Saturday, September 24, 2011

Conference Recap: KidLitCon 2011

KidLitCon logo designed by Sarah StevensonLast weekend, I had the most excellent opportunity to attend and present a panel at KidLitCon 2011 in Seattle, and it was SO. MUCH. FUN. What a great conference. The organizers, Colleen and Jackie, put countless hours into making this a wonderful experience for everyone, and it was such a great success. I loved the sense of community at this event-- authors, publishers, librarians, teachers, and bloggers coming together to exchange ideas about achieving a common goal: getting books into the hands of readers. There was so much packed into a day and a half-- it was everything a conference should be: energizing, affirming, and a terrific opportunity to connect.

I came away with renewed enthusiasm and direction for blogging. Author Stasia Ward Kehoe’s session in particular gave me lots of food for thought. She invited us to consider things like how our blogging identity and our "unblogging" identity mesh, and how the title of our blog reflects our content. When I volunteered that I named my blog "Reading Everywhere" because I'm always reading several books in different locations at any given time, she asked me, "So, do you do anything with that? Post pictures of books in their various locations?" And I was like: "......WHY AM I NOT DOING THAT?!" So, readers, from now on, expect to see more pictures of books on my nightstand and in my car and such. Thank you for the brilliant idea, Stasia!

I came away feeling empowered to write critical reviews. This doesn’t mean I’m going to totally pan a bunch of books! On the contrary, a very thought-provoking session presented by a fabulous group of youth services librarians, Kelly, Julia, Abby, and Janssen, highlighted the idea that reviewers can be critical without being negative. I was especially struck by the idea that there's a difference between writing substantial, thoughtful reviews and being part of the "publicity machine." Zoe, the associate manager for school & library marketing for Little, Brown Book for Young Readers affirmed this line of thinking in another session by pointing out that bloggers don’t owe the publishers positive reviews, and that a critical review won't necessarily ruin a blogger's relationship with a publisher. It’s a business to the publisher, and they’re used to seeing all kinds of reviews. Book reviewers should be professional, and be balanced in our criticisms.

I came away excited for transmedia storytelling. The team from Angelpunk provided a great overview of the evolving movement of using various media platforms to tell a story. I think this dynamic method of showcasing a story will really speak to the generation of kids growing up right now. My two-year-old intuitively knows how to work an iPhone, and as much as he loves books, he’s going to want his stories to come in all formats, using different technologies. I like the idea that transmedia storytelling isn't just bells and whistles or using technology for technology's sake, but rather a way to tell a story using the the media that will best suit the telling.

I came away eager to make stronger connections with authors. Author Suzanne Young and Sara of Novel Novice shared about the benefits of author-blogger connections, and they sounded like they had so much fun collaborating on innovative ways to promote the author's work, which in turn, drives traffic and provides engaging content for the blogger. I was inspired!

I came away feeling more balanced about reviewing older books in addition to ARCs and new releases. Everyone wants to be on the cutting edge, and reviewing ARCS can feel special and shiny, but as expert book bloggers, Maureen, Jen, and Melissa, discussed, there are real benefits to highlighting older titles as well. It can set your blog apart and provide the opportunity to share an undiscovered gem with your readers. Reviewing older titles can absolve a blogger of any sense of obligation to the publisher that they may harbor when reviewing an ARC-- they can post the review at their own pace without being concerned about coinciding with the book's publication date.

As for our own session, Michelle and I had a blast presenting about podcasting in the kidlitosphere, covering the essentials of starting your own podcast, from technical specifics to best practices for creating content. At the end of our session, we invited audience members to step up the mic and put into practice the voiceover techniques Michelle shared by contributing to a special KidLitCon edition of our podcast, Authors are ROCKSTARS! The episode turned out SUPER AWESOME, if I do say so. The contributors shared about what they're reading right now, and they all sounded ready to start their own podcasts! So please give it a listen and be sure to share some love for our contributors in the comments-- they were really brave to get up and record in front of a crowd, and they all did a fabulous job.

