Monday, June 23, 2014

The 2014 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference (by Todd Burleson and Christy Mihaly)


As I write these words, close to one hundred people are making their way back to Wisconsin, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey the U.K. and many more locations.  My mind is still spinning with the new connections, opportunities and possibilities that I was introduced to at the second annual 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference in New Paltz, NY. 

The Glass Atrium at SUNY New Paltz by Todd Burleson


The conference is the brain child of Lionel Bender and Sally Isaacs. Their mission statement perfectly framed this conference.



 I learned about the conference through the the WOW Nonfiction Writing Group on Facebook.  I had no concept of what to expect, but came with an open mind and an eager heart.  I was curious about the many new ways that nonfiction material is being published: apps, games, e-books, enhanced e-books, etc.  I was also eager to have the chance to meet fellow GROGger Christy Mihaly in the flesh.  We teamed up to reflect a bit on the conference.


By Christy Mihaly
 
From the beginning, the workshops were different from any I had experienced at other conferences.  I first attended a three hour intensive workshop from three phenomenal authors, Julie Hedlund, Steve Swinburne and  Carolyn Yoder. Listening to each of these individuals speak about their work was a terrific way to begin the conference.  Julie shared her journey through the myriad of publishing paths.  Steve showed how the NF Picture Book market has continued to evolve and Carolyn helped us see that NF is alive and well.  

By Christy Mihaly

The second annual 21st Century Children's Non Fiction Conference truly did bring all parties together.  There were individuals at this conference from Pearson and Capstone (large educational publishing companies) to small start-up app developers like The Green Door Labs.  What made this conference unique to me was that every one of these people was accessible.  I had dozens of opportunities to speak with any one of them.  The relaxed 'down time,' spread throughout the day over iced tea breaks or delicious lunch or dinners, allowed a new author like myself to talk with these industry leaders.   


By Christy Mihaly

I spoke with Lionel and Sally about the conference.  They shared a bit more insight about their philosophy and goals of bringing all those in the industry together in one place.  "None of us has all the answers," Lionel said.  This was even seen in the structure of the sessions.  Almost all of the session were led by pairs of presenters.  This allowed participants to see a variety of perspectives and fostered an opportunity for the presenters to play off one another too.


By Christy Mihaly

While always hoping to expand the conference, Lionel and Sally spoke passionately about the need for it to remain intimate and relaxed.  


The Atrium at Night by Todd Burleson

What struck me most about the conference was the range of attendees.  I met people who did all manner of jobs associated with nonfiction writing.  There were people here who wrote for the educational testing markets.  I had dinner with someone who is a photo researcher.  There were archivists, fact checkers, photographers, illustrators, marketers, indexers (someone who actually creates indexes for NF work) and so many more.   SCBWI conferences are fantastic, but, the majority of those conferences are focused on fiction.  This conference truly responds to the needs of nonfiction creators.


The Atrium by Todd Burleson

As a newer writer, I admit, I 'saw' publishing a picture book as my 'end game.'  Even though I had outstanding advice and guidance from Christy on this here blog, it wasn't until I sat down with Lou Warnycia to review one of my manuscripts, that I even thought about possibly writing for a magazine.  Lou enjoyed my manuscript (which was structured for a NF picture book) and suggested that I think about crafting it into a magazine piece.  I honestly didn't know you could do that.  In my mind, I thought once a story was published in a magazine, it could not be 'used' in another form.  Shows how 'new' I am right?  In fact, the 'story' I would write for Cobblestone or Cricket would be totally different from what I might submit to a publisher to be made into a picture book.  In fact, Lou shared a fantastic story with me about an author who had done exactly that.  To say I left my manuscript consultation with Lou on cloud nine is an understatement.  I was thrilled!

And so, as my colleagues slowly trickle back into their homes, I remain here at New Paltz for one more night.  I'm still trying to put all the pieces into the appropriate places in my mind.  One thing is for sure, I hope to come back next year! 

Hi, it's Christy here, back at home sitting on my front porch with hubby, dog, and laptop, catching up and trying to update my contacts files!  

I second Todd's remarks about the great content and connections at 21CCNC.  In a very full weekend, I learned about opportunities I hadn't realized were out there -- writing for tests, writing for hire, the educational market, magazines I hadn't known about, new online publications -- and they all need writers. I particularly loved having a chance to look over the many books, in many new formats, from the educational publishers. 

