KitLitCon 2012: No one was eaten by a bear
My standards are pretty low when it comes to conferences. Essentially if ursine consumption does not occur, I consider the day a success. Fortunately there are other ways of defining success, and though I was the organizer and therefore not wholly without my own prejudices, everything went well. Amazingly, surprisingly, some might say shockingly, well.
In truth, my personal insanity began on Friday. Monica Edinger of Educating Alice went above and beyond the call of duty by pretty much single-handedly organizing a preconference wherein interested attendees could go to the publisher previews we New Yorkers are normally privy to. Under her sure hand Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Harper Collins, Little, Brown, Macmillan, and Holiday House all conducted previews for the lucky attendees. That left the dinner that night. Traditionally (and this is only the 6th conference so traditions are sort of flexible on this point) there is a big dinner for the attendees. Normally, when the conference is held at a hotel, this dinner is a standard hotel dinner after the con has occurred. This time around we decided to make it a Friday dinner in the swank Japanese buffet restaurant IchiUmi. Then Little, Brown and Co. gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Would I like a special guest? Someone like Grace Lin, one of the very few award winning authors out there who actually blogs? Um. . . . yes, please? The kicker is that she and her family came up for the SOLE REASON of speaking at our dinner. Not only that, Little, Brown sponsored everyone’s dessert. Them’s class. All I had to do was make sure there was an AV set-up.
Fun Fact: If you want to have an event with an AV set-up ALWAYS choose a location that has a private room that doubles as a karaoke spot. Seriously, it’s the way to go. The staff will know how to connect the laptop and make the microphones work. The more you know.
Ms. Lin arrived with husband, world’s most adorable baby, agent, editor, and marketing guru in tow. How good was she? Darling, I had STAFF members of the restaurant coming up to me afterwards desperate to buy her book Starry River of the Sky (which Bank Street Bookstore was kind enough to offer for sale). The manager of the restaurant herself informed me that she wanted the name of that book and author and that if I ever wanted to do another event there they’d be happy to help me out. So we made friends. We also had a good room of folks who enjoyed the company and the food, which consisted of more edibles than I’ve ever been privy to in my entire life. Buffets RULE!
That was Friday. It was, all told, the pregame before the finals that would be the conference itself.
Now when you are organizing an event that will ultimately allow some 175 people to enter your doors, tough decisions need to be made. Actually only one really tough decision is up to you: Do you feed them? And when you have made your conference free the answer is a resounding “Nope”. I wasn’t going to feed anyone. Not even cheap bagels. Not even tiny bottles of cold, clear water. So would they hate me for it? We’d see . . .
The doors opened to everyone at 10 but I was in the building by 7:30 a.m. to get everything set-up on time. Volunteers who should be praised nigh unto the high hills were present and accounted for. Programs were available (anyone who wants a PDF of the program may contact me and I’ll pass it along). Swag was spread out, notebooks stacked, pens available. Here were the awesome Chronicle bags they sent along:
Gorgeous. And Mark Steensland was seven kinds of clever when he offered free notebooks that also happened to have his middle grade novel Behind the Bookcase on their covers.
We also set up an area for promotion:
And another area for people to trade galleys they’d received. This cart was full, then looked like this, then was empty 3 seconds later. I put out a second galley cart for the folks just to make them happy. I mean, they loved these books!
Finally, every single computer in the six rooms that would be hosting the conference was set-up and prepped. That’s right, folks. I had to make sure the AV would work without a hitch in SIX friggin’ library rooms.
Small downside to being a mammoth marble structure – you are a mammoth marble structure. Say what you will about the main branch of NYPL, it is impressive. Massive and impressive. And sad to say, sometimes incredibly difficult to navigate. I had managed to get rooms on three different floors, one on the opposite side of the library in a hard-to-get-to location. That means much of my time was spent herding attendees from one area to another. Sure, they had maps in their programs, but trust me when I say that when you are standing on the second floor of a building that threatens to overwhelm you with its grandeur, teensy tiny maps don’t quite cut it.
One final problem: Here we had a blogger conference but the very auditorium, which would remain our base of operations, hadn’t any cell phone reception! As Rocco Staino tweeted so eloquently, “I will be tweeting from #KidLitCon today that is If the walls of @NYPL will let me. The building is grand but also a #Bombshelter.” Fortunately, it did have Wi-Fi and folks would definitely use it. You can tell when you go online and see all the comments under our hashtag #kidlitcon12.
At any rate, I am pleased to report that at 10:30 on the nose everything began. Our 175 attendees looked more like 150 which, let us face it, ain’t no small potatoes. I had spent the better part of the previous day arranging everyone’s schedules and printing them out for them. I was therefore eager to set them on my way. So I gave an opening speech that delved a tiny bit on our history and scope. Truth be told, they weren’t there to see me so I cut myself short, explained to them how the day was going to go, and then shooed them off to their various locations.
