KidLitCon 2012: New York City

This year was the third year I’ve attended KidLitCon, and like years previous, it was a blast. But what I find so interesting and worthwhile about this conference in particular — aside from the fact it’s blogger-run, blogger-driven, and small — is that there always seems to be some sort of threads that weave through the day’s conversation. It’s never intentional, but it’s fascinating to see where the interest lies in blogging and kidlit.

I got into New York City pretty early on Thursday after the most painless flight experience of my life. My plane had over 100 empty seats at 6 am, and we got into New York City 20 minutes early. I made my way down to the shuttle area and even though I was told there was a 30 minute wait, they got me on a shuttle immediately. I was thrilled because I had plans to meet Melissa Walker for lunch at 11, and it was just barely 9 at that point.

Except the shuttle ride? It took longer to get me to my hotel from the airport than it took me to fly half-way across the country. I didn’t get to the hotel until after 11, and I had to grab a cab (with my luggage) to get to lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup. Liz told me to go there, and I’m so glad that was where we ended up meeting. Melissa and I shared a pot of Alice’s Tea, along with each enjoying some turkey chili, bread, and then scones. While the food and tea were delicious, the company was even better — and it was nice we made it work, despite the hiccups.

I made it back to the hotel and had to hold out for a while before getting into my room, ditching my luggage, and meeting up with Nova to work on our presentation. And eat gelato. Turns out that both of us are perpetually early people, and while we’d planned on meeting at 4, we met more like 3:35. After some delicious gelato, we put the finishing touches on the presentation then chatted for a couple of hours before she chaperoned me back to my hotel on the subway. Without laughing about my inability to function normally on foreign public transit, that is.

Liz and I made dinner plans, and we ended up meeting with Leila (pronounced Lee-lah, for the curious) and her friend Amanda for dinner down the block. We also met up with a dear friend who works for a publisher, and we all enjoyed some drinks, some dinner, and rousing book chat. There was a lot of discussion all day long about blog tours and the value they have, and it was an interesting conversation to continue on through the dinner. That’s a teaser for a future post, though.

After the dinner, we laid low at the hotel because Friday involved a day of publisher previews, as well as the official KidLitCon dinner. It’s possible we went to bed at 10 pm. Possible.

This year’s pre-con took advantage of being in the city and it was a series of publisher previews. A number of different publishers participated, and we were each assigned a set of them to attend. In the morning, I got to go to Simon & Schuster for their preview.

The preview began with a talk from Meghan McCarthy, who shared the process behind her forthcoming book about Betty Skelton. It was really interesting to hear about how she came to write the story — she had to do a lot of research to figure out where the conflict would be — and maybe more interesting to me was the process behind the art in her books. There was a bit of a discussion about digital and original art, and McCarthy is an original artist all the way.

When the talk was over, we got a nice preview of the spring 2013 titles from Simon & Schuster. Rather than write an insanely long post including the titles talked about, I’m going to share those in a later blog post. But we got to take home a bag full of forthcoming books, and I actually won a raffle prize, which never happens to me.

After the preview, Leila, Liz, and I dropped our stuff off in the hotel room, and we waited for Pam to arrive. She arrived and then we went to a sandwich/soup place for lunch. It was nice to touch base with three really intelligent ladies and to not only talk shop but to just talk personally. It’s much different face-to-face, even when these are people you talk to near daily online. We didn’t get too long to lunch though, since we were all off to a second preview in the afternoon. For me, that was a trip to Harper Collins.

I loved this preview and the way it was set up — we all sat around in a conference room (which feels somewhat more official, of course), but rather than have the publicity and marketing folks tell us about the books, we got to hear from editors of each of the imprints talk about the titles they’ve acquired. There’s something special about hearing the editors talk about that moment when they knew the manuscript they were reading was one they had to publish.

This particular session put so many new titles on my radar, too. Again, I’ll share them later, but there is a lot of really dark, gritty stuff coming out, as well as a number of contemporary titles. Like with the earlier preview, we were given a bag of titles to take home.

The picture on the right is the display case just inside the gates of Harper and features their best-selling titles.

