Report from the front: The 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference

                                                   Screen shot 2013-06-20 at 3.58.55 PM

I presented several programs last week at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference at SUNY New Paltz (June 14, 15, and 16). Lionel Bender and Sally Isaacs did a terrific job. It was perfectly organized…from the programs, to the venue, to the timing of everything from intensives to workshops to critiques to the social time built in. Exceeded my (rather high!) expectations.

Okay. So what’s the overview?

Well, I felt that the beauty of the conference concept was that it appealed to midlist and mid-career authors and illustrators, unlike SCBWI which seems to target beginners. It gave nonfiction a long-overdue emphasis, and addressed current issues like the Common Core. And faced the digital revolution head-on with up-to-date info.

The faculty included, besides Lionel and me, Andy Boyles (Highlights), Mary Kay Carson (NF author, Bats! app), Robin T. Brown (Nat’l Geo kids), Kent Brown (Highlights Foundation), Vicki Cobb (iNK Think Tank, NF author), John Bemelmans Marciano (author), Laura P. Salas (NF author), Alyssa Pusey (Charlesbridge Sr Editor), Karen Robertson (app expert), Joy Butts (Time Home Entertainment), Melissa Stewart (NF author), Rebecca Graziano (Pearson), Patricia Stockland (Lerner, Editor-in-Chief), Peggy Thomas (NF author), Lou Waryncia (Cobblestone), others.

      Publishers Panel  Listening

And the attendees were writers, illustrators, librarians, and other kidlit folks. I asked a few where they were from, and they came from all over – PA, NY, WV, MA, GA, MD, FL, CA, DE, IL, OH, NC, TX, NJ…

I did a 3-hour Intensive with Lionel Bender on Transmedia (taking your story or idea across multiple media, like print, ebooks, TV, websites, interactive apps; showed KIWiStoryBooks and the new AR apps by OCG Studios). And three workshops: Reinventing Yourself: Using your skills in new markets (career paths, professional practices, dealing with rejection, using social media, fresh directions…); a panel with Karen Robertson (“Treasure Kai”) and Mary Kay Carson (“Bats!”) on Creating our apps; and The Business Side of Apps: Contracts and Costs (also how to make an app, the App Store, marketing, COPPA, profit/loss, iOS/Android). Plus did three critiques.

Because I was doing my own programs, or critiques,  almost the whole time, I got to sit in on only one workshop:  the excellent Mary Kay Carson on School Visits. Vicki Cobb’s Keynote was entertaining and witty, but she got serious when she talked about some of the absurdities of testing and the rigid way we are sometimes expected to write nonfiction. The Publishers Panel discussed The Future of Children’s Nonfiction, which needless to say is entering a robust time, what with Common Core and the coming digital age. For more extensive coverage, go to Rocco Staino’s piece in School Library Journal and Krystyna Poray Guddu’s article in Publishers Weekly. All in all, quite a busy, fun, and gratifying conference.

          Izumi Ashizawa & Roxie Munro     Roxie Munro Reinvent Talk    Roxie & Nancy Pi-Sunyer

Bo and I stayed in the dorm next door (here checking the iPhone on a bunk-type bed) – rather primitive, but cozy and just fine, particularly when I did a mental 180, and decided to view it like camping, in which case it was luxurious compared to a tent.

                                                        checking iphone in dorm room

The responses to the conference have been amazing – everyone has been raving about it, and feels like they are in on the beginning of something big. We’re almost afraid that it was TOO successful – that it will get too popular. Learned a lot, met new friends and reconnected with good buddies, and like the lady below, had a really good time!

                                      Fun Conf dinner

  1. said:

    Wonderful summary with great pics by Bo. You were a big part of why the conference was so successful, but what a great team effort it was. So much to apply before next year’s conference! And so many new friends and contacts

    • It was so great to connect with you, Nancy. It was a special time, wasn’t it? I do have high hopes for your book project…

  2. Andy Boyles said:

    Great report, Roxie. It was great to finally meet you! From talking to attendees, I know that you brought your “A game” to your role. I’m impressed that Lionel Bender was insightful enought to see the need for a conference focusing on the business aspects of writing nonfiction for kids. I have seen a lot of talented nonfiction authors dig into writing for kids with everything they’ve got, only to drop out of sight (well, out of my view anyway). I often wonder if more of those authors would have stayed “in the game” if they had received some of the insights that this conference offered. So, a ray of hope and new dates set for June 20-22, 2014!

    • Thanks, Andy. I think we all made a good team – everyone contributed from various NF angles, and from what I’ve heard, attendees got a lot of realistic concrete info, which I think is sometimes more important than creative encouragement (which is also necessary of course). It was more successful than we hoped, I think. And it was great to connect with you!

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  6. Thanks, Roxie. This looks incredible. If I am an unpublished children’s NF and had to choose one conference, would you suggest this or SCBWI?

    • SCBWI is good for the basics: writing query letters, trying to get an agent, publishing trends, and more. A lot of that is available on the web though (like from Harold Underdown’s the Purple Crayon [ ]). The Nonfiction Conference is, of course, much better for nonfiction, and also for the school and library market. Because it has fewer attendees, but a lot of high-powered faculty, there is a better ratio of attendee to faculty, so there is an opportunity for more casual impromptu schmoozing with important librarians, editors, and publishers, and you are able to meet and interact up-close-and-personal with some of the biggies in the industry. It also deals with magazine (and other) markets for writers and illustrators, and has up-to-date info on various alternative media (like electronic), which I don’t think SCBWI does a lot of. I found it very useful, lively and informative.

      • Thanks! I am interested in the idea of working with the school and library market in addition to the book I am currently writing. (My plan is to beef up my first draft of what I have a bit more and then write a proposal to seek an agent.)

        Thanks so much for your insight, Roxie.

  7. Sounds good to me, Annette. So you’d be doing the programs with writers, agents, editors, publishers (and on CCSS, and the instutional markets). Probably not the illustration or new media presentations.

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