From 11:00-11:45 there were four parallel sessions:
#1 – In the Children’s Center on the friggin’ other end of the library (two full city blocks away) was Sheila Ruth (Wands and Worlds) presenting the talk Who’s In Charge? The description of the event described it as a presentation that, “will help anyone who is using social media for professional reasons to take charge and manage it in an effective way. Participants will learn to create a strategic plan by answering the questions what, where, when, and how, and learn about technology tools that can reduce the amount of time and effort needed for social media management.”
Sheila was in a room that had to do battle with the sounds of the Children’s Center across the wall, which she did admirably and very well. She had no mic but commanded her audience. Folks were quite pleased with the results.
#2 – In the South Court Classrooms A & B (which are easy to get to since they were directly above the auditorium) was the very Goddess of YA herself, Teri S. Lesesne. Her talk was Don’t be a Twitt! Building a PLN Using Social Networks. Said her description, “Twitter and FaceBook and Pinterest and other social networks can be the place to begin developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). How do we begin? What are the steps in bringing disparate people and sites into a cohesive whole? These and other questions will be tackled during the session.” I sat in on Teri for a little while because I was beginning to get a bit tired and she was well and in her element. I wish I’d seen more.
#3 – The lucky people presenting in the South Court Auditorium didn’t even have to move after the opening words. Sheela Chari, Sayantani Dasgupta, and Michelle Schusterman (From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors) had an ambitious program called Community-Building On and Off the Blog: Secrets, Tips, and Cautionary Tales. Essentially the three shared their success stories and cautionary tales for building and sustaining communities, based on what has worked on their blog for the past two years, including book, Skype and other giveaways, special interviews and industry spotlights, news bars, twitter chats, and real-life meet-ups. It was the Skype element that was a killer since they attempted to use it in the aforementioned bomb shelter that is the auditorium and were duly thwarted. Fortunately they were well prepared for this eventuality and sallied on, undeterred.
#4 – Finally, the scariest room of all. Room 207. Not scary for the presenters so much (though it might have been a bit daunting to find) but scary for me. This was a room straight out of a James Bond villain’s lair. I had to make the AV work and it was hugely intimidating. Therefore I would like to give copious thanks to Marcia Lerner. While I left her in that room earlier that morning, she managed to single-handedly figure out how to make all the screens and computers work using my half-assed scribbled notes. By the time Janna Morishima, Dorothy O’Brien and Alex Simmons came in to present their panel discussion Reviewing Comics and Graphic Novels for Kids (which was a HUGE hit) everything was humming along like a dream. The three experts covered all the big GN questions like, “Can they be reviewed by the same criteria as traditional novels or collections? How should a reviewer treat ongoing storylines? How important are the visual elements, and how can one fairly compare graphic vs. traditional versions of the same book?” According to my spies in the field, it was an unqualified success.
Then, from 12:00 – 12:45 you guessed it. More simultaneous panels!
#1 – The aforementioned saving-Betsy’s-butt speaker Marcia Lerner of The Diamond in the Window and her talk Inspiring Reader Response. In essence it was a presentation that aimed to give bloggers tools to strengthen conversation with their readers. One of our more popular sessions, I had to work double time to get everyone to Ms. Lerner’s room on time.
#2 – Meanwhile, back down in the South Court Auditorium we had Kelly Jensen & Nova Ren Suma (STACKED / Distraction 99) and their talk Getting Series-ous: How Blog Series Can Engage, Inspire, and Grow Your Audience. I was keen on this one since the description said that it was about developing a successful blog series and hopes to inspire others to explore series posts as a means of widening their own blog content. Said they, “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.” A smart pairing.
#3 – In Classrooms A & B Jess Ferro (Alice in Baker Street) proved to have one of the few programs I had to turn people away from, so popular it was. In Oh, You Mean the Caterpillar Guy?: Viewing Illustration as High Art and Using Visual Literacy Methods to Enhance Our Evaluation of It, Jess discussed “ways in which we can help view illustration in children’s books as high art.” Such a good idea for a talk.
#4 – Finally, in the Children’s Center where he’d have room to speak at length, Greg Pincus (GottaBook) was one of the few bloggers I reached out to and actually asked to speak at KidLitCon. He was my ringer. I’ve seen Greg do his talks before and he’s always worth watching. I was particularly taken with his discussion topic, Avoiding the Echo Chamber: Bringing the World of Children’s Literature to the World. As he said in the talk’s description, “All of us in the blogosphere (and in the business of children’s books, whether as author or illustrator or as publisher or reviewer) can work to spread the joy of children’s literature wider.” Great feedback on this talk.
