The Best KidLit Conference? Rutgers, Hands Down

Rutgers LogoThere comes a point in every serious writer’s life when they decide to crawl out of the cave and share what they’ve been scribbling with, you know, other actual people. There are many ways to do this — online communities, crit groups, contests, and conferences.

I’ve never gone the contest route myself — it’s just not something I do — but as a journalist and screenwriter, I’d done a few conferences already. So when I started writing fiction (and did my MFA, which is a post for another day), I looked at what my options were. Writing conferences to me are about three things: craft, camaraderie and connections.

Over the course of my MFA, I did a few: the Writer’s Digest conference (awesome), CLMP’s event (pretty cool if you’re indie oriented), and a couple others. There are also events like SCBWI (if you write kidlit or YA), and more literary events like Breadloaf and Sewanee.

But there was one kidlit conference in particular that really stood out: The Rutgers One-On-One Plus conference. Sponsored by the Council on Children’s Lit at Rutgers (holla alma mater!), it’s focus is on next steps and building in-roads. For one thing — it’s tiny and competitive. Only 80 or so attendees, and you have to apply to be accepted. But once you’re in, you’re in for an education. There are panels, of course, focusing on things like platform and world-building and the future of the book. And then there are round-tables, where five publishing peeps chat with five attendees. But the pinnacle? Each attendees is paired with a publishing veteran — an editor, an agent, or an author — for an hour-long one-on-one mentoring. These mentors will go through first chapters and query letters, answer burning questions that apply to your particular scenario, chat with you about bluegrass bands in New York City. (Or maybe that last one was just us!) It’s an experience well worth the investment (which isn’t that high, compared to some conferences).

But perhaps the best part about Rutgers is meeting other like-minded, serious writers who are focused on taking the next step toward publishing. I know writers who’ve attended this event multiple times (I went twice, in fact), because they get that much out of it. It’s about community, and that’s key as we approach this frequently frustrating publishing world. And the same people you meet as an attendee return to Rutgers as success stories — in fact, they bring back an alum to speak each year.

So if you’re a kidlit or YA writer, and you’re serious about taking that next step, look into Rutgers. You won’t find more bang for your pre-pub conference dollars.

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An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.

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