This post will be primarily of interest to bloggers. Family/friends/parents, feel free to skip over this one, though of course we'd welcome your feedback.
I have two lessons learned in returning home from last weekend's 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference:
- Always plan for at least a day off from work after a conference like this, to process/follow-up/etc. Here it is a week after the conference, and I'm just finding time to write about my session. But I've also been mulling things over in the background, too.
- Take better notes during other people's sessions, and ask someone to take notes during any sessions that I might be conducting. There was a ton of great discussion during my session, but I was so preoccupied with moderating that I didn't take nearly the notes that I would have liked.
Anyway, last weekend I led a group discussion on "Promoting the Kidlitosphere". The idea was to brainstorm ways to promote the universe of children's and young adult book blogging as a whole. Truth be told, the discussion of promotion started in the session prior to mine, a Cybils Forum led by Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold, as people started thinking big about ways to increase people's exposure to the Cybils. The ideas that I'm going to share here came up in one or both of the two sessions. But first, some motivation (and a recap of how I introduced the session).
Why Promote the Kidlitosphere?
This one is easy. We offer a tremendous resource for parents, teachers, librarians, authors, and readers of all ages. Some of the many wonderful things offered by this community, free of charge, include:
- Book reviews for different age ranges, including reviews of titles from smaller publishers and reviews of older titles that might otherwise lack exposure. (See the Children's Book Review wiki as a place to start.)
- Book lists about every conceivable topic, from science books to books for reluctant readers to books with gutsy girl protagonists to GLBTQ titles.
- Articles about getting kids reading, and making it fun.
- Author interviews galore.
- Our own book awards.
- The Edge of the Forest, a monthly online journal dedicated to children's literature.
However, there are many people who aren't aware of this resource. There are tens of millions of parents in the country, not to mention the 60,000 members of the National Council of Teachers of English, and the thousands of published and aspiring children's book authors. There are also what I believe to be thousands of adults who just enjoy reading children's books. Obviously, not all of these people are interested in what the Kidlitosphere offers. They get their information in other ways. But I think it's safe to say that some of them would be interested if they had knew about us, and if we reached them in ways that met their needs (including via email, printed handouts, etc., not just via blogs).
Why Does this Matter?
Many of us who are involved in reading, writing, or recommending children's books do this because we care passionately that kids can find great books to read. By reaching a bigger audience we can help more parents, librarians and teachers to introduce kids to wonderful books. We can also help the authors and publishers, because people will read and buy more books. This helps everyone by ensuring that there'll be a steady supply of children's and young adult books in the future.
Kids who enjoy reading do better in school, in both reading and math, and thus grow up with more options available to them. If we can help their parents and teachers to find the best books, to maximize the chance that the kids will enjoy reading, we're helping to make the world a better place. I truly believe that.
So What Are We Doing About It?
There are already efforts underway that are helping to get the Kidlitosphere more exposure:
- Colleen Mondor has been organizing multi-blog, multi-author interview events, and multi-blog events that focus on authors from a particular country. These events show that bloggers can work together, and can develop unique and valuable content.
- The Robert's Snow project at 7-Imp is about to start, and I hope that a much broader audience will read some of the 150+ illustrator profiles that some 65 bloggers will providing.
- The Cybils, Readergirlz, and JacketFlap are all generating buzz in various quarters.
- We have individuals who are blogging in higher-profile venues, and/or venues that expose them to a different audience. To name just a few, we currently have Fuse #8 blogging at School Library Journal, Melissa Wiley and Anne-Marie Nichols at ClubMom, Jennifer from Snapshot at 5 Minutes for Mom, Els Kushner at Scholastic, Jules and Eisha (this month) at ForeWord Magazine, and Colleen Mondor, Gwenda Bond, and Anne Levy writing for various magazines and newspapers. People like Betsy Bird, Liz Burns, and Ilene Goldstein have published articles about children's book blogs in the Horn Book, School Library Journal, and Prairie Wind, respectively, to name a few.
- People have made, or will make, conference presentations at SCBWI and NCTE.
What Else Can We Do?
Here are some of the ideas that I heard mentioned in the discussions:
- Put up some sort of centralized page, or portal, that people can come to first. Include lists of blogs and promotion of events (like Robert's Snow, Poetry Friday, Carnivals of Children's Literature, etc.).
- Taking the portal idea one step further, actually form a KidLit blogger / podcaster association, with the aim of unifying and promoting our collective interests.
- Find a way to better connect with parenting organizations.
- Increase exposure in other forms of media.
- Work more closely with publishers (blurbs, author URLs in books, etc). Kane/Miller incidentally stood out as a publisher that works very closely with the Kidlitosphere already, though most of the publishers are supportive.
- Work more with independent booksellers.
- Set up a blog ring, so that people can cycle through our blogs, and visit one after another.
- Arrange for regional spokespeople, who can attend various conferences and other events, and represent the group as a whole. Requires gaining an understanding of where people are geographically, and developing some standard content/handouts that those people could distribute and talk about.
- If we had budget for it, set up a bloggers' table, or have a cocktail party, at ALA in the future. Also speak on conference panels at more conferences.
- Set up a Wikipedia page to introduce people to what we're doing.
- Possibly align with SCBWI, or at least learn from them about starting up an organization to promote a shared passion. There are issues with direct alignment, because there is a potential conflict of interest between writers and reviewers, but we do share common interests.
Some things have already gotten underway since the conference. Farida Dowler has transformed the conference Yahoo group into a general discussion group for members of the Kidlitosphere (go to Yahoo groups, and search for Kidlitosphere). (See also this post for further discussion about that, and about the name Kidlitosphere.) This doesn't directly help us to promote, but it starts getting us in one place, where we can have offline discussions. Tracy Grand has offered to help us promote our efforts on JacketFlap. Anastasia Suen is working on an event for the upcoming Texas Library Association Annual Conference in May. Jone Rush MacCulloch has offered to take on organization of next year's Kidlitosphere Conference (and I think it's going be HUGE). And I know that other people have ideas that they'll be unleashing at any moment.
So Where Do We Go Now?
After the conference session, I had lunch with Anne, Kelly, Pam, and Liz, and we discussed these ideas further. We focused on the two big ideas that came up during the sessions: putting together an association of KidLit bloggers, and working on a portal by which other people can find what they need within our community. There are a lot of advantages to each of these things (and they clearly fit together). If we have a more formal association, we gain credibility (I think). We could potentially raise money, one way or another, to put towards specific promotional activities, like sending people to conferences. A web portal makes it easier for people to find us, and find what they specifically need, and it potentially keeps us from duplicating individual efforts (like each trying to maintain a 200 site blogroll, for instance). There are lots of things to think about for both of these ideas - they're definitely still in the early brainstorming stage.
The bottom line of what's turned out to be a LONG post is that we have a tremendous amount of collective energy between all of us who write and blog about children's and young adult literature. We have the kind of energy that comes from being truly passionate about something, and wanting to work on it whenever you can. The Kidlitosphere has grown organically over the past several years, and is a wonderful and eclectic resource. There seems, from the people that I've talked to, to be a sense that it's time to start harnessing a bit of this collective energy, to work towards reaching a broader audience. And I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Share your feedback in the comments, or in the Kidlitosphere Yahoo group. Or, if you're shy, you can email me. Special thanks to everyone who made it this far through this lengthy post.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.