This is the second year in a row I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Kid Lit Con, and I have to say, I’m impressed with how much I walk away with after this particular conference. There’s a renewal in passion for blogging, but more importantly, I find it’s a drive to make myself a better member of the community in that I want to continue to meet and develop relationships with new people.
Rather than give a blow-by-blow of the two-day conference, I did a lot of thinking about the sorts of conversations that happened at the event. It was interesting to sit in a session and see the same topics creep up again and again, simply because there was so much interest in them. Here is what I walked away with as the big ideas pervading the kid lit world, along with a dose of the moments that were enjoyable for me.
I think on the whole, four things stuck out to me as big takeaways from KidLitCon, and they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive: partnerships, presence, dialog, and the idea of critical reviews.
I think anyone who has been to a conference sort of knows that the big thing about them is less the sessions and more the connections you make with other attendees. That’s where the idea of partnerships sort of emerges as one of the big things I took away. When people are working toward a common goal — like spreading the word about kid lit, be it through blogging or publishing — building strength upon strength is essential. I had the opportunity to meet people at KidLitCon that I would never have otherwise met, but beyond that, I had the opportunity to discover people who had been thinking a lot of the things I’d been thinking about. When you make those sorts of connections, you find that there are cool opportunities that can emerge, too.
One of the sessions I went to was all about partnerships, and rather than follow what she had planned, the presenter (Stasia Ward Kehoe) talked about what she had overheard and been thinking about at the conference. What I think I found most enjoyable about the session was that a lot of her observations were strikingly similar to mine. The community only gets stronger when we look to one another to build each other up. One of the exercises she made us do (and trust me when I say that nothing strikes fear into me more than the moment a presenter is making us do something interactive) was to pair up with the person beside us, introduce ourselves and what we do, then talk about ideas for strengthening or adding fresh content to our blogs. As silly as my partner and I had been throughout that session — which I’ll talk about in the next section — Suzanne actually gave me some thoughtful and creative ideas for blog features. Had we not talked shop, I’d never think about some of the ideas she dropped.
Speaking of Suzanne, her panel with Sara of Novel Novice, really got me thinking about ways I can work with authors to help promotion books. And not only did it get me thinking about it from the blogger perspective, but also through my channels as a librarian. Living in a small town in Wisconsin does make it challenging to reach out to local authors, since there are few, but it’s also an opportunity to seek out those who are around. Of course, I don’t have to stick to my local literary world, either. This goes back to some of the things I was thinking about at BEA, and as I embark on a new chapter in my career, this feels like an opportunity now I need to capitalize on.
Presence was the second big takeaway from KidLitCon. It sounds like a big word, but really it’s simple: how you present yourself and where you have a presence matters. I went to a panel that included a number of authors who talked about their online presence and how they keep up their writing while balancing the need to be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and so forth. Likewise, I went to a panel about marketing and how using social networks really made an impact on the launch of a debut author’s presence online. It comes down to the simple idea that where you are and how you present yourself matters.
I did a lot of thinking about this topic during a session on podcasting and vlogging, which is something that you’ll likely never see here. I speak on behalf of myself, not Kim or Jen, when I say that for me, these sorts of technologies feel too personal for me. I don’t listen to or watch them, as I feel like it’s somewhat an invasive means of communication and presence. That’s not to say it’s wrong; it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t like that sort of exposure, as I feel that writing and blogging itself is such an intensely personal activity, especially when it comes down to writing about books and why something did or didn’t work. Here’s the thing: it’s all okay. Everyone chooses how they want to make their presence, and for some, it’s via these technologies, and for others, it’s maintaining a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a blog.
Moreover, another key component for me in the idea of presence was that it’s important to get yourself out there. Whereas I say that vlogging/podcasting feels too invasive, I’m not the sort of person who is afraid to get out and meet people. This sort of presence is as valid as the online one. You make connections that become important and invaluable and — wait for it — you develop the sorts of partnerships that make you a stronger community member. Over the course of this weekend, I did a lot of thinking about where I can strengthen my presence online and off, and the ability to always reevaluate and renegotiate these parts of my life is always invigorating.
The third big takeaway was dialog. This is, I think, the key to what makes us all better as members of the kidlit world, be it a role as a blogger, as a reader, or as an author. It’s important to be having the tricky conversations, and it’s important to tread tricky territory (which I’ll hit on next). Here’s the thing though: dialog isn’t necessarily always clean. It gets messy, and it gets confusing, and the fact of the matter is, sometimes it does little more than muddy ideas. But that is what the point is. Nothing is ever cut and dry, nor should it be.
Playing off that idea was something I really thrived on during this conference, perhaps for the first time at any conference, and that was the back channel. Given that KidLitCon is a much smaller conference, reading through the hash tags and the digital conversations that happened was manageable and very helpful. There were many simultaneous conversations, and it was fascinating to see what was happening in a session I wasn’t in. More than that, though, this back channel helped me tremendously in thinking about my own presentation. I wanted to address the issues others were talking about among themselves, and this was invaluable. Post-presentation, reading what people had to say about what we said was just . . . affirming. And nice. There’s really no other way to say it. I can only have so many conversations in person, but I can go back to this hash tag and see what other conversations happened. I walk away with more than I could do on my own (do you see how I tied partnerships and presence into this one?).
