I had the pleasure of attending the “Spinning Gold” conference for children’s authors and illustrators in Wellington on Saturday. I was invited to speak about the impact of the digital world on the world of children’s literature, and on the literacy needs of 21st century learners.
It was a privilege to be among such an esteemed group of NZ writers, illustrators and publishers – many of whom I only knew of through the books my kids have read. It was also a useful opportunity for me to mix with a group of people I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to engage with.
Two parts of the conference highlighted for me some of the key issues authors/illustrators and the publishing industry in general face as we enter the digital world.
The first was a presentation by NZ author Brian Falkner who spoke about marketing to readers. Brian makes extensive use of social networking applications in his efforts here, and has some innovative uses of technology in his school-based presentations as well. The end result, successful it seems, is still to engage young readers in reading his books.
The second was a panel of publishers who responded to questions from delegates. The primary focus of this discussion was on understanding how authors could better succeed in getting their work published. I learned a lot about the publishing industry just from this conversation and have to admire the work they do for authors, and for NZ literature in general. But the fact remains that in the fickle world of merchandising and sales nowadays, publishers do form a very narrow bottleneck in the process of taking what is written to those who may want to read it. In an age where self publishing is now so easy, the tension between ability to publish work so freely and in a variety of forms and the need to ensure quality and sort wheat from chaff remains a conundrum to be addressed.
Interestingly, during the conferences I ‘tweeted’ while listening to Brian Falkner, and immediately received some tweets back from teachers who are familiar with his work – one who asked if any of the authors present would be keen to skype into classes to talk about their books. I put it to the audience when I was speaking, and a couple said they already do this and several others indicating that they would be interested.