At lunchtime, which happened from 1-2, I discovered that the ‘wichcraft sandwich area of the library had chocolate cupcakes. I have NEVER seen a ‘wichcraft with chocolate cupcakes before. Needless to say, that was lunch.
When everyone reconvened at 2:15 I had planned that we make everyone attend the obligatory talk How Nice is Too Nice?: Critical Book Reviewing in the Age of Twitter. It was held in the South Court Auditorium and most glorious of all, I didn’t have to moderate it. I spoke on it, but I didn’t moderate. That honor fell to pro-moderator Jennifer Hubert-Swan (Reading Rants and another ringer) who perfectly bounced the conversation between author Maureen Johnson, myself, Liz Burns (A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy), Monica Edinger (Educating Alice), Sheila Barry (from Groundwood Books), and Marjorie Ingall (Tablet Magazine, amongst other cool things).
The conversation was hopping but I’ll rely on the attendees to say precisely why (I heard tappity tapping during our talk so someone somewhere was typing it up). Suffice to say, there were some really good points made about who reviews are for, inappropriate times authors (or their families) would contact a blog reviewer, our role, the state of blog reviewing today, and how awesome bookshelves of doom is (shout outs were made to The Book Smugglers, Pink Me, and a couple other blogs unafraid to critique fairly). It was a huge amount of fun. I wish I sat in on panels more often. We could have gone on for hours.
Then the last sessions began from 3:30 – 4:15:
#1 Also in the South Court Auditorium we had Karen Halpenny, VP of Women in Children’s Media, with what turned out to be the most highly attended session in the conference, if you don’t count the ones where there wasn’t any competition. Her topic was The Changing Relationship Between Reader and Writer and to help her with this topic she brought in the authors Gayle Forman, Michael Northrop, Alyssa Sheinmel, and Adele Griffin. It was just a really good second part to the panel discussion that had come before.
#2 – Meanwhile in Room 207 presenter and author/illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg (Mermaids on Parade) handled our up-and-coming author/illustrators with THUMBS UP! PLUMP UP YOUR PLATFORM and MAXIMIZE YOUR MARKETING. The gist was to help folks, “Become your own best publicity director (even if you already have one).” It’s always good to cater to the author/illustrators that show up for KidLitCon and have something for them too.
#3 – Finally, in Room 219 presenter Diane Estrella (That’s What I’m Here For…) packed the room with her hugely attended The Benefits of Blogging. With this description it was perfect for many of our newbie attendees: “Whether you are a long time blogger or thinking about dipping your toe into the blogosphere for the first time, this presentation will provide advice for ways to get started along with how to grow the site you already have.”
Finally, the day ended with our Keynote Speech. I know that in a lot of conferences you begin with the Keynote but it seemed to me necessary to reward the folks who had stayed the whole day. Plus, you can kind of guarantee folks staying that way. The speech was to be delivered by the illustrious YA author Maureen Johnson. Deciding on her was a no-brainer. I’d seen her give a talk at a Book Expo blogger con a few years ago (a con that maddeningly kept referring to itself as “the first” book blogger convention, consarn it). She was witty, urbane, and it was clear as crystal that she’d fit the bill. So I hired her and Penguin, her publisher, went above and beyond the call of duty sending every attendee a paperback edition of The Name of the Star. Wow!
I stole that photo from Maureen’s Twitter feed. This one too. She tweeted that these were her notes for her program:
You understand now why I tapped her to be my speaker, yes?
Before she went on, Maureen pulled me aside. She had a crazy notion. What if her keynote was less podium talky talk and more of a conversation? Say, with fellow YA author Robin Wasserman whom she had called half an hour ago and was on her way? Suits me. Part of the reason I like KidLitCon so much is that we’re an infinitely flexible group. You want to do a conversation with a kind of devil’s advocate of a friend on a stage? Dude, go for it. So it was that Ms. Wasserman and Ms. Johnson took some seats and discussed not just blogging and reviewing but the publishing industry itself. There was a lot of backing and forthing with the audience as well. Sadly, I had to keep her time limited, and even then I gave her an extra 15 minutes when I saw how well it was going.
Due to the fact that when the library closes it CLOSES, we had our final remarks, I told everyone where to find KidLit Drink Night afterwards (one of my favorite locations for the event, The Houndstooth) and that was that!
Once I have gathered my thoughts and my brain cells into one spot, I will update the Kidlitosphere Central page to reflect all the attendees and their blogs (I’ve already started). If you blogged about the day send me the link and I’ll add it to the page.
Big thanks to everyone who attended, everyone who helped, and just everyone in general.
Tweets about the conference are available here.
You can read Greg Holch’s recap of KidLit Drink Night afterwards here.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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