Con 2010 at the Open Book. And after a long night of little sleep, the next morning I got up bright and early and met Alea at 7:30 a.m. for a fantastically full and fun day of kid lit.
We got through registration quickly and made our way into the big meeting room, where the first session of the day was Maggie Steifvater‘s keynote. Before she spoke, we got to chatting with the folks sitting in front of us: Blythe Woolston (who wrote The Freak Observer which I’ve recently read) and Michele Corriel (who just released her first novel, Fairview Felines). This was just a taste of how many authors we’d run into or end up talking to without even knowing it!
Maggie was without doubt one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard. She was engaging and hilarious, and the bulk of her talk was about how important blogging is and the eight key things she’s learned in the course of blogging. Those eight things were:
1. The world doesn’t need another blog (and the caveat being that it doesn’t stop her nor does it stop her from doing questionable things — she offered up a signed ARC of Linger to a reader who could help her track down size 7 boots, and someone managed to find them and put them on hold under a pseudonym at a Nordstrom’s across the country from Maggie, which blew her away).
2. Boring people offline are boring people online . . . and sometimes interesting people online are boring people online. You need to be interesting.
3. Blogging is a conversation — it’s essential to comment to others and respond to comments you receive.
4. People will learn your cat’s name. Whatever you say in the blogosphere, people will remember.
5. People will make a connection with you. Nurture them.
6. People can find out everything about you. Maggie emphasized how important it is to be yourself on your blog but to also be extremely careful how much you share — she said she mentions she has 2 children but never uses their name or their school because you never know when someone might be a creep about it.
7. Blog readers are real people. Treat them that way.
8. Blog writers should be blog readers. You need to read other blogs and engage in that conversation.
I thought her talk was perhaps the highlight of a very exciting day. She has an energy in her presentation that was infectious. After her talk, I tracked her down and got my copies of Shiver and Linger signed so I can give them away for the summer reading program at my work.
Alea and I decided we were going to hit all of the same sessions that day, and our first break out session was “Blog Platforms and Best Practices,” by Ryan Bickett, the internet marketing manager for Lerner Publishing. The session focused on the different platforms and tools available for blogging. While it wasn’t the most useful session for me personally, I did learn about some other kind of cool blogging tools I hadn’t known about before, including Posterous. What’s cool about that is that all of your posts can be emailed in; it looks like a bit of a more powerful Tumblr in terms of posting (though it doesn’t have quite the array of design choices). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the session was the discussion we had about Livejournal. I’ve been using Livejournal as a personal journaling tool since its inception in 1999, so it was interesting to hear everyone’s take on it. The conclusion was sort of mutual – it’s a “gated” community, and while that’s useful for personal journaling or for the social networking aspects embedded in community pages, it’s not as “professional” a blog tool as some of the others out there. Alea and I got a kick out of then pointing out all of the big names who use Livejournal for their blogs.
The second break out session was about blog touring, and it featured Swati Avasthi (who wrote Split which I really loved), Michele Corriel, Janet Fox (who wrote Faithful) and Jacqueline Houtman (who wrote The Invention of Edison Thomas, a middle grade sciencey fiction book recently selected as a Wisconsin Reads title). Each took a turn talking about something related to blog touring and what they’ve found works and doesn’t work.
Michele spoke first about the importance of strong questions in author interviews — she emphasized that after reading many questions from many bloggers, it’s easy to see what stands out and what sort of seems not valuable. The best questions, in her opinion, are those that show the blogger has done a little research on their author and can lead into discussions of future projects or interesting aspects of their background. Weak questions, she said, are those that don’t necessarily have “a greater purpose,” such as those related to favorite movie quotes, favorite foods, or those that ask something like “did you always want to write.”
Although her thoughts were valuable, Alea and I had a nice discussion of how we didn’t necessarily agree with all of the negative questions. As an interviewer and as a person who reads interviews, I quite like knowing a little personal trivia with my “greater purpose” stuff.
THIS is what Kid Lit Con is all about, folks: it’s these discussions.