We had some time to kill before dinner would happen, so Liz, Pam, Leila, Amanda, and I all went back to our hotel room to drop off our goods. We also did a little bit of this:

If it isn’t entirely obvious, we all dumped out what we’d gotten and made some trades based on our reading interests. The prize I’d won earlier at Simon & Schuster was a set of “Ready-to-Read” hardbacks which don’t have a real purpose for me — so I gave them to Pam in exchange for the forthcoming Gayle Forman book (which subsequently sent Leila into one of the most enjoyable fits I’d seen all weekend). Also, isn’t it impressive how much space there is in our hotel room? To my left is an entire kitchen, too.

Dinner at 7 was at a sushi bar a few blocks from the hotel, where we squeezed into a table way in the back of the room and got very comfortable with one another. I’m not a sushi eater, but I thought it was a heck of an impressive selection of food. And of course, it didn’t take me long to discover the ice cream portion of the sushi bar.

More important and interesting than the food, of course, was Grace Lin‘s keynote speech. She talked about being a classically trained artist and having eschewed her heritage growing up. After a year-long stay in Italy though as part of her art education, something inside her felt unsure and uncertain and she realized she didn’t know what she was making art for. It wasn’t coming from a place of the heart of her — and that’s when she made the decision to embrace her heritage and her interest in children’s art and fairy tales. This was a really nice way to officially kick off the conference, as it sort of played off the big themes I picked up on throughout the event.

After dinner, a bunch of us went to the hotel bar, did a round robin of who was who, and then I decided it was time to put the finishing touches on my presentation for the next day.

Kid Lit Con

Though the keynote speech for the conference was the last thing of the conference, two questions that came up at that point were sort of what I took as the overarching discussion: what am I doing and why am I doing it?

But before the conference began, Nova and I met up with the other folks giving presentations bright and early so we could check out the rooms we would be in and test out the technology. We had a minor glitch, fixed it immediately, and both of us had a sense of calm about what we were going to do. The room itself was an auditorium, but it wasn’t overwhelming in size, and Betsy was kind enough to tell us how many people signed up for our presentation.

It wasn’t a scary number.

Since we were done relatively quick with that and we had over an hour to kill before the conference began, Nova and I went for caffeine and sustenance, where we talked over our outline one last time. I think we’re both slightly panic-driven (in a good way, not in a bad way), but about that time I started feeling pretty confident about what we were doing. We made our way then over to register for the conference.

Kid Lit Con was held this year at the central branch of the New York Public Library which was crazy beautiful. I’m not a huge architectural person when it comes to library, but I was definitely impressed.

The presentation wasn’t for an hour, so I got to attend a session beforehand, and I went and listened to Sheila Ruth talk about balancing social media. While I feel this is something I have a good handle on, I did learn quite a bit about optimal posting times for different social media outlets (Twitter is 1-3 pm Eastern time Monday through Thursday and Facebook is 1-4 pm Eastern time those days as well, but Tumblr is most active Friday nights — when the other two are dead zones). Sheila talked a lot about designating times of day to do different social media related tasks. So, if you’re going to respond to emails, you can also respond to Twitter interactions, Facebook interactions, and so forth. If you’re going to read through your feedreader, then you just do that rather than do that AND respond to interactions you may get via Twitter or Facebook. She shared a number of interesting tools, too, I plan on looking into a little bit.

I’m so old school and feel it when I go to those things. I rarely ever pre-schedule Tweets (I find it weird to not do it myself) and I don’t bother with Facebook at all for the blog. I think I’m a little bit obsessive compulsive in making sure I’m doing it myself. However, Sheila made a good case for some of these tools and other social media outlets and I might explore the possibility of doing something elsewhere.

