kidlitcon 09 part two: your inner blogger, advice for blogging authors, and social media tips


         Pamela Coughlan, Conference Organizer

In KidLitCon 09 Part One, I featured some of the brilliant and amazing authors and book reviewers I met, because they were really my primary reason for going. It’s always fun (and sometimes surprising) to finally see the people behind the blogs.

Maureen Kearney blogs at Confessions of a Bibliovore. What secret is Cornelius sharing?

Speaking of brilliant and amazing, a big thank you to Pam Coughlan (MotherReader) for making the conference possible through all her hard work, perseverance, good humor, patience, and ingeniousness. In addition to setting up all the inspiring and informative panel discussions, she pulled off the coup of all coups by inviting a representative from the FTC to address our widespread panic concerns about how their new Endorsement Guidelines will affect book bloggers. Suffice to say, a collective sigh of relief has now blanketed the kidlitosphere because of Mary Engle’s reassuring words.

The bywords of the conference were Purpose, Passion, Professionalism, Participation, Perseverance — and Connection! Here is how I reacted to the three conference events that resonated with me the most:


To start things off, Pam asked us to jot down answers to a few probing questions related to Purpose. Every blogger should reflect on these questions from time to time — reassess, re-prioritize, and re-energize. What’s working? What needs improvement? Don’t let things get stale and rote. Here are my responses:

Why are you blogging? 

Writing practice, engage in dialogue with other kidlit enthusiasts, research topics of interest, gain confidence, learn how to write more spontaneously for a "public" readership on a regular basis, discover more food-related books, develop critical thinking skills (book reviews), support fellow writers, explore blogging as an art form.

What is unique to you that you can bring to your blog?

Though I share with most other bloggers a love of reading, writing, art, poetry, and music, I most want to document that love as it relates to my passion for food. Special or unique content? The fascinating things I learn from culling through literary cookbooks and studying culinary history. Quirky discoveries related to my alphabet obsession. Pub Day Celebration Soups. Fun posts featuring some of the teddy bears from my personal collection.

Who are you blogging for?

Fellow writers, parents, teachers, librarians interested in me and/or my books, picture book, alphabet and bear fans, anyone interested in food-literature connections. Anyone who eats to live or lives to eat.

Where would you place your blog within the larger community?

I find it difficult to categorize my blog. I guess it’s equal parts author blog, review blog, foodie blog.

When will you revisit your mission?

I’m constantly doing this, but will take an even harder look once a year, on my blog birthday.

How do the answers to these questions support or change what you are doing now?

This blog will always be a work in progress. I will remain open to refining my focus and adding new features when good ideas come along. My mantra is simple: "take the reader by the hand and show him what you love."

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOUR BOOK: WRITING IDEAS FOR BLOGGING AUTHORS (A panel discussion featuring Wendie Old, Sara Lewis Holmes, Caroline Hickey and Laurel Snyder)

Wendie, Sara, Caroline and Laurel.

Like Wendie Old, I never thought I would ever blog, but once I screwed up the courage, I was excited at the prospect of being free to write whatever I wanted, to create a blog that would allow me to share my passions (writing-related or not), and to take full responsibility for what I posted. I think everyone on the panel agreed that the best kind of author promotion is to simply be yourself, be consistent, and blog about things that truly matter to you.

Mary Bowman-Kruhm and Wendie Old show off their books.

Like Sara, I read various blogs for different reasons — some for daily inspiration, some to learn about other writers’ processes, some for industry news, some for book reviews, still others for entertainment or sheer love of the blogger’s writing style or voice. It’s all good.

         Author Pam Bachorz smooches with Cornelius.

When considering one’s own content, it’s important to maintain professionalism and mind boundaries. Sara cited the example of discussing at the outset how much she and her editor (who also blogs), should reveal about their work together during the revision process.

Then there’s the whole issue of authors reviewing books, which can sometimes be a little tricky. Caroline decided to stop reviewing because once she said a few negative things about a book, only to find herself in the awkward situation of serving on a panel with the author. How objective can an author/reviewer be when many of the books are written by friends? Sara posts responses to what she reads, rather than reviews. Most agreed that it’s also good to post responses to reviews of their own books, good or bad (use common sense and discretion). Never blog when you’re angry and never bad mouth your publisher!

The importance of disclosure and transparency came up on several occasions throughout the day, and naturally this is good advice for authors who review books. It’s crucial for any blogger to gain the trust and respect of readers by disclosing special relationships or conflicts of interest. 

Laurel brought up the interesting point of children’s book blogs feeling a little too safe and careful. Again, a tricky issue for
authors — should we avoid controversy at all costs or bravely stand up for our convictions? Because a book reflects not only the work of the author — but also the editor, most likely an agent, ultimately the publishing house as a whole, authors have to be careful about what they say on their blogs. It’s so easy for a seemingly harmless remark to be misconstrued, and then it’s out there for all eternity. Laurel shared funny stories about some of her past blogs. She’s been quite fearless about revealing aspects of her personal life. It’s good to keep in mind your own comfort level — good author blogs are accurate reflections of personality.

