Conference Insider: KidLitCon

If you write books for young readers, this New England conference is an event you can’t miss.

Providence, Rhode Island
KidLitCon will take place in Providence, Rhode Island in 2019. Photo by nsilya/Shutterstock

KidLitCon began 11 years ago as a potluck with people who enjoy reading and promoting books for children and young adults. These days, it’s a beloved annual conference that attracts authors and illustrators, teachers and librarians, book reviewers and parents from all over the United States.

Working with the theme “Reaching Readers,” 2019 conference co-chairs Mia Wenjen and Charlotte Taylor have selected sessions and panels that feature diversity and representation of authors and illustrators from marginalized communities. The event takes place at Hotel Providence in Rhode Island, a boutique hotel in the midst of the city’s theater district.

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“Providence brims with creativity,” Wenjen says. “On our website, we have a bibliophiles’ guide to the city, which includes places relating to books or authors, many of which are within walking distance from the hotel. We also have a guide to food and drink in the city. Whether you come by yourself or make it a vacation with your spouse or children, there’s something for everybody.”

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Wenjen and Taylor publish regular website updates to let registered attendees and potential participants know about the newest speakers and panels planned for the 2019 event. Those interested can also follow and interact with KidLitCon’s Facebook page.

What you’ll learn

The conference includes approximately 22 sessions on topics ranging from “Diverse Fantasy in the Real Diverse World” to “Picture Books for LGBT Families.” One panel will focus on how to get books into the hands of bloggers who can promote them, as explained by an author and a publisher and a public relations expert. Another panel will teach authors how to get books into the hands of young readers, thanks to insights from a school librarian, a teacher, a bookseller, and an author.

A session titled “You Can’t Say that in Middle Grade” will discuss content differences between middle-grade and young adult fiction. Others focus on mystery novels, illustrations for middle-grade novels, chapter books, and nonfiction. “We’re also including a session on how to take great photos of books on Instagram and how to grow your following, and another on HTML help,” Wenjen says.

Recognizing that many authors are somewhat introverted, they’ve scheduled breakout sessions at lunchtime to bring like-minded participants together. One will focus on search engine optimization, while another will discuss Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and another will give writers a sense of what it’s like to work with a career coach specializing in creative clients. “A lot of people who work freelance don’t have the benefit of a human resources department or a boss who helps mentor your career,” Wenjen explains.

 Featured presenters

Keynote speakers in 2019 include authors Varian Johnson and LeUyen Pham. Johnson is the author of The Parker Inheritance, among other middle-grade novels. Pham is the author-illustrator of Big Sister, Little Sister and The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the illustrator of best-selling books such as Real Friends and the Princess in Black series.

Indian-American author Padma Venkatraman will appear on a panel with others to talk about creating resilient characters who overcome adversity in children’s books focusing on racial injustice, poverty, violence, bullying, learning and emotional disabilities, and broken families. Mel Schuit from Charlesbridge Books will talk about the components of compelling graphic novels for kids, and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, who writes about having Asperger’s syndrome, will appear on a panel to discuss social justice literature.

“At the end of each day, we’ll have book signings open to both participants and the public, so that people can meet faculty authors and illustrators,” Wenjen says.

KidLitCon poster
A promotional image for the KitLitCon taking place in March of 2019.

 Advice for first-timers

Participants can get a free manuscript critique from conference faculty during book signing events. Wenjen suggests bringing 10 polished pages of a project to give to those authors who have volunteered to do critiques each evening. “You’ll have people who really know their stuff who can give you insight,” she says. “They’ll read your work right there and give you feedback in a quality interaction.”

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She and other volunteers ensure that all participants feel comfortable and safe over the two-day conference. They schedule plenty of opportunities to meet other writers between formal sessions and breakfast and lunch. “Past hosts will go around and scoop up people who look lost and make sure they have dinner companions,” Wenjen says. “This is an intimate, friendly conference with people who love children’s books…your people.”

 

—Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Open Minds, Ignite Empathy, and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Web: melissahart.com.