KidLitCon Recap: In Which I Wear My New Lucky Blue Shoes, Reveal My Secrets About Blog Series, and Get Sappy About Why I Do This

So my presentation with Kelly Jensen of STACKED at the Kidlitosphere Conference was this weekend and—spoiler—I think it went well!

For those of you who don’t know, the Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon, is a yearly conference for bloggers in young adult and children’s lit, and this year it was held in New York City, at the main branch of the New York Public Library, and hosted by Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production and Monica Edinger of Educating Alice. The Saturday conference I attended, organized by Betsy Bird, went so well, and was full of great panels and talks, and I have to say, it was a real honor to be a part of this. Especially presenting at Kelly’s side.

On Friday, the bloggers made pre-conference visits to different publishing houses for previews of their upcoming lists. I wasn’t there for that, but I did hear a rumor that my editor mentioned my own upcoming book at the Penguin preview, so yay!

My own presentation was at the Saturday conference, and though Kelly and I were on at noon, we had to be at the loading-dock entrance to the NYPL at 8am. (Note: This is even earlier than I get up for writing dates with one of my early-rising writing friends. So I was bleary, hadn’t eaten, and am shocked that I made it there on time… early, no less.) We were shown the room we’d be presenting in and were given the chance to test out our Prezi presentation, and all was well. Then we had time to kill, and nerves to keep at bay, until the conference officially started at 10am.

At this point—in the creepy upstairs seating section of a local deli/bodega—I changed out of my sneakers and into my new blue shoes. My bad ankle was bothering me, which was why the sneakers, but I needed to do it. For luck.

Here I am pulling up my pant legs for Kelly so she could photograph my lucky shoes. My pants did not look that ridiculous in their natural state.

(Photo thanks to Kelly Jensen)

Shoes? Miz Mooz. My favorite shoe place since I can’t justify/afford Fluevogs. Socks? Who knows. But it took me ages to find two that matched.

So, after nibbling on one-quarter of a toasted bagel and a banana, we left the bodega and went back to the NYPL in time for the doors to officially open. I took a deep breath. I made a name tag. I cheated on my assigned schedule and attended the presentation in the room before mine: “Community-Building On and Off the Blog: Secrets, Tips, and Cautionary Tales” from bloggers and authors at From the Mixed-Up Files, and got some great advice from the wonderful, engaging presenters… and probably would have heard more if I didn’t nervously keep going in and out of the room, reading over my presentation notes because we were on next.

Here we are in the minutes before the presentation began. I have no excuses for my face beyond to tell you I was ready to begin and I knew my nerves would go away once it did.

(Me and Kelly, five minutes before the presentation started. Photo thanks to Liz Burns.)

…And my nerves did go away as soon as I started talking.

Our presentation was “Getting Series-ous: How Blog Series Can Engage, Inspire, and Grow Your Audience”—in which Kelly and I talked about our own experiences planning and running blog series. I talked about how the What Scares You? blog series, which launched last October and was my first experience organizing a series of themed guest posts, got me inspired to keep doing this. And not only will there be a reprise of What Scares You? coming up in time for Halloween (look out for some great new guest blogs and interviews with YA authors who write dark, twisted, creepy books!), it was this experience with that first series that made me want to do the ones that followed: What Inspires You?, the YA Debut Interview Series, and of course the Turning Points series, kicked off in the very beginning by this incredible post by Gayle Forman that I find myself needing to read again and again.

On STACKED, Kelly has hosted series such as Author Twitterviews (featuring Emily Hainsworth this month), October Horror Month, Contemporary YA Week, and—my favorite of blog series all over the internet—So You Want to Read YA?—to which I contributed a post. I think we were the perfect two people—coming at it from the librarian/blogger perspective and the author perspective—to talk about how to go about doing a blog series of your own.

The presentation touched on how to come up with an idea for a series—something that gets people talking and writing and starts up an ongoing conversation (much like I think the Turning Points series does), as well as what’s of interest to the YA and kidlit community now, and that’s always shifting, so there are always new ideas coming.

We also discussed how to organize a series and arrange the order and promotion of the posts, and how to approach contributors including big-name authors. I talked about how, yes, I do cold-email big-name authors. Sometimes they say yes and I am thrilled. Sometimes they ignore me completely. And sometimes they write back about how busy they are, and I absolutely respect that and thank them for their time. It doesn’t hurt to ask, is my philosophy on that, and when authors say no or ignore my emails I don’t take it personally. I know how it feels to be overwhelmed, believe me.

