Saturday, July 11, 2009

ALA in Chicago--my first big convention

Today I hauled my backpack and a canvas tote bag, loaded with publicity and resource materials about my books, down to the ALA (American Library Association) conference at McCormick West. I've never been one one of these big meetings before, where all sorts of publishers, librarians from all over the country, and many random people and exhibitors come together for 4 days of mass chaos and exchange. I had a great day and I learned a ton. Let me see if I can recap some of the highlights:

I really enjoyed meeting and chatting with the people at the Charlesbridge booth. Megan Bencivenni, schools and library sales manager and Emily Mitchell, senior editor, were extremely friendly, welcoming, and knowledgeable. They had printed a two-sided bookmark featuring my two books. They had my books prominently displayed and I had barely met them and hidden my backpack and tote bag under their booth when people began to buy Truck Stuck and ask for autographs. I was scheduled to begin at 10 am, but set to work and was steadily busy signing from about 9:30 to 11 am when, when the next author came to take my place. Getting to meet other Charlesbridge authors was another bonus of coming to ALA.

I wandered around the booths of various publishers for the next two hours. I ran into Laura Montenegro, who taught the Intuitive Suitcase course I took last winter. She taught me to look at the publishers for image--what impression did the whole display leave you with--was it commercial and slick? was it arty? would you want to see your book sitting among the others in that display? I had been focused on individual books, but I think Laura's idea of getting a feel for the character and quality of a publisher's list as a whole is a good one and ALA is a great place to get that kind of feel and be able to contrast and compare different publishers.

I got copies of Alice McGinty's newly released biography of Darwin (illustrated by Mary Azarian, Houghton Mifflan Harcourt, 2009) and Kathi Baron's recent novel Shattered (Westside Books, 2009). I picked up a few uncorrected page proofs of books that caught my eye.

Then it was my turn to promote my books at our SCBWI-Illinois booth. I arranged an old journal with art for the Robin book, a dummy of Robin made by gluing together the page proofs into book form, postcards of the cover, my workshop brochure, a copy of Truck Stuck--there just wasn't enough room to show everything. But I found that my original journal and the cover of Robin were good conversation openers. I asked each person who stopped about what they did--many were authors themselves, or illustrators. Others were librarians. I offered everyone copies of my materials and traded cards with a number of people I intend to contact about workshop possibilities. I learned about curriculum tie-in ideas, about the Mazza Museum of children's book art in Findlay, Ohio (which I intend to visit on my road trip to NH), about a journal workshop for children which might be a good fit with the Robin book. Ideas abound. My head is almost as full as the backpack, canvas tote, and two shopping bags I carried home at the end of a full and rewarding day.

What I took: journal, reading book (currently reading Marco Polo, From Venice to Xanadu, by Laurence Bergreen), about 300 postcards of the cover art for The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal, camera, paints, ink, umbrella, a file folder with printouts of the emails concerning the SCBWI-Illinois booth, the page proofs to Robin (both the pasted up dummy I made of the first set of page proofs and the large black portfolio protecting the unfolded second set of page proofs and some of the original art), postcards for Truck Stuck, also business cards with Truck Stuck on them, a box of Sharpie ultra fine marking pens, the Truck Stuck bookplates, a paperback copy of Truck Stuck, the Korean copy of Truck Stuck, one of my journals with some of the original art for Robin in it, and a box of maybe 400 3-fold "Meet the Author" brochures to hand out to librarians looking for authors who like to visit libraries and present workshops.

What I'll take Monday, when I go back: journal, reading book, Robin page proofs in dummy form (but not the portfolio); about 50 "Meet the Author" brochures stuffed with Robin postcards and the bookmark from Charlesbridge, camera, Sharpie pens. I will pack much lighter and bring an empty canvas bag or two in my backpack to accommodate any further books, galleys, or catalogs that I collect before coming home.

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