|Photo by Guinevere Thomas|
This past weekend was the 7th annual KidLitCon, hosted by the Kidlitosphere, and it was held down in not-so-sunny-in-recent-weeks Austin, Texas. As you may or may not know, Kimberly and myself were part of the planning committee for the event this year, and we took on the tasks of finding locations for the events we had in mind. I think we were successful, since I believe the entirety of the conference was a success. I am glad I went, and I thought I’d recap what I did, as well as what I learned, in hopes of passing along some insight to others who may benefit.
Because Austin is one of my favorite places and a former home of mine, I wanted to go down early and get some me-time in before the event. Leila, of Bookshelves of Doom, was one of my roommates, and she, too, came down early. We figured out our flights landed within minutes of one another, so we met up at the airport, took the bus downtown, and then we spent the afternoon with one another.
The first thing we did was grab a late lunch/early dinner at El Sol y La Luna. We stuffed ourselves on Mexican food and then headed on a nice walk down to Book People, where I proceeded to spend more money in a bookstore than I have in a very long time. I convinced Leila to spend some too, and then we hit up Amy’s for my favorite ice cream in the world. But by that point, both of us were ridiculously tired and a little cranky (early morning flights!) and we headed back to the hotel.
We spent the evening talking, which was so, so great. We hit on everything from work to blogging and books.
Since the first events weren’t until mid-day, Leila and I took the opportunity to go grab breakfast in the morning together. We’d found a place that looked good, but it actually didn’t exist anymore. So I suggested we see if The Driskill had a place to eat — and it did. It’s quite possible I had the best pecan waffle I’ve ever had. Bonus points to it being shaped like Texas.
The pre-con for KidLitCon was taking place at 1 at my old stomping grounds, the iSchool at the University of Texas. The event was open to all, and it was meant to let us get to know other bloggers, authors, and fans of kidlit.
Leila and I got there early, and shortly after, we met author Nikki Loftin. As more people began to show up, I helped get some things set up in the lounge where our meeting was. We’d devised part of the precon to be a chance to swap books and ARCs we’d had, and thanks to the generosity of Bloomsbury and First Second, we also had a couple of boxes of books and ARCs to bring ourselves. Local attendees kept bringing more and more books, and we kept going and seeing what was put out.
In short, book fans in the same room as books equals a lot of talk about books.
The precon was laid back, and it was a nice, low-pressure chance for those of us who knew one another to catch up, as well as a chance to meet new people without feeling overwhelmed.
After the event, we had a reservation at a local Mexican restaurant, where we all dined on plenty of chips, salsa, margaritas, and then delicious dinners. I got the chance to sit with Kimberly and her boyfriend/sometimes guest contributor to STACKED, Matthew, and we caught up with one another.
While a number of KidLitCon folks ended up going to the bar at our hotel after dinner, Leila and I both ended up back in our hotel room, spending hours and hours laying in bed talking. A mixture of exhaustion and needing introvert downtime made this a decision that I can’t say I necessarily regret. When Pam came back from the bar, we talked a little more, as well. Though not too much since we had to save some energy for the event.
It felt like we’d been planning this event forever, but in truth, it all sort of came together pretty quickly. We rented space and catering from St. David’s Episcopal Church and I cannot possibly say enough nice things about the venue, the ease of which it was to work with them, the food, and the support we had for our entire event from start to finish. If you’re ever in Austin and in need of a space, I would recommend them without a second of hesitation.
If I had to give three words that summed up the biggest themes talked about during the event, they would be diversity, authenticity, and burnout. Every session I went to — as well as the one I presented — covered these topics, and I’m going to try to hit upon them in each short writeup, though it’d be impossible not to see the threads coming together.
Our program opened with a wonderful keynote from well-known kid lit enthusiast, supporter, and author Cynthia Leitich Smith.
Her talk focused on blogging and how she’s come to help build and support the kid lit community through her own blogging, as well as through the sharing and uplifting of other bloggers, both those who are authors and those who aren’t. She talked about the value of having a mission and philosophy behind your blogging, stating that hers was to put something positive in the world, as well as to reject the notion that people like her — a Native woman, a person who adds to the diversity of the world — could and would do much more than be a single thing.
