Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 2 in NYC: Publishing Perspectives' Children's Publishing Conference

I was up bright and early the next morning and heading back to Scholastic for the Publishing Perspectives Conference on children's book publishing.  I got there early, but soon I was checked in with a name tag and a rather heavy tote bag, which to my surprise was filled with books!

We had breakfast in the Scholastic store, the food was set up inside the yellow Magic School Bus:

As the clock neared 9:00 we all headed into the auditorium, for about four hours of wonderful speakers.  The question at hand, oh just a simple question...What makes a children's book great??  That of course is a difficult one to address, everyone has a different answer and lens that they view the question from.  The conference started with an introduction from Publishing Perspectives' editor-in-chief, Ed Nawotka, filled with wonderful anecdotes of the new aspect to his reading life with his young daughter, and framing the reason for the conference. (If you would like, you can read an article here, which he wrote and it's very similar to his intro).

He then introduced the keynote speaker, Dick Robinson, CEO of Scholastic.  With a wonderful forerunner to the panels, Mr. Robinson addressed the complexities of answering the conference's question, since of course reading is such a personal, individual experience where for any one person there is a different book that was great to them and could have made a huge impact at a certain point in their lives and for that reason, it was great to them.  He continued on to give his ideas on the certain aspects that connect the great books of children's literature, and you can go to this link here to read his thoughts.

There then followed four lively panels, taking on the central question and other specifics on children's books from different angles, or perspectives, befitting Publishing Perspectives which ran the conference.  The first panel included Roger Sutton, editor in chief of the Horn Book (you can read his thoughts on many things here at his blog, Read Roger), Pamela Paul, Children's Book Editor of the New York Times, and David Levithan author and Scholastic editor (main editor for the Hunger Games series) with Jennifer Brown from Shelf Awareness as their moderator.  Their discussion centered on, “Trends vs. Tradition: The Present and Future of YA and Children’s Books”; they discussed their own reading experiences, how the act of reading is changing, their roles as editor or reviewer, the fact that although e-books seem to be "on the rise" they don't see it supplanting printed works, especially for picture books, for what parent or teacher would ever forego the wonderful act of sitting with a child on their lap or with a group of students in a circle at their feet listening to you read and helping you flip pages, as Sutton pointed out, he doesn't think it would really be the same on a shiny iPad.  Pamela Paul also mentioned her dear old "BOB", a notebook she's had since high school where she's recorded every book she's read since then (here's a piece from the NYTimes she wrote on this very notebook).

The next panel was titled: “Blockbusters, Best Sellers and Everything in Between: Agenting Children’s Books.” This panel focused on children's book publishing from the perspective of the agents, focusing on how to shepherd an author and their work through the publishing process, especially those that hit bestseller status and Hollywood, and how to retain the integrity of the work.  There was also a lot of discussion on the pros and (mostly) cons of self publishing and the rise of the self-promoted author via social media.

The third panel covered, “Born Digital, Buy Digital: Sales, Publishing and Community Building for the New Generation.”  This panel was on the rise of digital media in the publishing industry, and to be honest after all the other talks the aura created by this panel seemed out of place; this is not to say that it shouldn't have been part of the conference, it definitely needs to be since this is such an important topic in publishing, but it was interesting to see how differently they approached publishing.  While obviously all publishing is a business, the other panels that had preceded it seemed to have more of an investment in books as stories, as an art form that can transport people.  This panel, not only due to the content but to it's structure (instead of a communal discussion, each speaker instead gave a short, individual presentation), felt much more like a commercial reel at times, especially for the reps from Barnes and Noble and Nickelodeon.  The other panelist was Jacob Lewis, the CEO of, which I had never heard of, but was rather interesting.  It's a social media website of sorts for teenagers and young adults, but it's focused on reading and writing; so members share the books their reading, what's coming up on their list, they can share their own original writing and discuss ideas with likeminded individuals.  It seemed a bit like a mix of Goodreads and Facebook and little something else all their own.

The last panel was made up of authors and author/illustrators and was titled: “Building a Career, Connecting with Kids, and Standing out From the Crowd.” The panel included a wonderful group, YA author Beth Kephart (you can follow her wonderful blog here and her newest book Small Damages will be coming out in July!), a newish graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier who has a really unique style (here's a link to her website with lots of examples of her work and news, here), Peter Brown (link to his website here) who's a picture book artist and author of books like The Curious Garden and his newest book You Will Be My Friend, which we got to hear him read aloud from which was extremely fun and humorous and last but not least John Rocco, best known as illustrator for the Percy Jackson series and with other books like Blackout and most recently The Flint Heart.  The authors all discussed their process as artists, such as Beth Kephart's love for research in the writing process and the infusion of history in her works and Peter Brown's knowledge that there are many parents that have to read his books to their children over and over again, so he tries to keep that knowledge in the back of his mind while he's writing so that perhaps in his process he'll make sure to make the experience enjoyable for both the child and the parent.

All in all, it was an incredible conference with wonderful speakers and an amazing group of people in attendance!
If you would like to see more pictures from the conference, Publishing Perspectives has posted an album here at Google +.

Also for more thoughts on the conference see Publishing Perspectives' Dennis Abrams' and Alex Mutter's piece here and Beth Kephart's thoughts here.

On my way back to the apartment I passed by this pub and thought I would post a picture, since it's perfect for Alice in Baker Street and it was a perfect end to the day:

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