The final big take away I have is that of critical reviews. This was a topic that kept being brought up again and again, and frankly, it scared me to see it so openly discussed the day before our presentation on this exact topic. People are opinionated about the topic, though it is obvious they’re not always the most informed about what it truly means. Listening to people talk about how they never do “negative” reviews was fascinating because I don’t either. I don’t know anyone who does negative reviews. Critical reviews look at the host of elements within a story and discuss where the strengths and weaknesses are. They aren’t there to pan a book, but rather to be a way to objectively evaluate a book on its own merit.
I’m never going to change how I write my reviews. I don’t go into them thinking about what impact they could have on, say, the author or the publisher who may read it. The fact of the matter is, the way I think about a book is the way I think about a book and nothing more. Every book, even those that rank as my absolute favorite books, have flaws. Nothing is ever perfect, and it’s not my goal in blogging to tout everything as perfect. It’s like we’ve talked about before in our post here: even we know that our reviews aren’t perfect.
Bringing this all back to the idea of the take aways from this conference — nothing in the blogging world is a pillar. The discussion of critical reviews that pervaded the conference ties in directly to the idea of partnerships, in whether there is a perception that being critical can have a lasting impact on the sorts of partnerships one can form with others; it also connects directly to the idea of presence, as critical reviews set you apart in the blogging world and offer something that gives you a unique presence in the discussion; and finally, critical reviews tie directly into dialog. The fact of the matter is that everything is a conversation, and what you bring to it depends upon your ability to be present, to develop partnerships, to be critical and thoughtful and constructive, and to be willing to engage in dialog.
Obviously, the conference wasn’t serious the entire time. I had the opportunity to meet people I’ve only ever talked to via blogs or Twitter, and I got to listen to a fantastic keynote by Scott Westerfeld. Here’s a tiny peek into the fun that happened.
I had the chance to meet Scott Westerfeld, who delivered what was one of the most engaging keynotes I’ve ever heard. His talk focused on the intersection of art and text, and it really raised the question as to why we don’t give kids (and ourselves, frankly) permission to enjoy pictures with our stories when we outgrow the picture book age.
I got to hang out with Suzanne Young and cause quite a bit of trouble for a few of the sessions because of it. Suze and I have been talking since I started blogging, as she was just getting ready for the publication of The Naughty List at the same time. She also introduced me to Sara of Novel Novice, and the three of us had a good time enjoying a few adult beverages, drawing fan art, and I was lucky enough to have Suzanne write a story about us. It’s an original I will obviously cherish forever.
I don’t have photos, but another thing that I found so valuable and enjoyable was the final session of the con, which was the diversity panel. I usually find these sorts of discussions so uncomfortable, but in this instance, I didn’t. It really shed light into an important topic of where bloggers fit into the discussions of diversity, as well as where authors fit in. The big boil of it all? There are stories to be told, and they need to be told.
Other little fun moments included having a lovely conversation with Mindi Scott about books and writing (including talking about the very things the diversity panel brought up); meeting folks like Ann Levy of Cybils fame (and discussing a potential panel topic we can do at the next KidLitCon); and seeing all of the incredible work that Jackie and Colleen put into the conference come together and enjoying the amazing food that was in abundance.
Kid Lit Con and Book Blogger Con
What really works for me about KidLitCon (KLC) and what separates it from other similar conventions like Book Blogger Con (BBC) is that the community is much smaller and much more varied. The goals are also different, in that it’s much more dialog driven. BBC is much more about learning, in my mind, with panels aimed to teach people; KLC is much more about opening up a dialog about what we’re doing and how we can strengthen it.
I won’t come out and say one is better than the other, as they aim to reach different audiences. For me personally, KLC hits on the things that help me grow and find passion in what I’m doing. I think a lot of it has to do with being around not only fellow bloggers, but also authors and aspiring authors, and those interactions do give rise to thinking about the whys and hows of blogging. I also feel like KLC is an easier place to mingle and it feels like a place of equal footing. The conversations follow throughout the convention, whereas I felt sometimes BBC’s conversations never got started, simply because of the size of the event and the diverse experiences in the room.
I cannot express my gratitude to Julia, Abby, and Janssen for taking the time and energy to put together a session with me on a topic about which I am utterly passionate. When my nerves came to a huge crest on Friday night, it was nice to be talked down from the ledge over and over and assured everything would go fine.
Since people have been asking, yes, the information from our panel will be available, but it won’t be immediately. We went into the presentation without a formal plan, and thus, what we’ll share is what we’ve come to find as the key points.
I also have to give both Colleen and Jackie a huge thanks again for such a fantastic event and for being such great hosts. The amount of work that went into such a staggeringly huge and successful conference is mind blowing, and these two handled it like pros.