Brace yourself: this post is gonna be long. If you’re like me, you might want to just look at the pictures.
I spent last Monday and Tuesday at nErDcamp in Michigan. What is nErDcamp? It’s a conference for educators focused on reading and literacy founded by members of the Nerdy Book Club (if you don’t know what that is, stop reading this and go here now). Over 900 educators from all over the U.S. and Canada attended the two day conference.
So let me tell you what happened with pictures.
Sunday morning I flew from Boston to Detroit.
After chilling at the airport for a bit, I hitched a ride with educators Lesley Burnap, Jason Lewis, and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (author/illustrator of Where Are My Books?, illustrator of I’m Bored and Naked – two separate books). We stopped at Bob’s Big Boy for a snack on the way from Detroit to the Hampton Inn in Jackson.
After checking in at the hotel, we met up with my good friend Jess Keating (author of How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel, this October’s How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don’t Have a Clue, and next February’s Pink Is for Blobfish, AND member of #TeamKrush) and her husband who shall henceforth be referred to as #NerdyPhotographer. Along with Debbie, we headed over to the high school where nErDcamp would take place starting the next day. We stopped by the rock for this photo:
While hanging out in the Hampton Inn ‘bar’ for the evening, I shared Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast with several new friends who hadn’t seen it before. I also took the opportunity to share Dear Dragon and Pirasaurs! sketches, and it was a blast to see these readers’ reactions. And then I went to bed…
only to be woken up at 6:30 by the fire alarm which quickly shut off. When it came back on for the second time three minutes later, I headed to the lobby to check it out and it (apparently it was a malfunction), but I stayed to eat breakfast, only to receive this at 7:17:
I wasn’t scheduled until session 2, so I grabbed a quick bite to eat in the teacher’s lounge and hung out with Donalyn Miller’s awesome family. And then I led the “Picture Book Panel” featuring NINE Picture Book Pros: Miriam Busch (Lion, Lion), Larry Day (Nanook & Pryce), Matthew Cordell, Philip C. Stead, Erin Stead, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Lauren Castillo, Deb Pilutti (Ten Rules of Being a Superhero), and Matt Faulkner (A Taste of Colored Water).
[Photo by Aliza Werner twitter.com/alizateach]
And there I am standing at the edge of Debbie’s view from between the pair of Team Caldecott:
What a thrill it was to lead this panel with such a stellar cast! And it went very well! Everyone got a chance to speak, and we even had a few laughs (I think it was with me, not at me…).
After session 2, I went to see Mr. Schu talk about his favorite books of the year so far. He started with picture books, and had so many on his list, he got as far as … some of the picture books (sorry Non-Fiction, Middle Grade, Graphic Novels).
So this post is taking forever to write, and I’ll bet almost nobody is actually reading this far, and it’s Saturday night, and my wife wants to spend some time with me (yay! she loves me!), so I think I’ll just post some pictures with captions for the rest of the way.
For those of you that have been following this blog for a while, those 12 lessons may look familiar. I took my Tips for Writing Picture Books series and reorganized it a bit to make it a little cleaner and available all in one place.
I’ve been to New York City before. Many times, actually. With my parents. On school trips. With friends. Twice in college to see Conan. With my wife. But I realized as I got off the train at Penn Station on Monday afternoon that I had never been in New York City alone. It strangely felt like I’d never been before. And I’ve certainly never had an experience quite like the past few days.
I was invited to speak at the Sterling Publishing Sales a Conference this past Tuesday (er, I was invited months ago, but the conference was this past Tuesday, forgive my grammar).
What happens at a sales conference, you ask? This is where the Editorial, Publicity, and Marketing departments of the Publisher reveal the upcoming season’s list of books to the Sales Representatives who will then try to sell those books to bookstores around the U.S. and Canada. And let me tell you, Sterling’s Fall list looks awesome (and I’m not just saying that cause I wrote one of the books on it).
After a quick breakfast and some remarks by the editorial director, my editor introduced me with some very kind words. I shared a sneak peak of the book trailer (coming soon, I promise, Mr. Schu), and talked a bit about the book and what some of my marketing/promotional plans might be. And then I got a sneak peak of everything else Sterling is offering this Summer & Fall.
At the end of the day, everyone went out for done fancy cocktails (I got a Shirley Temple, just like my editor). At a luxurious dinner (where I should note there were zero children), I got a chance to chat with many of the sales folks, about breakfast foods, kids books, and everything else. I met Jeff Anderson, author of the forthcoming middle grade from Sterling, ZACK DELACRUZ: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH. And got to hang out with many of the the other book creators on the Sterling team.
But the remarkable thing was that people treated me like I was something special. In all seriousness, this was strange. A good strange, but I never thought anything I would do or say would be worth paying attention to.
(I mean I think everything I do and say is worth paying attention to, but until now, nobody else ever seemed to feel that way).
I keep thinking how fortunate I am to have found perfect homes for three of my manuscripts, connected with a great agent, and made all these friends along the way. This whole ride just seems so surreal. But I’m not saying I’d trade it in.
It’s strange, and might even be crazy. But it’s crazy awesome.
It’s important to know ONE thing: You don’t know EVERYthing. So …
I debated on whether to call this post Find the Right Critique Partners or Be the Worst … and Learn from People Better than You. I think there are a couple points I want to touch on regarding progression with your craft.
First, you don’t have to do it alone. The kidlit community, both online and in person, is full of friendly people who cheer each other on. Whether through SCBWI, PiBoIdMo, 12×12, or one of the many social networking groups, there is a profusion of resources available. You just have to ask.
Find a critique group. This is critical. It sounds like a cheesy acknowledgements section of a middle grade novel, but the truth is that I’d be nowhere without the many critique partners who’ve made my writing better over the years.
But don’t be the best in your critique group. If you want to keep improving your writing, be sure to work with people who are better than you (by this, I mean better at writing). I can definitively say I have never been the best one in any of my groups – and that fact has played a large role in any success I may have had.
There are many other ways to continue learning. One is by going to conferences, retreats, and workshops. This can get expensive and potentially prohibitive, but luckily lots of classes have popped up online that range from very affordable webinars to even free (see Nerdy Chicks Write Summer School, currently in session).
Read books in the genre you write. This is important for several reasons. It will help keep your focus on the audience for which you’re writing. It will also give you an idea of the business side of the writing world. What are publishers buying? What are librarians, teachers, parents, and children enjoying?
How do you keep learning? Do you find it important to continue expanding your knowledge of kidlit? Why?
Next time I’ll share why it’s important to …
[fill in later before you post this, otherwise you might look kind of silly and you wouldn’t want that, would you, Josh?]
Wow, that sounds like an interesting topic! Betcha can’t wait to hear about that!