But at the same time, I think it’s so very important to not just include names people would recognize. One of the big reasons I do these blog series is because I want to help support other authors. I want to share books and writers I love with the world, and I want to give other writers a venue for reaching a different, or bigger, audience.

Yes, our presentation slipped into the touchy-feely aspect of why we do these blog series: to connect to others, to be a part of the YA and kidlit community. That’s why I started this, and why I continue, even though, admittedly, organizing these series can be such a lot of work for me and I know I have a new book to write. The thing is, I don’t want to review books—that’s a conflict of interest for me, I believe, as someone so connected to other authors in a personal manner and as an author myself—and I don’t want to talk about myself all the time. Self-promotion is painful. (For example, I did a little of it this week and felt physically ill afterward. Not exaggerating. I still have a headache.) I’m a shy person and I don’t like people looking at me. But I love love love pointing the spotlight on other talented, deserving writers. I love showcasing other voices and stories and promoting someone else’s writing instead of my own.

So that’s why—as an author, as a reader, as a member of the YA community, and as a person—I like holding these blog series and hope to continue.

I sound sappy, don’t I?

That’s a little of what we talked about at the presentation. We actually had so much material, we had to cut out a few things and stop so there was time for questions. And what good, thought-provoking questions!

There were some great questions from the audience—thank you to everyone who came; you were so wonderfully engaged and willing to participate and I appreciated it so much!—including one asking if we edited the posts we include in our series before putting them up. I admitted one thing: I don’t ever edit for content. But I do, depending on how much time I have and how intense my own book deadlines, copyedit for typos and secretly fix the obvious ones to make the guest authors here look as good and mistake-free as possible. And I have been known to add serial commas to any posts on this blog. I guess guest-posters should be warned: I feel very strongly about serial commas.

The room we were presenting in—this is an interesting tidbit—was in the area formerly taken up by a reservoir before the city of New York went searching for other places to get their drinking water… and built reservoirs upstate, like the Ashokan, which is what the reservoir in Imaginary Girls was inspired by, and was my own local reservoir when I was a teenager.

Why am I telling you this? Because, since the room was set between the old stone walls of the former reservoir, it blocked all cell-phone service. At first this helped ease my nerves, because I realized people wouldn’t be able to tweet pictures of me making silly faces up on stage. But I guess some people were able to get online via the wifi, because here are a few tweets that came through during our presentation.

Here’s a hint of a new blog series I have launching this fall… More details on this soon…

Thank you to everyone who tweeted!

I also brought a stack of these to the presentation to give away at the end:

(All these signed ARCs were there to give away!)

I was thrilled at how quickly they were snapped up—and how there were none left over for me to carry home on the subway—and I hope people like the book! (Talk about nerves and getting a headache over them, yikes.)

After the presentation, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference, which included a fascinating discussion of “Critical Reviewing and ‘Niceness’”—and as an author who tries not to read her own reviews because I am hyper-sensitive and too easily destroyed by the faintest pinprick, I am far too biased to comment on this. There was also a presentation on “The Changing Relationship Between Reader and Writer,” with authors I admire: Gayle Forman, Alyssa Sheinmel, Michael Northrop, and Adele Griffin (all of whom have, or will soon!, be writing a guest blog for one of my series, interestingly enough).

And then of course there was the keynote by Maureen Johnson, who surprised us all by inviting a sensible friend up on stage with her. That sensible friend was Robin Wasserman, who I spent some time with at the Launch Pad Workshop this summer, and I’ve personally benefited from her wise, blunt, and knowledgeable advice on being an author and doing this whole publishing thing, so yes, she was a good choice. Also, the two of them together were hilarious.

I ended the day happy, drained, and feeling good about how the presentation went. And I’d definitely recommend KidLitCon as a great small and more personal conference to attend for bloggers—and authors who want to be a part of it. Rumors are it may be in Austin next year.

Want more detailed recaps of KidLitCon 2012?

• Here’s Kelly Jensen’s recap of the whole conference, including our presentation together

• Here’s a publisher’s perspective from Lee & Low Books

• Here’s Betsy Bird’s recap, in which she’s modest about what a fantastic conference she put together and celebrates that no one was eaten by a bear (true! as far as I know)

And if you want a peek at our Prezi presentation—take a look right here! 

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