What always happens to me when I travel is that I return to find myself hopelessly behind. And much as I love my blog, I generally find it necessary to catch up first with my paying job, and then with my personal life (little things, like making sure there's food in the house). Thus I find myself, five days after KidLitCon 2009, finally sitting down to write about it. And I feel like I'm very late to the game.
Google Blog Search shows 65 posts referencing "kidlitcon" since Saturday. I am trying to read them all. Liz B has been recapping individual sessions at Tea Cozy. Pam Coughlan has a three part post at MotherReader chock full of links and details. Pam also has a placeholder post in which others have been leaving links to their writeups in the comments. Greg Pincus has posted the transcript of the Twitter hashtag #kidlitcon at The Happy Accident. And so on. What could I possibly have to say that hasn't already been said? Well, I'm not sure, but I did take some notes, and I do have a few pictures. (Click each photo for a larger version.)
Here is Pam with Michelle from GalleySmith. Pam kicked off the conference by talking about The Blog Within, in which she encouraged each of us to think about why we're blogging, what we have to share that's unique, and how we're going to revisit and strengthen our missions. Then Pam and Michelle talked together about Best Practices, Ideas, and Tips for Building a Better Blog. Here are a few tidbits that I gleaned from their session:
- Don't read and discuss books that you aren't interested in just to build audience.
- Ask questions in your posts, to get people to engage in conversation with you.
- Remember that everything you write is out there. Keep in mind that what you say will be available forever.
- Always link when you mention someone, and be sure to use Anchor Linking instead of regular links. Anchor Linking, as Michelle described in a recent GalleySmith post called Anchors Aweigh, is when you take care to place your link on the most descriptive part of the sentence. So, if I'm going to say "I learned more at this GalleySmith post", I'll make the linked text be "GalleySmith post" instead of "this". I'm generally pretty good about linking, but I learned from Michelle that a bit more care in which text I highlight with the link will help other people's search engine rankings. Good to know!
- Taking a bit of extra time to include a description of your post, as well as keywords, is a way to help your own search engine rankings (for those interested in such things).
- Everything in your online persona should be consistent, in terms of visuals, name, etc. This is part of branding yourself.
- Make sure that your most important content is "above the fold" on your blog, not buried deep down in your sidebar. This especially includes contact information.
- Be part of the community beyond your own blog (this was a key theme throughout the entire conference).
The next session was a split session. I attended the panel for reviewers, by Melissa from Book Nut, Jennie from Biblio File, Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect and Mary Lee from A Year of Reading. I did not, alas, take a picture of the panelists. And I didn't take a ton of notes, because I already know about Poetry Friday and Nonfiction Monday and the like. But here are a few tidbits:
- Melissa recommends participating in weekly memes like the Weekly Geeks, Library Loot, etc, to build bridges to the larger book blogging community.
- Jennie talked about what to do if you want to become a book reviewer for professional journals.
- Tricia mentioned the tip of including the words "book review" in the title of book review posts, so that if you auto-publish your link to Twitter, people looking for book reviews can find it.
- Someone suggested that it's easier for people to read blog posts onscreen if they use shorter paragraphs.
- I also talked, from the audience, about the Children's Book Review wiki that Kelly Herold set up. For those unfamiliar with the wiki, this is a place where blog reviewers of children's and young adult books can link to their reviews. You have to be approved as an editor to add your reviews. Just follow the link to "create an account" on PBWorks. There is also a KidLit Interview wiki that Andrea Ross set up.
- Someone in the audience asked reviewers to try to give an idea at the start of a review about whether or not the book is good. Kind of an early "thumbs up" or "thumbs down". This turned into a bit of a discussion about including ratings on book reviews. The latter seems to be something that many people are moving away from.
- There was also a recommendation to include full posts in your blog's feed (or at least a significant section of the post), instead of just including a blurb about the post. I second this recommendation heartily. There are very few blogs for which I'll read a sentence in the reader, and routinely click through to read the full post.
The last session before lunch was a discussion between our own Pam Coughlan and Mary Engle, Associate Director for Advertising Practices from the FTC. Kudos to Pam for asking the FTC to send someone to address our issues with the new blog endorsement guidelines. I took very detailed notes here, but Michelle from GalleySmith and Liz B from Tea Cozy both beat me to thorough writeups. So I'll just refer you to their posts, and tell you what I've decided to do, in light of Ms. Engle's talk.
- I'm going to continue accepting review copies from authors and publishers, and continue to disclose the source of each book reviewed. Technically, since I am an "independent reviewer" rather than an endorser of a product, this isn't necessary. However, I think that this is the right thing to do for my audience.
- One thing I am going to keep an eye on, in holding on to my "independent reviewer" status is reviewing books from a variety of sources (library, bookstore, etc.) and a variety of publishers.
- I'm going to start including a disclosure on every blog post in which I link to Amazon's affiliate program (as Liz has also done). Ms. Engle made the valid point that not all readers who click through from my blog and make a purchase at Amazon will realize, from the structure of the link itself, that I get a small commission from Amazon. I agree that it's the right thing for readers to understand that.