Swati discussed her lengthy, 26 blog tour she set up herself. In it, she has written a guest post focused on some aspect of domestic violence (a key issue in her book) and for each comment those posts gets, she will donate $1 for a domestic violence organization, up to $250, when she will double her donation to $500. The crux of her talk was about how touring should have something valuable to it, especially on something that large, which keeps readers hooked and interested, as well as keeps the author motivated to do so much work.
Janet talked about how important it is for authors to be social, and she highlighted some of the authors she feels maintain strong social presences and at the same time, “brand” themselves. Some of her top picks include Sarah Dessen (who uses Livejournal to blog), M.T. Anderson (whose website doesn’t seem to be working right now), and Julie Berry. Janet emphasized, though, that it’s important to do it well and not just half it. People can see through it, and if you can’t dedicate to something like they do, you can still be a valuable member of the YA Lit community. She says she’s involved heavily in the Twitter #yalitchat and by participating, she always sees her following and blog hits go up.
Jacqueline’s discussion was one of the most interesting (and enlightening) of the day for me as not just a blogger, but as a librarian. She talked about blogging outside the kidlitosphere, and for her book, which, while a fictional middle grade title, focuses on science, she sought out the science community. She looked into Lego communities and was able to get a nod in the Chemical and Engineering News blog (for those who don’t know, that’s a mega big scholarly journal). She did it by thinking creatively — for her launch party, she made this lovely Periodic Table of Cupcakes. You can see all of the photos here (she also blogs at Livejournal, folks). Jacqueline also talked about how she categorizes her book, which is not a science fiction in the traditional sense, as it’s not speculative but rather based on real science. She’s dubbed it “sciency fiction,” a term I really quite like. I’m going to borrow it.
The third breakout session we attended was called “MG Blogging in the YA Blogosphere.” I won’t go in depth, but basically, it was an opportunity for some middle grade authors to talk about middle grade books. A group of 30 have put together an incredible blog and web resource at From The Mixed Up Files Of . . . Middle Grade Bloggers. It sounds like an awesome resource for book lists, author interviews, and a monthly release calendar for all things middle grade. Get this: they had 1,032 hits on their first day.
After this session, we had a lunch which was generously sponsored by Harper Collins. . . and it was delicious. Alea and I were commenting on and on about how awesome our turkey on foccocia with pesto was the rest of the day. It was nice to spend an hour just chatting about the sessions and about blogging in general. Did I ever mention that when you hang out with bloggers, there is never awkward silence?
When lunch finished, we went to what was perhaps the most interesting — and most heated (debatable) — panel. It was an opportunity for three publishers to talk about their interactions with bloggers, and it featured Flux, Lerner, and Harper Collins. They talked about how they reach out to bloggers and how bloggers can reach out to them. All also discussed the criteria they look for when they choose who to send review materials out to. Some of those criteria include having your bio and email address prominently on your blog, talking with them through Twitter and their Facebook groups, statistics, comments, and quality of posts. This brought up some great questions from the audience, including the one on everyone’s mind: what ARE “good” stats?
It was no surprise, in my mind, none of the publishers could give a real number. They said it’s subjective. But, listening to some of the numbers they discussed were interesting; they seem to like unique hits, as well as followers, as well as comments. And that, my friends, is where fire flew. Audience members talked about how comments aren’t necessarily meaningful because some bloggers have comment contests and all bloggers know that book reviews tend to have a lower number of comments than other posts that perhaps ask for reader input. Another issue brought up was that many who DO read blogs don’t comment since they don’t feel it’s okay to do. The entire discussion was exciting and enlightening, and despite not coming away with a real answer, I did: the real answer is to always be nice, be polite, and be honest. That’s on both the blogger end and on the publisher’s end.
When that panel ended, Alea and I chose to skip the next break out sessions and head to the comic book next door, where both of us spent more money than planned. And when we came back, we decided to finally track down some people. We talked for a while with Liz of A Tea Cozy and then Melissa Wiley of Here in Bonny Glen. Melissa is the person who created the term “KidLitoSphere,” and we happen to both be on the YA Cybils Panel together this year. It was nice to put a face with names!