Some of her advice for bloggers who are feeling burned out or are looking for a means of expanding what it is they do include:
- Considering your audience: what are their interests and their expectations? What is it they’re taking away from visiting your blog specifically? How does this tie into what your mission and philosophy are?
- Maintaining your content flow: you can pre-format things sometimes, and you can try to schedule your content strategically.
- Take breaks and plan for them to avoid burnout. As she said, it’s better to be regular than frequent sometimes.
- Use your platform: Highlight and talk about the things that matter to you as a blogger. You have the opportunity to talk about diversity and whatever it means to you. So do it. Your readers come to your blog for a reason — let this be something they take away.
- Diversity matters and it’s not one thing. Diversity means so many things. Think about what it means to you as a blogger and as a reader and talk about it when it’s done well as well as when it’s not done well.
- Changing your blogging from posting about books when you finish reading them to perhaps talking about them in the middle of your reading. You think about and engage with materials differently then while still talking about them.
- Develop new features, which can be on anything from what you’re passionate about outside of yourself to personal posts.
- Perhaps you can stop writing reviews at all. If you don’t love them — and we all know and all agree that book reviews receive the least traffic, least engagement, least sharing, and can be at times the least satisfying thing to write — then don’t do them. It takes the pressure off you as a blogger.
- Give yourself the permission to say no. One of the points that came up that made me feel a little like a jerk was that we at STACKED have a no response policy. It’s in our review policy itself. If we’re pitched or approached about something and we’re not interested, we don’t respond. It takes the pressure off our inboxes and our time that we could be blogging or reading that would be spent sending responses.
- Make it easy to share things. If you want people to share your work, make it easy to do so. I know I am not good at commenting on blogs, but I read a lot, and my sense of appreciation for what people are writing comes through tweeting it out or including it in a link roundup.
- Do more lists and roundups by topic for new readers, as well as old ones. Share your old content in new ways. Sometimes you don’t have to have a brand new post every day, but instead, you can present your older material in a way that’s fresh and innovative.
- 1.1% of books featured Latino/as. They make up 24% of the population.
- 2.5% of books feature black people (African American or otherwise). They are 14% of the population.
- 1.8% of books feature Asians. They make up 4.6% of the population.
- .6% of books feature Native Americans. They make up .9% of the population.
- .6% of books feature LGBTQ people. They make up 10% of the population.
- Develop booklists and highlight the issues of diversity that matter to you.
- Think about your site organization and highlight those things which you want to highlight.
- Consider the keywords to and within your blog.
- Conduct interviews and ask the hard questions — the more we press, the more we learn.
- Pay attention to where you shine your spotlight. You can talk about the tiniest things within a book and that becomes a means of talking diversity. No matter how small it seems, it does matter when you speak up for it. So do it. Pulling out small things is rewarding and it’s what makes blogging itself fun and worthwhile.
- If you tell a boy the book is a “girl book,” you are the one instilling the false notion of “boy books” and “girl books.”
- Books do not have a gender. They exist for readers to find. And that’s it.
- Perhaps the biggest point is one that Matthew made: if you have a boy who doesn’t want to read a “girly” book, you have a conversation about why there is no such thing as a “girly” book and that there is nothing wrong with reading what interests you, period.
- There are no gatekeepers to blogging. You can gain so much from it. And those who find it valuable and find passion in blogging will and do prosper. You are wholly responsible for your own reputation — and that is empowering.
- Legitimacy is a constant concern, but if you do the work right, you’re legitimate. And most of legitimacy comes simply through being authentic.
- Book blogging isn’t dying, but it might be changing. That doesn’t mean blogging will disappear, but the means through which people share and engage may continue growing and evolving. This isn’t a bad thing — it only enriches the field more.
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:
- 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.
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.
Remember how I talked about how I was going to attend Kid Lit Con this year? And how I had submitted a proposal to present with someone who I would love to present with?
If you’re planning on going to Kid Lit Con, I hope you consider attending the presentation that I’ll be giving with Nova Ren Suma.