Cynthia Cotten blogs at Writing It Down.

Caroline stated the importance of showing both the ups and downs of a writer’s career, using the example of a book she’d written that her agent didn’t like. She ended up abandoning the project altogether. Struggle, disappointment, and frustration are all part of the process — things fellow writers can identify with and the general public may find interesting and/or surprising. As always, use discretion about how much you share and how you present the situation.

When all else fails, post pictures of dogs, cats, and Alan Rickman! 

Most authors blog with the underlying purpose of promoting their work. My own preference is for those author blogs that are not totally about school visits, bookstore appearances, awards and starred reviews. I am more apt to pick up a book by someone who has taken the time to share who they are as human beings, engage with others, voice honest opinions, and express an interest in something other than "me, me, me." Insights about writing process are interesting only if they go beyond daily word counts, whining, and details which are too specific to have any meaning for someone not familiar with a current WIP. A blog that candidly and consistently displays the passions of its writer is the most effective promotional tool.

(Sara Lewis Holmes has extended this conversation at her blog, Read*Write*Believe.)


       Greg blogs at GottaBook and The Happy Accident.

In my opinion, Greg’s one hour slideshow talk was the highlight of the conference. He offered a wealth of practical information via an entertaining, dynamic, compelling presentation. It was fascinating listening to how he started his blog, GottaBook, and steadily built his audience, extending his reach far beyond the kidlit world to other communities who might be interested in his personal passions.

It’s all about connection: reading and commenting on other blogs, becoming emotionally invested in what others are experiencing, assigning proper credit, exchanging links, and selectively using Twitter and Facebook as tools to amplify your blog posts. He stressed the importance of not becoming overwhelmed but remaining in control — making the various social networking tools work to help you achieve your goals, whether they are to establish a platform for yourself as a writer, kick up your promotional efforts, or pull in new blog readers.

I like the idea that he tracks where his visitors are coming from, and then goes back to their blogs. Each gesture, no matter how small, can build towards something bigger. He takes every opportunity to connect, and is living proof that "happy accidents" (in his case a two-book deal with Scholastic) can indeed occur if the stage is properly set.  


With thoughts of Search Engine Optimization, Avatars, Gravatars, Technorati Authority, and Anchor Links swirling around my brain, I know there’s probably a lot more I can and should do. I fully agree that one should blog as part of a community, give back whenever possible, and strive to offer content (regular features) that can’t be found elsewhere.

I also believe in reading other blogs on a regular basis and commenting whenever possible (with the best comments being those that offer something of value, whether it be an informed opinion or expertise).

Having said that, and envisioning what an ideal blog could be, I do know that one important issue, a crucial factor for all bloggers, wasn’t mentioned at any of the panel discussions I attended –TIME. Creating interesting, entertaining, and informative content takes time. So does trying to keep up with hundreds of blogs and leaving comments of value that might prompt others to seek out your blog in turn.

Authors, in addition to their real-life jobs, parenting, writing their books, speaking at conferences, leading workshops, doing school visits, etc., must somehow maintain their blogs, too. Many on Live Journal have abandoned their blogs in favor of Facebook and Twitter, seemingly because of time constraints, and the need to keep abreast of industry news with an eye out for opportunity. In an ideal world, there would be time to negotiate all the different forms of social media to our best advantage. Greg inspired me to consider all the possibilities. But he also said to remain in control.

I think this is the main reason I’ve poured most of my "networking" time into writing this blog. I can’t control the vagaries of the publishing world any more than I can meaningfully establish any semblance of "popularity" on FB or Twitter. But I can control what and how much I write here, which is probably more accurate a picture of who I am than a hundred FB updates put together. Ironic that I started out trying to blog about my passions, and after two years, blogging itself has become a passion.

Truthfully, I find it hard to understand those writers who are not taking advantage of this unique opportunity. It’s a kick to discover that some of your readers are not part of your so-called "intended audience." It’s a kick to know that a review or essay you wrote two years ago is still accessible to anyone around the world at any time. Not the same as keeping a private journal, not the same as writing a book or story for print publication, not the same as emailing, and a whole lot more personal than a Tweet, the blog’s full potential has yet to be realized. I think kidlit bloggers, who are just a bit more willing to embrace and support each other through thick and thin (and who, for the most part, remain among the most polite and "civilized" of bloggers), should be the ones to lead the charge, don’t you? 

         Anamaria Anderson blogs at BooksTogether.


For more about KidLitCon 09, check in with Pam at MotherReader, who is posting her own series of reports (Part I, Part II, Part III), as well as a Roundup of links from around the kidlitosphere.

Click here for Jenn Hubbard’s guest post about the conference at Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Greg has posted the KidLitCon Twitter Chat transcript at his Social Media blog, The Happy Accident. He also has a nice post about the Value of Community — Online and Offline.

Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


22 thoughts on “kidlitcon 09 part two: your inner blogger, advice for blogging authors, and social media tips

  1. Oh my goodness!! There is so much here. I have to read it about 3 times. I have to admit to NOT assessing my blog and it’s purpose and audience and such nearly often enough. I know I want it to feel … cohesive… but often I just feel lucky to get a post out, no matter the category it fits into. I totally aspire to a blog like yours, Jama, that is so thematic and fun and organized and generous. But in the meantime, I’m here to learn…


  2. KidLitCon

    Jama – Thanks for this! All of us who were too far away to attend had our fingers crossed that there would be some good blogging about it. And here you are, helping us out!

    I got to hear Greg Pincus speak in Seattle about Social Media and just loved how non-judgmental he was – he really wants you to be doing things for the right reasons (the right reasons for you) and he believes strongly in community(and in serendipity!) A nice guy all around, with a lovely sense of humor!


  3. There was a lot to process from the Conference. Like anything else, there’s always more to learn and things to aspire to. Sara mentioned your blog as a place to go for inspiration and I totally agree. I think we get something special from each person who takes the time to blog. That’s why “community” is so important, because collectively we’re very powerful!


  4. Re: KidLitCon

    Glad you got to hear Greg — he definitely makes me wish I was more of a social media geek. But you’re right — he was nonjudgmental and realizes everyone has to do what makes sense for them.


  5. I bow down to you, Jama. This is a stellar report–thorough and honest and thoughtful. I’m going back to my post from Monday and adding a link to your post so more people will find it.

    Also, I agree with your defense of why you blog rather than tweet. However, I’m tweeting a link to this post for you! See? It all works out. Those of us who tweet can be at the service of those who are busy taking copious, fabulous notes and photographs.

    Oh, and Greg was the total Slam Dunk of the conference.


  6. I can see the benefits of Twitter, but I’m afraid of getting addicted and adding yet another compulsion to my plate. Would be nice to be able to do it all. Thanks for your tweet and link!!


  7. What an inspiring and thorough post. It’s going to give me much to think about. I’m not as focused as you by any stretch, but like you, I enjoy the blogging and that’s my main reason, with a big part of that enjoyment being the community here. I wouldn’t want to analyze what I do too much or I’d be afraid of stopping, but it’s probably good to take a look from time to time at ways to change.

    I wish I could have been there! But thank you so much for the great report.


  8. Tanita Says 🙂

    For all that Pam thought she was unprepared for this event, from the speakers to the panels to the tour of the Library of Congress (!!) I’ve heard it was all well-planned, and there was tons of information. As this post evinces!

    Definitely a writer our contribution to the blogosphere is going to have to be different. I don’t use my blog the way I should, but I do try and connect with people, reply to all comments and keep conversation going… but I have more to do, I can see.


  9. You’re welcome, Jeannine. I know exactly what you mean by over analyzing — while I like to hear what others are doing, it’s sometimes overwhelming and you can lose some of that instinctive, intuitive, organic way of approaching this type of writing. I tend to overthink and over-write anyway. I admit to having my doubts about going to the conference out of sheer intimidation. If you think I’m focused — well, I’m a veritable slacker compared to some of the high profile book reviewers!

    Like anything else we do, we each must find our own way, do what and as much as we can with the time we have, hoping to learn something and in the process, help/serve others in some way.


  10. Thanks for the kind words, Jama (and Julie and Sara). Time is DEFINITELY a key factor in all of this. I mean, really, if we had infinite time we’d all do a lot more connecting and reading and tweeting and writing! But we don’t, and this is why we all not only have to make choices but also just plain old accept that we’re not gonna do it all.

    I also agree with you that we’re still learning the “power” of the blog… and share your question about why more people aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity it offers. Then again, it could be simply an issue of time!

    Great meeting you in DC, and looking forward to further cyber connections until the next time we meet!


  11. Re: Tanita Says 🙂

    You are the queen of blog readers and commenters, Tanita. You’re always so supportive and insightful. It’s fun to see how different people use their blogs in different ways. Something to learn and emulate no matter where you look.


  12. Thanks again for your inspiring and animated talk, Greg. I guess TIME is everyone’s greatest challenge. One would think with all the technological advances out there, making things happen that much faster, we’d have more time to spare!

    Looking forward to working with you again on the Cybils.


  13. Clearly you were taking better notes than I was and we sat next to each other! Thank heavens you did because I’m putting this post in Memory or whatever it’s called (see how much I learned?). You’re right–no one mentioned time or having to go to bed, ever. I’m sad some of the LiveJournal people have gone to Facebook because I will never see them there. Great job, Jama!


  14. Thanks, Candice. This is as much as my feeble brain could remember off the cuff. I’m still holding out hope that some of the LJ people will eventually migrate back here.


  15. Kidlit Conf. 09

    I love all your great photos of the event. Sorry Nancy and I had to miss it this year with my new baby and Nancy’s new bookstore and book release…. We’ll see you all next year!


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