EVENTS Behind the scenes at an online publishing conference

Elizabeth Frattaroli shares her experience of co-hosting the very first Honkference.

At the end of last month, I was lucky enough to be part of the Golden Egg Social Club involved in delivering the GEA Honkference, which covered a range of aspects of the world of children’s publishing and welcomed some brilliant guests. Apart from a couple of little hiccups and one guest not being able to appear at the last minute due to ill health (cue lots of quick thinking and scrabbling about behind the scenes to fill the slot), it all seemed to go really well. But if you’d asked us that a few weeks before the event, when we were struggling to get to grips with the technology, we may have had some tiny little doubts that would be the case. So, what is involved in putting on a conference, and how did we bring it to life?

Well, first of all there wouldn’t have been a conference of any kind if it weren’t for the talents and enthusiasm of Jane Martin and Annaliese Avery, founders of the social team. It was them who decided to hold a conference in the first place, then approached most of the guests, timetabled thirty events over two days, set up the website, and built a team around them to achieve it. The events tried to cover most elements of children’s publishing: from picture books and illustration/cover designs, to audiobooks, bringing books to the small or large screen, foreign rights, self-publishing know-how, publicity, marketing and building a brand, and ‘things we wished we’d known’, to name just a few. Added to these were invaluable sessions by Golden Egg editors on writing great beginnings, creating series concepts, and editing. 

Writing and mental health session

Mental health is a hugely important issue and one that has, if anything, perhaps become more so during the lockdowns over the past year. So, we were also delighted to have Juno Dawson, Kevin Brooks, Holly Bourne and Kiran Millwood Hargrave in discussion with Jane Martin on a vital session on Writing and Mental Health.

Juno Dawson, Holly Bourne, Jane Martin (top left to right) with Kevin Brooks and Kiran Millwood Hargrave (bottom left to right).

Agent one-to-ones

Alongside the weekend we also organised 115 agent one-to-ones (121s), which was another huge learning curve. Although I had been involved in offering these on a smaller scale and as an in-person event as part of SCBWI Scotland, this time it was a far larger operation, and one that was very dependent on technology given the current world we live in.

There’s that technology word again. I’ve gone from being pretty proficient in Zoom (haven’t we all to be fair?), to having to master Eventbrite, Google Forms and Crowdcast, all of which were unfamiliar to me beforehand. Luckily, we had a sub team for the agent 121s, as the tickets all had to be uploaded to Eventbrite and set to go live at the same time. A separate ticket had to be created for each individual 121, with their own time-slots, agent information, and copy for both the acknowledgement and the follow-up email with links to the Google Form, so that all who were lucky enough to get one could then complete the Google Form with their own details, Skype address, chosen agent, time booked and actual submission. The submissions consisted of a cover letter and either a one-page synopsis and the first ten pages for chapter books through to YA; a full picture book text for PBs; or a children’s non-fiction proposal. After all these were submitted, we then had to collate all the responses and separate them out for each agent involved, then forward these in a spreadsheet to them. On the day, we also offered a ‘Help Zoom’ (or ‘Panic Zoom’ as it was affectionately nicknamed) run by Yvonne Banham, Janet Baird, Alice Jorden, Kirsty Collinson and Philippa Francis for support with the 121s.

Technology - using Crowdcast

And now for the main event – Crowdcast. None of us had used it before and it can be a little bit temperamental if you don’t know what you’re doing. Suffice to say, that after our first practice session, where I couldn’t even get on it, the panic set in a little. Note to self – Crowdcast MUCH prefers Google Chrome to Safari! Cue weeks of practice, attending Crowdcast help sessions, investing in headphones, and inviting all our attendees to trial runs ahead of the weekend to make sure they could screenshare if applicable, and that they were comfortable with the technology. These were great as it made us realise how much we’d learnt and also let us meet our guests beforehand, which lessened the nerves a little. 

For anyone looking to run an online conference on Crowdcast, practice and familiarisation sessions are definitely the key. It’s strange not being able to see the audience after becoming so used to all the Zoom faces (or cat filters more recently) from everything going online over the past year, but actually, once we got to grips with Crowdcast, it was fine. It’s a platform that was chosen because it can reach a lot of people, and it worked really well, with people joining us from all over the world, including Hong Kong, the Philippines, Dubai, Europe and the United States. We had three teams of three running three different channels, as the events ran concurrently, and the ‘blue team’ consisted of me, Simone Greenwood and Vikki Marshall. The ‘pink team’ was Jane Martin, Teara Newell and Jane’s husband, Tony, while the ‘grey team’ comprised Annaliese Avery, Debbie Edwards and Elizabeth Lawson.

Other advantages are that the sessions automatically record and can be accessed afterwards at any time, and that, especially when we had large audiences, the ‘Ask A Question’ box was a very effective way of people being able to ask what they wanted and the rest of the audience being able to vote on those questions, so that the popular ones rose to the top. But the chat facility along the side was also great and we saw lots of the audience connecting through that, especially on The Importance of Social Media event with Kathryn Evans and Candy Gourlay, where people were sharing Twitter handles etc. 

(And over the weekend #Honkference even started trending on Twitter!)

Kathryn Evans and Candy Gourlay during the social media event

It also allows you to have one person on screen hosting an event, and others behind the scenes on admin, keeping an eye on the chat, posting links, and helping with any technical hiccups, like my very first event on the first day with Barry Cunningham, Nicki Thornton and Jasbinder Bilan, when Jasbinder had problems connecting and we had to go live without her – aaargh! Deep breaths and smiles all round. But it all came good and Vikki managed to work magic behind the scenes, so that Jasbinder popped up while Barry was still on his introduction. 

As well as the social media event, our own SCBWIs were heavily involved in some of the other sessions too, including ‘The Importance of Community’ with Debbie Edwards, Catherine Whitmore and Philippa Francis:

Philippa Francis, Catherine Whitmore and Debbie Edwards during The Importance of Community session.

Kathryn Kettle, Sara Grant (top), Annaliese Avery and Simon James Green (bottom) during the Undiscovered Voices session.

And if you want to know what it’s all about from both sides of the fence, we had Louie Stowell end the weekend for us with a look at children’s publishing from both an author’s and publisher’s perspective in her session on The A-Z of publishing, with the added bonus of a guest appearance from her gorgeous dog, Buffy, at the end.

Elizabeth Frattaroli and Louise Stowell (with Buffy) in the A-Z of publishing session.

The whole conference was run by volunteers and free for anyone to attend (although we were supporting the wonderful Seven Stories). 

Our post-conference debrief Zoom where we've just discovered the fun you can have with filters.
(Still not a cat filter though!)
You can catch up with all the other sessions here:
or on the forthcoming Honkference YouTube channel.

Elizabeth Frattaroli is a YA and MG writer who lives by the sea near Dundee. She has been longlisted in The Bath Children’s Novel Award, the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and the WriteMentor Children's Novel Award and, as of 2020, is also a golden egg with the newly launched GEA Scotland. She is on Twitter as @ELIZFRAT.

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.