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:
♥ THE BLOG WITHIN: AN INTERVIEW WITH YOUR INNER BLOGGER
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."
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.
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.
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.
SOCIAL MEDIA WITH GREGORY K. PINCUS
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.
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.