I'm back after spending four days in Austin for KidLitCon. I lived in Austin for 3 1/2 years a while back, and I am always happy to have an excuse to visit. Of course I would go almost anywhere to attend KidLitCon, but it was a bonus that it was held somewhere that I wanted to visit anyway. An extra bonus was that I got to spend some time with close friends who live there.
For me, and I've stolen this idea from Leila at Bookshelves of Doom, what sums up the KidLitCon, and the Kidlitosphere in general, is the phrase: "kindred spirits". I go to KidLitCon every year so that I can hang out with my children's book-loving tribe. Something that became clear during this year's conference is that what distinguishes the Kidlitosphere from other book blogger communities is that, much as we love the books, most of us are out there blogging, week after week, because we think that it's important to connect kids with great books. We share a common passion for children's books and literacy.
What this means when we come together for a conference is that we're not having sessions about how to "monetize" our blogs, or retire from our day jobs, or get our hands on more sought-after ARCs. No, what we talk about is:
- Community (welcome speech by Pam Coughlan from MotherReader)
- Authenticity, and understanding your own mission and philosophy of blogging (keynote by Cynthia Leitich Smith).
- Overcoming burnout by getting back to your blogging roots (Sarah Stevenson and me).
- Ways that you as a blogger/reviewer/author can work to increase diversity in children's publishing (Lee Wind).
- Ways that you as an author can build relationships with people who may help you to spread the word about your books, rather than trying any "hard sell" tactics Molly Blaisdell).
- The difference between writing a negative review and writing critical reviews, and why critical reviews are important (and exhausting) (Kelly Jensen and Kim Francisco from Stacked)
- Things authors and illustrators need to know about digital art (Laura Jennings).
- How authors and illustrators can become involved in the online community of children's and young adult literature (MotherReader)
- How to spice up your blog with HTML and CSS (Sheila Ruth).
- Reviewing middle grade books when we, the reviewers, are not the target audience for said books (Charlotte Taylor, Melissa Fox, and Katy Manck).
- The past, present, and future of the Kidlitosphere, and how we can keep our community a welcoming, connected space (Sarah Stevenson, Jen Bigheart, Leila Roy, Sheila Ruth, and Lee Wind).
Instead of taking notes during the sessions that I attended, I was live-tweeting the conference. While I could theoretically share all of those tweets with you here, I prefer to send you off to follow the #KidLitCon13 hashtag on Twitter. Just set the view to "all" instead of "top" and scroll down to November 9th, and read upward. You will find many useful tips, like:
- For each post you can ask yourself "What is the takeaway?" @CynLeitichSmith #kidlitcon13
- "Don't drink and blog." @CynLeitichSmith #kidlitcon13
- Need to get to a point where we realize that each of us is The Other, the diversity in each of us. #kidlitcon13 (from @Book_Nut, during @LeeWind's presentation)
For more details about the sessions and events around KidLitCon, here are some excellent recaps:
- Charlotte at Charlotte's Library says: "The main thing I learn every time I go to Kidlitcon is how much fun it can be to talk to people. Sure, I talk to my family and co-workers and friends in real life, but rarely do I talk to them with passionate interest about really interesting things like children's books and blogging and candy crush."
- Kelly at Stacked says: "If I had to give three words that summed up the biggest themes talked about during the event, they would be diversity, authenticity, and burnout."
- Sherry from Semicolon shares 10 things she learned at KidLitCon. My favorite: "Sheila Ruth (Wands and Worlds) and Charlotte (Charlotte’s Library) are NOT the same person in disguise, but they are both authorities on fantasy and science fiction".
- Sarah says at Finding Wonderland: "You are all the most lovely people. We have such an amazing community, I can't believe it sometimes, but Kidlitcon always reminds me how incredible it is."
- Melissa at Book Nut says: "Kidlit Bloggers are Awesome. Seriously. They are fun, and smart, and interesting. And I want to bring them all back to Kansas and have them move in next door so I can hang out with them all of the time. I knew this already, but it's worth reiterating."
- Liviania (aka Allie) says at In Bed with Books (a brief post): "honestly, it was just nice to meet people. Jennifer Donovan, as it turns out, lives close to where I work. Molly Blaisdell has a book coming out in 2014, PLUMB CRAZY, that sounds right up my alley. Plus, there's nothing like a group of people that knows each other's blog names better than their real names."
- Pam focuses more on the social aspects than the KidLitCon sessions in this post at MotherReader, saying: "I was able to talk with Sherry Early, who I met for the first time that weekend. She confirmed the feeling I'd had all weekend, that the smaller scale had made it so easy for people to really get to know each other."
- At 5 Minutes for Books, Jennifer says: "There is a difference between this and other blogging conferences because it really is about a common love — books." My feeling exactly!
- At Confessions of a Bibliovore, Maureen says: "I am not a person who loves meeting people, you have to understand. But I always, always love meeting people at KidlitCon, because I know without being told--by the fact of their presence--that they are kindred spirits". Do you sense a common theme here?
- At Big Hair and Books, Rosemond Cates says: "I met so many kindred spirits who love children's literature as much as I do!"
- At Wands and Worlds, Sheila says: "The people were the best thing about the conference. It was great seeing old friends, and I met such wonderful and interesting new people."
- At I'm Here, I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?, Lee Wind shares the top 7 lessons that he learned at #KidLitCon (including one from me!).
- Emilia from Flippy-Do Reads! says: "it was a successful and lovely conference", and discusses several sessions in more detail.
- ... more to come. If I missed your post, let me know and I will add it.
My session with Sarah on overcoming blogger burnout was well-received. We could perhaps have spent a bit less time on the reasons for burnout, and a bit more time on our tactics for overcoming it, but we did share a nice little one-page handout (compliments of Sarah). When our schedules allow, we'll turn that into an Infographic. I'll also share more details about the session (including our recommended burnout-recovery tactics) later this week.
While I found all of the sessions that I attended interesting and rejuvenating, the real reason I go to KidLitCon is to spend time with kindred spirits. (See photo to the left, which Sarah took, of Pam and me manning the registration table.)
Highlights from this year's conference included meeting Leila, Sherry, Jennifer, Katy, Maria, Kim, and Rosemond for the first time, after visiting with them on blogs and Twitter over the months and years. I also enjoyed meeting new blogging friends, like Daniela, Allie, Emilia, Jen, Holly, Julie, Molly, and Heather, and finally meeting authors that I've wanted to meet, like Margo Rabb, P.J. Hoover, and of course Cynthia and her husband, Greg. (Photo is of the entrance to our Friday night function room at El Mercado.)
But what brings me back to KidLitCon year after year, is spending time with my peeps, like Pam, Sarah, Lee, Sheila, Charlotte, Maureen, Melissa, Camille, Paula, Chris, and Kelly. (Some of whom are shown in the Sunday breakfast photo to the left, which I lifted from Pam.) I am especially grateful for Pam, without whom this year's KidLitCon would never have gotten off the ground. I can't say it enough. Spending time with people who "get it" -- who share my passion for getting the word out about great children's and YA books, and getting each of those books into the hands of the right reader at the right time -- is a gift.
Stay tuned for more KidLitCon recaps. And before you know it, we'll be planning for KidLitCon 2014. I hope to see you all there!