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KidLit 08 and the New Minders of Make-Believe

Had I not finished Minders of Make-Believe: idealists, entrepreneurs, and the shaping of American children’s literature mere days before attending KidLit 08: Bridging the Worlds of Books and Blogs, I would’ve experienced the conference differently. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed the sessions and the people I met just as much, but I wouldn’t have seen them/us, as I did, representing a sort of living, not-yet-written next chapter in Marcus’s history.

As I read Minders of Make-Believe, I kept thinking that in this –sorry– small world of literature for youth in the U.S., we’ve always been fighting the same fights, worrying about the same things. A few examples:

What stories are “appropriate,” and who can tell them?
Whose voices are heard and whose are left out?
How far off are the tastes of librarians, publishers, and reviewers from the tastes of actual young people?
Are tie-in products a good idea? (Did you know that Disney made Ferdinand the Bull toys in 1936?)
How do new technologies affect publishing? (Radio, television, and movies all shook things up way before we started debating about videogames and the Internet.)

At the conference, when the book bloggers discussed how authors should or should not approach them, they reminded me of editors or agents talking about the protocol of querying manuscripts. “Don’t just send something without knowing the kind of books I review.” “Don’t email to ask why the book you sent hasn’t been reviewed yet.” “Don’t send something addressed to “Dear Blogger.”

I thought a lot all day about the increasing importance of online reviews. They’re accessible and persistent, and it’s so easy to interact with the reviewer. I’ve thought for a long time that the increased ease of interaction between authors and readers that comes with the Web is influencing publishing, and will influence it even more strongly as the next generation of writers, for whom that ease of interaction is a given, comes of age. But yesterday was the first time that I really recognized how much reviewers are part of that shift, as well.

I liked Greg Pincus‘s point about “setting yourself up for a happy accident” by using clear, descriptive post titles and subject tags to make it easier for people to find you when they’re searching for whatever it is you’re writing about. As you know if you’ve been reading me for a while, I am thus far a tag-free blogger, but he certainly presented good reasons for taking the time to tag. We’ll see if those good reasons are sufficient to overcome my disinclination.

The session at which I took the most notes was, appropriately, Sara Zarr‘s fantastic presentation about balancing the personal and professional on your author blog. My notes, verbatim:

— Your blog is your most controllable publicity — you are your own PR rep
— Don’t be shy about sharing good news, and don’t advertise your bad news
— Find your own private, uncensored writers’ community, separate from your blog, for venting
— Be a champion of other authors
— Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your editor or your agent to see
— With both personal AND professional news, ask if you can share before posting
— “High risk” posts on hot-button topics can bring high rewards, but COMPOSE them

As much as I enjoyed both the official sessions and the conversations in between, it was a long, overwhelming day, and I fled after the group photos.

But I’m very glad I decided to go.

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  • Laini Taylor
    September 29, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Hi Sara! So nice to meet you — thank you for the book, I’m really looking forward to reading it, and to getting together soon with this newly (to me) revealed community of local writers and artists. I was hoping to introduce my husband to you, but the night got away. Next time!

    As for what you said above, I’ve been a “tag-free blogger” too, and I think I need to do something about that. I imagine it’s pretty simple once you get in the habit.


  • Lynn E. Hazen
    September 29, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Hi Sara,
    I like your examples of comparisons & similarities between protocols of approaching editors & blogger-reviewers. So true! As for being a tag-free blogger, sometimes I like writing the tags more than I enjoy writing the content of the post–like each is a little haiku-esque synopsis!

  • Sara
    September 29, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Laini — next time, yes indeed. I wonder what neighborhoods most folks live in? I’ll put in a vote to have the first gathering someplace in NE…oh, and hey, I just put your first book on hold; looking forward to reading it as well. :)

    Lynn — the tags-as-haiku notion definitely has some appeal! Hmm…

  • Chris Fletcher
    September 30, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Hi, Sara! I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet at the conference. I read Empress of the World last month (Kira at A Children’s Place recommended it to me and what Kira recommends, I buy–she hasn’t been wrong yet!) I read it, I loved it, I’m recommending it to everyone I know. I just put Rules for Hearts on hold at the library, can’t wait to read it next.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the changing dynamic between authors, readers, and reviewers on the internet. Traditional print reviews are still important to authors, not to mention publishers and award committees…but are they important to YA readers? I don’t think so. Not like online reviewing, which as you point out is not only accessible but interactive. With online reviews, there’s much less a feeling of proclamations from on high, and much more a feeling of community and conversation. Which, being somewhat anti-authoritarian myself, I’m all for!

    Anyway, great post. I hope to meet you at a Portland Kidlit shindig one of these days!

  • Sara
    September 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Hey Chris! So glad to know that you enjoyed Empress, and I hope you like Rules too! (I’ll have to thank Kira the next time I’m at Children’s Place.) Going to Kidlit has certainly increased my reading pile — I just put Ten Cents a Dance on hold. :)

    On reviewing: print reviews are certainly also still important to librarians making purchasing decisions. I wonder if anyone out there gets to buy books for a library collection based on positive online reviews?

    Right there with you on the anti-authoritarianism. And yes, I hope Laini sets up that first get-together soon! :)

  • Chris Fletcher
    September 30, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Good point about print reviews and librarians…I should have remembered that! ;)

  • johanna wright
    October 1, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Hi Sara! It was great to meet you too, thank you so much for my episode of Flytrap…I love it! And thank you for these great notes on the conference, especially Sara Zarr’s presentation. I missed that one, and you collected some great tips.

    Hope to see you at a kidlit drink night!

  • Sara
    October 2, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Johanna, yay! So glad you liked Flytrap. We should definitely confer in future re: circuses. :)

  • Dawn
    October 6, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    Ferdinand the Bull toys! I want one. (google google google). No, scratch that. I want the cookie jar!

  • jone
    October 8, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Hi Sara, I did not get to chat with you much but so glad you came to the conference. Maybe at one of the kidlit drink nights we will meet up. It was pretty intense with info, wasn’t it?

  • Sara
    October 8, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Yes, I’m glad I did too — and you’re right, it was an intense day. Thanks for all your work putting it together, and I hope we have a chance to talk more soon!

  • Sarah
    October 9, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Hi Sara–it was great to meet you at the conference and talk about spousal comic production! :) I enjoyed Greg’s lecture, too, though I seem to mainly use titles and tags that are flip and totally non-straightforward…oh well.

  • Sarah
    October 9, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Oh. Also, I really love your site design!

  • Sara
    October 10, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Sarah, thanks! I just went to yours and read the Roethke poem, lovely and sad.

    Thumbs up also on the credit crunch cartoon and the various alerts from Einstein — I said in an earlier comment that my to-read pile had certainly grown after the conference; the RSS feeds are stacking up, too!