So it was a rare treat that 80 or so bloggers (myself included) emerged from behind their keyboards to converge on Open Book in Minneapolis for the annual Kidlit Con.
Here are a few key points I learned (or was reminded of) throughout the weekend:
1) An online presence truly can make a career.
The weekend started off with a terrific Friday night panel by the Merry Sisters of Fate (Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff, and Tessa Gratton) during which they discussed their tremendous critique trio relationship (mostly done via Google chat), an illustration of how online communication of can impact the career of an author.
Maggie underscored this idea in her Saturday morning keynote, describing how blogging helped her career as an artist and writer living in middle-of-nowhere Virginia. "Blogging can be good for you professionally and good for the soul," said the New York Times bestselling author who's toured the likes of Lithuania recently. "Ten years ago, my career arc would not have been possible. Blogging made it happen." (Note: I'd rather be reading Maggie's book LINGER than blogging right now. It's calling to me from my nightstand.) An example: Instead of sending her on tour during fall when school visits would precede bookstore event--and bring in teen readers--her publisher sent her out during the summer, banking on her blog presence to bring in fans. It's worked beautifully.
2) Community means participation.The kidlitosphere is a community and you can't be part of a community if you're a hermit. You've got to read other people's blogs if you want them to read yours. You've got to leave comments. You've got to tweet and facebook links to other posts you like by other bloggers. You cannot blog in a void. You've got to make friends.
3) There's strength in numbers and 3b) There are voids to be filled.
Elissa Cruz and Kurtis Scalleta offered a great session on the birth of their ginormous group blog From the Mixes Up Files...of Middle Grade Authors.
Elissa had the idea to start a blog by MG authors focusing on MG books, posted her idea on a message board, and was overwhelmed by the response. There are currently 30 writers and illustrators participating in Mixed Up Files. A group blog such as this offers plenty of bloggers to share the workload, a big talent pool to draw on, and lots of varied expertise within the group.
And In middle grade, Elissa found a hole that needed filling in the world of kid lit blogs. Mixed Up Files got great traffic right out of the box and is likely to become the go-to spot online for the MG gatekeepers--teachers, librarians, and parents--for reading lists, interviews, and all things MG.
4) Book review bloggers are a powerful and far-reaching bunch.
During Kidlit Con, I was thrilled to have the chance to chat with with Pam Coughlin of Mother Reader, Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page, Sarah Stevenson of Finding Wonderland, and Liz Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy also heard them participate in a panel about the Cybil Awards (given to books in a number of categories and judged solely by kidlit bloggers).
This year their call for potential judges yielded 200 volunteers for 100 open spots. (Yours truly is a second round YA fiction judge!) During the book nomination period, an unnamed publisher wanted to nominate their entire list. Authors like Jane Yolen and Lee Bennett Hopkins were talking about the Cybils on facebook.
Beyond the popularity of their award, they hold an annual blog book tour, and publishers seem happy to offer them review copies (based on a panel of marketing folks from Lerner, Flux, and Harper). These reviewers are reaching the gatekeepers, and publishers are aware of that.
5) Skype is cool.During a panel on virtual school visits, Kidlit Con was joined via Skype by Nick Glass of TeachingBooks.net. (I likened this virtual panelist to The Giant Benevolent Wizard of Oz with headphones.) With a laptop and a projector (and no IT or AV professionals), Nick was able to fully participate in the panel, offering information and answering questions. Authors should really consider using this technology for virtual visits.
I've got lots more to share, but not today, dear readers. In the meantime, if you'd like more on Kidlit Con 2010 check out this stuff:
- Greg Pincus (who did not attend the event), has created a full transcript of #kidlitcon tweets. (Thanks, Greg!)
- Conference co-coordinator Andrew Karre continues to update the Kidlit Con blog with links to conference-goers' recaps. (Click here, and here for particularly good ones.) Conference PowerPoints will follow.
- You can check out the official Kidlit Con 2010 Flikr page (and add photos if you have them).
Kidlit Con 2011 will be held in Seattle.
Kidlit Con 2012 will be held in New York City.
If you're a blogger, you should come!