Before I share what we’ll be presenting, let me give a little back story. When the call for proposals went out, I spent a long time thinking about what I’d learned a lot about over the last year in terms of blogging. I thought about last year’s conference and about the things I walked away with that ended up being the most valuable to me. The longer I pondered what would be worth presenting on, the more it became obvious that the topic of collaboration in the blogging world was one worth pursuing. I feel like in the time between last year’s Kid Lit Con and this year, I’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work when it comes to working with other bloggers and those who work with bloggers (i.e., authors or publicists or editors who don’t necessarily blog for themselves but may have a presence elsewhere on the social web).
Then it hit me: some of the most successful and exciting projects I’ve worked on over this last year involved series posts that required extensive collaboration. I loved putting together the So You Want to Read YA? series, as well as the Unconventional Blog Tour, and in the midst of working on it, I figured out many best practices for coordinating such a project. I then thought a bit about other bloggers who are active in putting together series — especially series posts I love reading and sharing — and it seemed beyond foolish not to approach Nova about presenting.
We’re calling the presentation “Getting Series-ous: How Blog Series Can Engage, Inspire, and Grow Your Audience,” and here’s the presentation description:
This program will discuss what goes into developing a successful blog series and hopes to inspire others to explore series posts as a means of widening their own blog content. The experiences of an author and a blogger will provide insight from two different sides of the kidlit blogosphere while also showcasing how authors and bloggers can work with and benefit one another through a blog series.
Did you know KidLit Con is FREE this year? If you can go, you should. I know I’ve mentioned it time and time again, but it is my favorite conference because it’s run entirely by and for kidlit bloggers. It’s intimate, meaning you really get to have great conversation with other people who love kid lit as much as you do. All of the details are on Betsy’s blog, including how to register. If you’re curious what last year’s event was like, I blogged about it here (and I know most of the photos are gone — technology!).
I couldn’t possibly hit on everything I wanted to in my recap on Kid Lit Con, and I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about some of the really cool things I learned about at the conference that others might be interested in checking out. These range from books about critical reviewing to collaborative blogs to a site working to raise awareness of issues of diversity in our daily lives.
Microaggressions — This website, built upon a Tumblr set up, examines the small instances of everyday discrimination. It’s a fascinating website of experiences, and it highlights a lot of what the conference’s diversity panel aimed to talk about.
Stages on Pages — This is not only a website devoted to young adult books that feature performing arts, but it’s also an actual author tour. Unfortunately for those of us who don’t reside on a coast, the tour won’t be visiting us, but the resources on the website will be invaluable for many. There will also soon be a teacher’s guide available.
Transmedia Experiences — I’m sad I didn’t get the chance to attend this session which explored the idea of transmedia. For those who aren’t familiar, transmedia, in its most basic form, takes something that’s static (like a book) and opens up possibilities for further world exploration and involvement via digital means. Easy examples are projects like Pottermore. At KidLitCon, one of the presentations on transmedia was Angelpunk, which is worth exploring to get an idea of what this melding of technology into literacy can look like.
Authors are Rockstars — Like podcasts? Like author interviews? Check out this fabulous podcast by two librarians in southern California. I’m not a podcast listener, but these ladies have certainly piqued my interest in listening.
Streamlining Your Presence — I’m obsessed with streamlining and with knowledge management (which is a fancy term for keeping your non-tangible things in order). During one of the sessions, NetVibes was mentioned as a tool for bringing together all your social networking interests together in one dashboard. I haven’t tried it, but it looks like it’d be worth exploring.
Altruism and Literacy — I think what this year’s KidLitCon organizers did to team up with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) is perhaps one of the smartest moves they could make. Through donations and a small percentage of book sales at the convention, RIF earned $1,700. That, I believe they said, would go toward purchasing nearly 800 books for needy kids. During the conference, I learned about a list of causes devoted to literacy and putting books into the hands of children, including Books for Kids, First Book, and more. As advocates for reading as bloggers and librarians are, these are resources worth knowing and worth supporting.
Critical Reviews — Admittedly, I haven’t had the chance to delve into some of the post-panel feedback I got through the #KidLitCon tag on Twitter, but I did find a couple of comments about places where one can learn more about the art of the critical review. There’s an essay here about the value of the critical exploration of text, and someone dropped a comment about K. T. Horning’s From Cover to Cover. These look like fantastic resources and I’m eager to dive into them both.