I caught up with NF writer buddies (Hi Sue Heavenrich!), made new friends from the NF-for-kids world -- and what a treat to actually meet FaceBook writer colleague and fellow GROGger, Todd Burleson. The campus setting was nostalgic and appropriate -- it felt like a great place to learn!  As with all conferences, it was both exhausting and inspiring.  And now, it's time for me to go incorporate a few pointers and critique suggestions into my pending manuscripts.  Hope to see some of you next year in New Paltz!

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing the conference with us! Any new contracts for either of you?

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    1. Hi Tina, Yes! At this conference, the ratio of faculty to attendees was so high that the faculty was very accessible. I had two critiques (one for a picture book, and one for a proposal) and both editors were very encouraging and also gave me additional names to contact. I particularly appreciated (as Sue Heavenrich noted) meeting editors and others in the educational publishing realm. As you have noted, there are lots of great opportunities there. I met editors from both Capstone and Pearson, as well as a couple of freelance editors. Also -- other attendees were so interesting -- my roommate was an indexer and I loved talking with folks who have done work for hire in various contexts from math books to tests to museum exhibits. Now to the important work of following up!!

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  2. Although I write articles (for kids and adults) I always thought about nonfiction writing in terms of "books" - and by that, I mean "trade books". This conference helped me see that there are so many ways to be a nonfiction writer - from writing books to articles, to test items to educational materials... and if one is open to embracing a variety of work, there's a way to make it as a writer.

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    1. Well said, Sue. It was eye-opening to meet so many attendees (as well as faculty) who are making a living with NF writing for kids, and loving it. And, as a relatively new writer, I loved meeting up with writing colleagues that I had met previously at other conferences . . . like you! As wonderful as the online world is, getting together in person is always energizing -- and fun.

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  3. What a super post, odd and Chris. Sure wish i could have been there to soak up the info. Great pics, too. Miss you guys.

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    1. Kathy,
      Thank you. It was a great opportunity. Now I have to figure out how to get myself to ALA, ISTE and SCBWI!
      TB

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  4. Todd and Christi: Your attendance at the second annual 2014 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference sounds inspiring. Thank you for sharing your thoughs and experiences. ~Suzy

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    1. Indeed. Thank you Suzy. It was awesome. The best part was meeting Christy and others whom I've only 'seen' online.

      Thanks,
      TB

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  5. It sounds like a great conference and one that was rewarding to you both. I just read a post about the best way to approach a conference and the warning was to not go in with preconceived notions of what you might take away, but rather to be open minded about what you might learn. Sounds like you followed this advice without even hearing it, Todd!
    Thanks for your insights, both of you. I've known about the magazine and educational markets, but didn't realize some of the other possibilities out there.
    And on a totally nonsensical note, the atrium looks like a helicopter picked up the glass pyramid of the Louvre and dumped it askew in New Platz. Lovely photos!

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  6. Hey, thanks Pat. It was great to hang out with all those other nonfiction folks for a weekend -- serious fun.

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  7. What a cool post, guys! Agree that the Conference was wonderful - more substantive than most, and the great way it was organized gave us all a chance to mingle and talk about the industry informally often. And yes, there are a myriad ways of getting your work out there...don't think just print books!

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    1. Yes, Roxie, I loved hearing about all the apps, e-books and online publications. And all of them need to be filled with high quality writing. It's an expanding universe! Thanks for checking out our blog.

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  8. I'd love to learn more about the WOW nonfiction writing group. I'm published in children's non-fiction but feel a little lonely in terms of having like-minded peeps for learning and collaboration. I clicked on the link to the Facebook page but it indicates it's a closed group and I couldn't find a link to message anyone for details. Thanks!

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  9. Christy & Todd,
    It's neat to be "watching" a mini-Grog meet up with this post.
    And thanks for sharing your new interrest in magazine publishing Todd. Sounds promising with Lou Warnycia's encouragement.
    Thanks for making sure nonfiction stays front & center in our writing worlds.

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  10. Jan, you bet. It was terrific being in the presence of so many great writers and creative people; especially Christy!

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  11. This is great! I hope that you are Continue the good work. 21st Century Children

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