A Conversation with Lionel Bender and Sally Isaacs, Organizers of the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What prompted you to offer the nonfiction conference? How did the two of you come together?
Lionel Bender (LB) and Sally Isaacs (SI): The idea for the conference was prompted primarily by Lionel Bender’s experience over about 10 years at numerous U.S. children’s writers’ and illustrators’ conferences where:
- Nonfiction was poorly represented or regarded as less important than fiction
- Little if any coverage was given as to where and how to find freelance, work-for-hire work, or opportunities to use one’s creativity in children’s nonfiction publishing
Lionel, the co-founder of BRW, a development house in the U.K., has also observed great changes in U.S. children’s nonfiction publishing, including:
- A rise in digital products
- A shift from buying U.K. products and using U.K. packagers to producing products within the United States
- An increasing use of creation houses to produce products especially by educational publishers
- Some non-traditional companies becoming creators and distributors of children’s nonfiction
- The Common Core initiative requiring greater emphasis on nonfiction materials
Lastly, all conferences Lionel had attended focused on the art and craft of writing and illustrating but very little on opportunities within and the business of the children’s nonfiction publishing industry. Lionel wanted to create a conference to address all these omissions by other conferences.
Lionel and Sally Isaacs, an author, had worked together over many years, producing some 30 children’s illustrated nonfiction books. When Sally knew she and Lionel would be together at the New Jersey SCBWI conference in June 2012, she asked her husband Michael Isaacs to attend and to speak to Lionel. Michael is the President of Star Consulting Inc., which consults with organizations and plans and produces events and conferences. Together Michael, Sally, and Lionel created a plan to hold the first 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference on the SUNY New Paltz campus in June 2013.
TWM: What drove the development of the specific agenda?
LB/SI: Essentially the shortcomings of other conferences and Lionel’s and Sally’s
perspective on what freelance writers, editors, and illustrators are seeking in the world of children’s nonfiction publishing.
TWM: How did you decide on a place?
LB/SI: Michael and Sally had a good perspective on what makes a good conference venue. They looked for a unique place that is not too expensive for attendees. The university campus inspires creativity and collaboration. The new Student Union Building at SUNY New Paltz has the space and technology that is conducive for high-energy workshops, panels, and free-flowing conversations. It is close enough to New York City to attract publishers from the East Coast and Midwest.
TWM: Who did you want to attract?
LB/SI: We wanted to provide a meeting place for writers, editors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers, and development houses interested in children’s nonfiction as a genre. For example, writers shared their techniques, especially in terms of developing apps, doing research, and meeting standards. Publishers shared how they are developing products for the current educational and trade publishing environment. Illustrators shared their work at the Art Exhibit. There were also opportunities for one-to-one consultations on manuscripts, art portfolios, marketing strategies, and proposals.
TWM: I understand you plan to hold another one in 2014. Is that true? Will you be doing anything differently?
LB/SI: Yes, we will certainly be holding the second 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference. It will again be at SUNY New Paltz, and on the weekend of June 20 to 22. We will respond to the feedback from our attendees, who included experienced writers and editors from major publishing houses.
In 2014, our faculty will include leaders in publishing, public libraries, and social media, as well as authors, art directors, magazine editors, and others. We have new publishers interested in talking to our group about what they are developing for their markets.
We will also have opportunities for Open Tables, where small groups can meet to discuss topics of their choice (as organized through the conference).
TWM: What do you think the opportunities are for writers of Jewish-themed nonfiction for kids? What advice would you have for them?
LB/SI: We know there will be discussions about bringing more multi-cultural topics to schools and libraries. The conference can provide opportunities to meet traditional publishers who publish Jewish-themed titles. There will be workshops on niche markets and social media promotion techniques. These writers will be able to meet like-minded people who may be interested in self-publishing Jewish-themed titles.
Learn more about the second 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference>>>
About Lionel Bender
Editor, author, and creator of more than 1000 children’s illustrated information books for the international coedition market. Co-founder of book packager Bender Richardson White, which produces children’s illustrated nonfiction and educational materials for publishers in North America and the UK. Award-winning titles include Dougal Dixon’s Dinosaurs for Boyds Mills Press, US History titles for Heinemann Library and Kingfisher, and the Gaia
Atlas of Earthcare for Facts on File. Also a partner of MJL Digital Publishing, which creates downloadable self-guided walks and digital stories for smart devices using QR-code technology. A regular speaker at regional SCBWI conferences and a visitor to international book fairs and conferences for 20+ years. On Highlights Foundation Faculty for Nonfiction.
About Sally Isaacs
Award-winning author of more than 40 illustrated school-and-library and trade children’s nonfiction books including two prestigious series: America in the Time of… (Heinemann Library/Capstone) and All About America (Kingfisher). With a strong background in educational publishing (she served as Editorial Director of Reader’s Digest Educational Division), Isaacs created a freelance career that has covered many fields. She has worked on textbooks and workbooks for major publishers, consumer products for Highlights for Children, testing materials for ETS, and an educational book for the Jewish Museum in New York. Learn more about Sally>>>
What a wonderful venue! Great questions about Jewish-themed work. Thank you Barbara for bringing this to our attention.
You’re welcome, Yael. I hope to attend the 2014 children’s nonfiction conference before I head out to the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in June.