- The FTC will be publishing responses to Frequently Asked Questions soon (target is within the next couple of weeks). In the meantime, if you have questions, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that they will not respond directly to individual emails. However, if they see a question popping up repeatedly, the response is likely to make it into the FAQ.
After lunch, and the informal Meet the Authors session (Pam Bachorz is an even bigger Red Sox fan than I am, if you can believe that), I attended Greg Pincus' session on Social Media. Greg talked about using social media tools to build community, and about the great things that can happen as a result of having a strong, connected community. I especially liked his four-part action plan, PFFT!
- Prepare: Ask why you're blogging, and what you're seeking to accomplish. Know your goals, and track them.
- Find Your Home: Your blog is your home. Invite people there by commenting. If you aren't inviting people in, there's not much point to having a blog at all.
- Filter: Use tools like blog readers and Google alerts and Twitter platforms to save time, and filter the traffic of most interest to you. Find broader communities that will also be interested in what you're doing.
- Travel: Engage and connect and be visible. You are what you say and do.
Greg concluded with some general tips. I'm not using quotes, because I didn't copy them down word for word, but these are all his beliefs (beliefs that he supports through his own online activities every day). Social media is a system of trust and reputation. Linking is important - it builds shared trust. Groups have more power than the individual. Reputation is critical. Add value wherever you can. I think that this session inspired most of the audience.
Next was the panel Authors, Bloggers, Publishers (and ARCs), featuring Liz B. from Tea Cozy, Laura Lutz from Pinot and Prose (and HarperCollins), Sheila Ruth from Wands and Worlds (and Imaginator Press), Paula Chase-Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. I must admit that I didn't take a lot of notes during this session, because I was gearing up for my own panel (immediately following). But here are a few tidbits:
- Sheila emphasized maintaining professionalism in your blogging.
- You have to actively be a member of a community to know things (like which bloggers review which types of books).
- There was a recommendation for bloggers to start more two-way conversations with publishers about the books that they like to receive (and don't like to receive).
- The biggest theme that came through from this panel was how many different hats many of us wear (blogger, publisher, author, writer, reviewer, librarian, etc.), and how connected we all are.
The final formal session of the day was the panel that I organized, on Coming Together, Giving Back, and Building Community and Literacy. I don't have a picture of our panel (though I've included a photo of me and Terry), and I was too focused to take notes, but I am grateful to Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub, Ernestine Walls Benedict from RIF (representing Rasco from RIF) and Gina Montefusco from PBS (representing Booklights) for talking about community and literacy with me.
My thinking with this session was that ultimately, most of us in the Kidlitosphere are here because we want to connect kids with books. The panel was about ways that people have been banding together to accomplish more tangible things in this area than any of us can accomplish alone (Cybils, Guys Lit Wire, Readergirlz, Share A Story-Shape a Future, etc). Ernestine and Gina were able to give us perspective from their online and offline experiences with RIF and PBS. One specific thing that we talked about was summed up well by Terry in her recap post: "ways we need to move beyond computers and blogs to reach the 25 million US kids who don’t have access to books beyond school. As you may have heard, Laurel Snyder proposed a “crazy spectacle” where in all 50 states, people fill 20 malls, and read with kids all at the same time. We all loved the idea, and as Ernestine says, "You need to imagine it, then claim it." We are claiming it! So stay tuned for more information."
After a much needed break (at least for me), we regrouped for a cocktail hour, dinner, and charity raffle. To the left is a picture of the whole group (you'll need to click to enlarge it to see anything). I won a prize in the raffle, one that MotherReader's younger daughter suggested that I try out for, so I was happy about that.
We also took a group photo of the Booklights team: (clockwise from upper left) me, Terry Doherty, Susan Kusel, Gina Montefusco, Ann Nealy, and Pam Coughlan. You'd be surprised at how difficult it was to pull all six of us away from our various conversations. The only team member missing from the photo is Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti. We missed her!
And although I wasn't great about getting photos with people, I did manage to get one with Maureen from Confessions of a Bibliovore (who I ran into everywhere all weekend, including on the first leg of the flight home). I think that Maureen has been at just about every KidLit-related conference that I've attended. I hope I never have to go to one without her.
I also got to chat a bit after dinner with Karen and Bill from Literate Lives. As with many people, I could have talked with them all day (had time permitted). Next year, I'm going to be better about taking a photo with everyone I talk to. OK, that's impossible. But I'm going to try. I wish I had photos with long-time blog friends, met for the first time, like Abby (the) Librarian, Charlotte from Charlotte's Library, Sheila Ruth from the Cybils, Anamaria from Books Together, Melissa from Book Nut, Jama Rattigan, Sarah Rettger from Archimedes Forgets, Jennie from BiblioFile, Wendy from Six Boxes of Books, Sue Corbett, and Laurel Snyder. Maybe next year, guys. It was great to see people again who I had met at previous conferences, and to meet new people for the first time. My universal regret is that I couldn't talk with each person for longer. Even though I was drained by the end, I wished that the whole thing had been longer, and allowed more time.
This last photo captures how I think Pam and I both felt by the end of the conference: happy, but utterly exhausted. Still, it was well worth the trip. I look forward to next year! Many thanks to Pam for arranging such a wonderful event.