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the fantastic panel on diversity in fiction, presented by Lee Wind, which sparked insightful discussions about topics like authenticity and the idea that there can't be only one correct way to represent any given culture or ethnic group- that there are multiple truths out there. Good stuff!

Also, the keynote speech by Scott Westerfeld was amazing! He spoke about the lost tradition of illustrated novels in Western literature, and discussed how it informed the creative process behind his Leviathan trilogy. Although I've enjoyed many of his other books, I haven't had the chance to read this trilogy yet, and after hearing him speak, I'm determined to fit it into my reading schedule-- it sounds incredible!

Michelle and I meeting Scott Westerfeld.
(He's really nice!)

And speaking of awesome authors, a particularly special part of the weekend was meeting Kirby Larson. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of reviewing her wonderful novel, The Friendship Doll, for School Library Journal, and she had very kindly contacted me to thank me for the review, which completely bowled me over as I never expect to be contacted about my reviews. Since we were both going to be at KidLitCon, I brought my copy of the book and she graciously signed it for my daughter, who shares a name with one of the characters in the book. Such a treasure! The Friendship Doll is a lovely, lovely book, and Kirby is just as lovely in person. What a pleasure to get to know her! Thank you so much, Kirby-- I hope we'll meet again!

To sum up, I'm really glad I had the opportunity to be a part of this fantastic conference, and am so grateful for the wonderful conversations I had with other people who love books just as much as I do. I don't know when I'll be able to attend KidLitCon again-- it rotates between different areas of the country each year, and won't be back on the West Coast for another three years. Next year is set for New York, which is awfully tempting... however, with two little kids at home, I don't know if a cross-country trip is in the cards for me. But if you're reading this and have never been to KidLitCon, I wholeheartedly recommend that you make plans to attend. It's as good as everyone says it is.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your tweets from Kid Lit Con so I also enjoyed this post obviously. I've always been someone who's not afraid to write critical reviews because I felt like I'd be a sell out if I only wrote glowing reviews.

    I understand why authors only write positive reviews. They meet authors and develop relationships with them, but I think as long as a critical review isn't bashing a book and you write it with good intentions, they can actually be helpful to an author. I just finished writing a critical review of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and even though I personally disliked the story and gave my reasons why it didn't work for me, I made sure to note that I still thought it was a book of great literary merit and deserves to be read by teens and young adults.

    I like going to blogs where the reviewer isn't afraid to say what they didn't like about the book just as much as what they did like. It shows me they aren't selling out to the "publicity machine" and that they're staying true to who they are as a reader.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Beth! I really hope you can attend a future KidLitCon- I think you would get SO much out of it and really have fun. You should think about presenting! Maybe something about using contemporary youth literature in the classroom?

    Anyway, about critical reviews-- I'm with you. I really valued the discussion at this conference about reviewing critically, and it gave me a lot to think about. I've written a few (very few!) critical reviews on this blog so far, because I mostly shy away from it. I'm apprehensive, because I help host a lot of author visits at my library, and I would feel TERRIBLE if I ever wrote something critical that hurt an author's feelings or annoyed them-- and then they came to my library. So, I tend to tread perhaps more cautiously than most, and perhaps more cautiously than I really need to, because like you said, critical reviewing isn't bashing. I would never bash a book or an author.

    And I agree that critical reviews add credibility to a blog. If it's all glowing praise, can you really take the reviewer seriously? I'm going to try to be a little braver about criticism, yet always, always keeping it respectful. One thing that came up at the conference was that reviews are not for the author or the publisher, but for other readers. I think it's important to keep in mind.

  3. So glad you had a good time and also glad that you found our panel on critical reviewing helpful! :D I am super jealous of everyone who got to go and I hope to attend next year!!!

  4. Abby, your panel was GREAT! I wish you could have been there-- I would have liked to have met you. And you would have had so much fun! I hope you do get to go next year.

  5. Thanks for sharing your notes, Alli! I almost feel like I don't need to write my own now, since I shared so many of the same takeaways as you. :) It was great meeting you at KidLitCon!

  6. Aw, thanks, Laurie! Such a great conference- and such a pleasure to meet you!


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