The next session didn’t quite capture my interest since I went to this program without my librarian cap on, and it focused on school and library media visits with authors. I’m sure some other bloggers will cover it better. The final session of the day, though, was about the KidLitoSphere and the Cybils awards. I knew little about how much the wonderful KidLit people did through their portal, so it was nice to hear about the history of this blogosphere and to see all of what their site has to offer (in short: check it out). There were some nice shout outs to other bloggers, too, including Michelle at GalleySmith. You can also jump onto their listserv at groups.yahoo.com/groups/kidlitosphere. The discussion of Cybils history was also interesting, and to hear some final numbers about the number of nominations in the different categories was eyeopening. Since I am so focused on my panel duties, I’ve kind of blocked out the others. About 1000 titles were nominated this year total and nearly 200 people volunteered to be on a panel.
At the end of the session, it was announced that next year’s KidLitCon would be in Seattle (and co-organized by the lovely Jackie!) and in 2012, it will be in New York City.
When this session ended, there was time for book signing and mingling, but Alea and I knew we wouldn’t make it till 7:30 for dinner. I suggested hitting up a local bar and after she asked if I was being serious, we went. And we may or may not have gone crazy by ordering cheese curds, potato skins, AND tater tots to split. They were delicious, but we may have overdone it a little bit. Walking back to Open Book was a little painful and I won’t even mention how little of dinner we ended up eating later on.
After our pit stop, we headed back to Open Book to listen to Kirstin Cronn-Mills (who wrote The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind) and Marina Budhos (who wrote Tell Us We’re Home). When we got there a little late, Steve Brezenoff (of The Absolute Value of -1) introduced himself to me and we sat in to hear Budhos read since we got there too late for Kirstin’s reading. They had time for some questions and answers, where I learned one of the coolest facts of the day — Budhos is married to Mark Aronson. I didn’t have a clue! I’ve been aware of both of their works for some time, despite not having read them yet, and after listening to an awesome reading by Budhos and her passion for the non-fiction her and her husband are putting out soon about the history of sugar, I’m bumping both up my to-read list.
Then it was time to hit up the Town Hall Brewery for dinner, where we ate dinner with a librarian, a teacher, and with Rebecca Johnson, who wrote Journey Into the Deep. It was a lovely dinner and it was nice to have a pumpkin ale along with my meal, but considering how much Alea and I ate just a bit earlier, we didn’t eat much of our dinner. And funny story: while eating, this woman comes up to Alea and asks if she’s Alea of the Pop Culture Blog. It was Erin Downey, who wrote Kiss It; she wasn’t even there for KidLitCon but was at the bar with some friends, and she sought out Alea to say hi. Cute!
Overall, KidLitCon was a fantastic and inspiring adventure, and it sparked not only my ideas for blogging but also brought up so much great discussion fodder. You can read the Twitter feed at the hash tag #kidlitcon, and you should definitely check out the round up of blog posts which will be posted soon on the KidLitCon website. I’m definitely going to go out to it next year in Seattle, as I think that the opportunities to listen to great panels and meet authors and other bloggers in a small venue is so great. This is nothing like BEA or ALA or even Anderson’s day long program. The information I came away with will make me a stronger blogger and may even be incredibly helpful as I slog my way through this book I’m writing for nano (something I spent a few hours plotting out with the help of my husband on the car ride up to Minneapolis). It also was a great celebration of blogging and bloggers and the value that social media has really had on writers and authors. I think too many people ignore the value, and it’s so nice to reaffirm what you’re doing is good to do. Getting to spend the whole day with Alea, too, who I love as a blogger and Twitter friend, was a total blast; we are bad influences on one another!
And for those of you who recall my car incident after Anderson’s will be delighted to know my husband sent me a bunch of frantic text messages during a session telling me my car stalled out while he was driving. Fortunately, it seemed like a fluke incident, as we did make it home all in one piece. Phew!
(The photo on the left of the back of many heads is courtesy of Steve Brezenoff who seeks your tagging skills for it right here — you can see Alea and I: I’m in the yellow and she’s next to me in purple).
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).