Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 26, 2013

A Look at Children’s Nonfiction Conference

lionelmugshotIn June 2012, at the New Jersey SCBWI conference in Princeton, NJ, I had Lionel Bender, cofounder of the U.K. packager Bender Richardson White, and author Sally Isaacs do an intensive workshop on writing. It was there that Lionel approached Isaacs with putting on a Non-fiction conference focused on opportunities for writers in children’s nonfiction publishing.

Lionel Bender, explained his two-fold mission to Publishers Weekly: “There are plenty of conferences that focus on the nuts and bolts of creating your work. That is not the purpose of this conference,” he said. “I want to open people’s eyes to the opportunities nonfiction can provide, and I want attendees to understand the various publishing models that exist.” Since I had promoted this conference on my blog, I thought you would be interested in hearing about the final results.

The conference focus was to attracted a core audience of professionals already working in the field rather than aspiring writers hoping to break in. A major draw was the caliber of the faculty, which included high-ranking staff from Lerner, Pearson, Cobblestone, Highlights, National Geographic Children’s Books, and Time Home Entertainment, as well as highly regarded authors and illustrators.

Johanthanimage001Jonathan Sprout attended and said, “I had a great time. There were, I’m guessing, about a hundred participants, so we all got to know each other in various degrees. Many of the paid participants are successful already-established writers. I made many new friends, including several people who have each written over a hundred books. Faculty and paid attendees mingled often throughout the weekend.

“I learned a lot. There was a good deal of emphasis on technology – apps, eBooks and web presence, as well as submission tips – which I especially appreciated. Strange to say, I don’t believe I saw anyone at the NF conference who had also attended our NJSCBWI conference the weekend before. There was very little, if any, information overlap between the two weekends. Each conference provided its special lessons and friends/contacts.

“When I performed at the faculty dinner at the 2012 NJSCBWI (at your request), Lionel and I discovered a common love for The Beatles (although it was Steve Meltzer that night who played one of the best versions of “Norwegian Wood” I’ve ever heard!) So I was asked to perform a song from my forthcoming album the first night of the NF conference. I’ve already committed to returning to the June 2014 NF conference (same location: New Paltz, NY). In anticipation, Lionel and I are sketching out a couple of Beatle melodies that I may perform to a new set of “nonfiction lyrics” that promise to be very funny.”

Faculty member Roxie Munro, author-illustrator of more than 35 books said, “There are other conferences that have a lot to offer beginners, but this one was much better for midlist writers; it was more meaty, more sophisticated.”

Lionel said in his opening, “I see the digital revolution as an opportunity to reinvent kids’ illustrated nonfiction. And the icing on the cake is the Common Core standards, which are making nonfiction important, and making nonfiction writers finally feel like fiction’s equals.”

Science writer, Melissa Stewart said,“There is a revolution going on in nonfiction right now. In this climate, the role of nonfiction is to delight as well as to inform.”

One of the weekend’s highlights was Saturday afternoon’s publishers panel, in which seven faculty members discussed The Future of Children’s Nonfiction. Responding in turn to questions posed by Bender in advance, each panelist offered insight into their company’s approach to the challenges of modern publishing today. Andy Boyles, science editor at Highlights magazine, said he foresees Highlights remaining “ink on paper for the foreseeable future.” But, he added, “Ink and digital can play nicely in the same sandbox. The big question is: How can you make digital pay the bills?” Participants echoed this question throughout the weekend.

Robin Terry Brown, senior editor at National Geographic Children’s Books, described her company’s “sneak-attack approach to learning – draw them in with high-interest topics, vibrant photography, and design” – and shared its formula: “photos, facts, and fun—and all things animal.”

charlesbridgeAlyssa Mito Pusey, senior editor at Charlesbridge said, “Nonfiction has always been our core, but as far as our digital strategy the goal is to put its books onto as many platforms as possible. Intellectual property will become king as publishers seek to engage their audience through transmedia storytelling. Print will become a single star in this constellation. Digital is fun, but print is not dead.”

Click this link to read about it in Publishers Weekly.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. You know, I’ve never had an overpowering desire to write non-fiction because I’m so drawn to “All Things Imagination,” but this looks like it was an outstanding event! Kudos to Lionel, Sally and Jonathan on all their achievements. I was actually salivating over this type conference, wishing I was doing non-fiction! lol


  2. By the way, did you hear Margery Cuyler is retiring?! Anita Nolan announced it on her blog. I thought I was seeing things! She will be missed…


  3. I’ve never been highly drawn to NF but the post regarding this conference definitely makes me feel like I missed the sharing of wonderful information and so much fun!
    Thanks once again, Kathy, for always sharing such great information.


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