As her presentation round down, my anxiety ramped up nicely, especially since the room I was in was across the library. But I made it in plenty of time to settle in and review my notes once more (in the event everything had fallen out of my head by that point). If you missed it, you can see the presentation itself here, and I will write up my notes sometime soon. Before we dove in though, Liz was kind enough to capture the pre-show panic moments for us:

We had a nice turn out, and we covered about 90% of what we wanted to talk about — we ran longer than we thought, which is always a better way to be than running too short. We’d decided to let people ask questions as we talked, so some of our outline we ended up talking about differently, but in a way that worked out well since it let us answer the questions that people were most curious about. The questions we got were fabulous, too, and the audience was actually interested in what we were sharing. I guess that’s always my fear: is what’s interesting to me what’s going to be interesting to the people listening? But I think it was really successful, and it was really an honor to present with Nova, who runs some of the most amazing series posts in the blogging world. Truly. I feel like I learned a lot from her in the session. 
Bonus points to our presentation timing was that it was right before lunch, so there was a nice period of downtime before the next session. I was still mentally processing everything so I had about the saddest lunch ever. It didn’t matter though.
Do you know how hard it is to get six people to take a photo together and have everyone have their eyes open? This is the closest one we got. This was half of the lunch group in front of one of the NYPL lions — from left to right, that’s Jess Ferro (who gave a really well-received talk about illustrations in kidlit that was going on at the same time as my presentation), Amanda, Leila, myself, Liz, and Pam. 
Rather than have a series of sessions after lunch, there was one large panel to discuss critical reviews and the notion of “being nice” when it comes to reviewing books. It was an impressive lineup of speakers, too. Jen Hubert moderated, and the speakers included Betsy Bird, Liz Burns, Monica Edinger, Sheila Barry, Marjorie Ingall, and Maureen Johnson. After laying out the definitions of what a blog post and a blog review were, the discussion laid into what critical reviews are. Some of the takeaway gems from this panel included the importance of making disclosures where necessary (if you’ve got a “we’ve had dinner together as friends” relationship with someone whose book you’re reviewing, then you better mention it); know who your audience of readers is; and if you only ever post positive comments on books and offer little depth into what the book’s about or what makes it work or not work, then you’re not a reviewer. You’re a cheerleader. Most importantly, though, that doesn’t devalue your work. It just doesn’t make you a reviewer.
Perhaps the most insightful part of that panel though was when Maureen asked how many bloggers had received comments from authors when they’ve posted a less-than-positive review. The number of hands in the audience raised was not surprising to me in the least (and I thought quite low, actually) but Maureen’s face and shock was priceless. Then we swapped some war stories about the insane stuff we’ve heard as bloggers from authors, and it was at that point where it was suggested we develop a set of golden rules for behavior in the blogosphere. Here they are: 
  • If you’re an author, do not respond to reviews if you are unhappy!
  • If you’re a blogger and you get weird emails from authors after a review where they’re unhappy, follow up with their publicist — or as later suggested, maybe contact their agent.
  • Disclose information where appropriate. That includes whether or not you received a book for review and most importantly, your relationships.
  • Don’t marginalize the smaller books nor those authors who may not be on social media. 

It was also firmly decided that receiving ARCs does not undermine reviewing. That’s precisely their purpose, so if that’s what sways a review, then that’s not a review anyway. There’s also no obligation to review an ARC if it’s received.

The basics come down to this: remember people are people. It should be obvious, but sometimes, it’s not (and yes, I have a collection of those emails from less-than-happy people).

Following the panel discussion was the last set of sessions, and I stayed for a session I didn’t remember signing up for but was thrilled I did — “The changing relationship between reader and writer.” At the time, I don’t think it was mentioned this was actually an author session, and it was a discussion with Michael Northrop, Alyssa Sheinmel, Gayle Forman, and Adele Griffin. They took turns talking about how to be yourself on social media while also remaining a private person. Authors are expected in some ways to be on social media, and they each talked about what they do, how they do it, and what value it gives them.

I found it interesting food for thought even as a blogger/librarian — how much do you share that’s public and how much do you hold back? What kind of persona do you take on in your blog or your Twitter? It’s sort of tricky, but one of the answers I really liked about all of this was simple: be “professionally friendly” because we’re all people.

Blog tours came up in this discussion, too, and the authors were fairly enthusiastic about them. They thought, though, blog tours are most effective when the authors are actual blog readers themselves and know what’s out there. They’re tremendous work but they’re almost an expected part of publicity now. But most effective, they agreed, was when there are deadlines and when the ideas for guest posts or tour stops are good. 

The biggest take away, though, was that this is a community, and it’s important to keep it that way. We all can support and interact with one another and build those important relationships between readers and writers. 
This wins the award for most useless photo, doesn’t it? 
The final session of the day was the keynote with Maureen Johnson. Except, it wasn’t really a keynote by Maureen Johnson. Rather, it was a conversation between Maureen and Robin Wasserman (surprise!) which engaged us as the audience. Maureen told us to ask a question, and from there, the discussion spiraled out into the different hot topics that have emerged over the last few months in the blogging world. 
Even though we don’t think it’s the case, the kidlit world is an echo chamber. Things that get us worked up or things where we sigh and say not again aren’t necessarily well-known to everyone else. We have a weird responsibility to respond when criticism arises, even if it’s something we’ve responded to before. The reason these things come up over and over again is that we still such a small segment of knowledge and expertise. This resonated even more when the topic of the relationship between bloggers and publishers came up — it’s the same conversation that comes up at every single KidLitCon and there’s never an answer. That’s precisely because we’re still not sure of that and because it shifts and changes. 
What emerged though from what was easily the most bizarre and strangely charming keynote I’ve ever sat in, though, was that bloggers are important and valuable. Maureen said she credits bloggers and the internet for keeping her career going. So even though our role isn’t clear, we do have a hefty amount of responsibility on our shoulders to continue doing what we do in reviewing, in talking about books, in responding to what the bigger media outlets are talking about, and so forth. 
The last part of the discussion summed it up perfectly — everyone’s a person. It’s simple.
Maureen’s non-traditional approach to a keynote worked so well, I think, particularly seeing how the conversation of the day had swayed anyway. This conference isn’t about being buttoned up or about being an expert on anything. It’s about sharing individual experiences and stories and about putting those together in some sort of meaningful way for yourself as an individual. 
It comes back to those two questions Maureen brought up in her discussion that, I think, really nail it: what am I doing and why am I doing it? They’re questions we continue asking because we are still figuring it out as bloggers. There aren’t rules. There are only individual experiences and insights. 
After the keynote wrapped up, I said goodbye to Nova, my companion and wonderful presentation partner for the day, and then I went back to the hotel room with Liz, Pam, Leila, and a bunch of others before going to the official Kid Lit Drink night. Except . . . I left after only about 15 minutes because the noise and the crowd was a little much for my introverted soul, especially after a long and mentally engaging day. 
I had a few hours of downtime before Liz and Pam came back to the room, and the three of us sat to talk about what we thought of the event. Pam turned to Liz and asked her what her favorite part of the entire event was, and I have to repeat what she said because it summed it up so perfectly:

It’s seeing and spending time with people who get you and have the same interests and passions that you do.

That’s why we blog in the first place, right? To make those connections?

A huge thank you to Betsy and Monica (and Liz) who put the work into making this Kid Lit Con happen because it was — as it always is — a blast. I left totally energized and eager to write on so many different topics. A huge thank you, too, to Nova who was such a wonderful person to present with and who was just a blast to talk with and spend time with.

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  1. says

    Perfect summary! I had such a fantastic time at KidLitCon and a big part of that was the time I spent with you and the gang. So so glad that you came out for this!

  2. says

    I love "It's seeing and spending time with people who get you and have the same interests and passions that you do." So true! That's what I missed not being there this year. Nice to read the tweets and notes from the sessions (particularly concrete things like timing of tweets), but there's no way to make up for missing the time with friends. Ah well. Next year. Thanks so much for this summary, though.

  3. says

    LOVE this. And the photos. And the book swapping. And the heart swelling (in a good way. Not a heart attack way). And the NYC backdrop.

    Love. Love. Love.

  4. says

    This was a lovely wrap-up post – very valuable for those us who couldn't make it out to NYC. I hope I can attend a future KidLitCon – maybe next year?

  5. says

    Holy cats, this sounds amazing and I am so kicking myself for not going. THANK YOU for this awesome summary; it almost makes me feel like I was there!

    I hope you'll be spreading the buzz from those pub previews, yes? 😀

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