Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 SCBWI Europolitan Con Interview: Dina von Lowenkraft & Elisabeth Norton of Team Europolitan

By Angela Cerrito

Note: SCBWI Regional Advisors Dina von Lowenkraft and Elisabeth Norton were interviewed by Angela Cerrito about the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan Conference. This is the first in a series of six articles.

Angela: May 2017 will be the third time the Europolitan is being held, what do you think makes it unique?

Elisabeth: There are several ways in which I think the Europolitan is unique.

First, there's its size. With approximately 65 attendees (including the volunteers working behind the scenes to make the conference happen), the faculty: attendee ratio is the smallest of any conference I've attended. This results in smaller groups in the breakout sessions, more chances to get to know other attendees and even chat with faculty members on breaks or at socials.

Secondly, we realize that we have a diverse membership whose publication goals may vary, so we have faculty from more than one publication market. This year we have publishing industry professionals from both the U.S. and U.K. markets. And one of our PAL faculty members is coming all the way from Australia!

Another thing I love about the Europolitan and that I think is unique to this conference is the number
of opportunities for attendees to get to know each other, not just at the conference, but through optional pre- and post-conference activities like the Scrawl Crawl, pre-conference dinner, and post-conference critique meeting. Many friendships and critique partnerships have been formed as a result of past Europolitan conferences!

Paris Scrawl Crawl, photo by Kirsten Carlson
Dina: There are so many ways in which the Europolitan is unique! 

As Elisabeth pointed out, we have a diverse membership with unique needs. Many of our members are ex-pats, living in countries where the language they write in (English) isn’t the language of the country they live in. 

Other members are writing in English as a second (or third) language. And for our illustrators and author/illustrators the type of illustrations that are being published in the country they live in may or may not correspond to the market they are/would like to publish in. Because of this, we feel it is essential to offer our members insight into both the U.K. and the U.S. markets - markets that are different from the ones where our members live.

Given the diverse nature of our regions, where many of our members can’t easily come together for a critique group or social event, the Europolitan offers a unique opportunity to network and create friendships with fellow creatives. 

In order to encourage this, we have from the very first Europolitan in Paris in 2013, held pre- and post- conference events that are free and open to all attendees who can come. The resulting camaraderie amongst attendees who participated in the pre-conference Scrawl Crawl and group dinner, right from the start of the conference on Saturday, was amazing - and exhilarating. Walking through the halls of the art school where the event was held, you saw familiar faces.

That random person sitting next to you at a breakout session wasn’t a stranger. And because of the many joyful greetings and relaxed atmosphere, even those who couldn’t attend the pre-conference events were quickly brought into the group. The energy was explosive!

And, as Elisabeth pointed out, the fact that our conference has such a high ratio of faculty to attendees (this year we expect approximately a 1:5 ratio, excluding volunteers), means everyone gets a chance to know our faculty on a human level.

Europolitan Conference in Paris, photo by Tess Krűss
For me, this is one of the most important things people get from our Europolitan conference - an understanding of the people behind the often romanticized idea of ‘agent’ or ‘editor’ or ‘art director.’ As with any industry, each professional is unique - making their list, their way of interacting with clients, their view of what works or isn’t working their own. 

Understanding that, chatting with professionals about other topics than what they are working on, helps members to understand that working with a professional isn’t just a contract for a book, it’s a relationship. And a relationship around a creative piece is a long term investment.

The other thing that makes the Europolitan unique is its moving venue. 

Since there are 5 participating countries hosting it, we rotate through France, the Netherlands, Belgium+Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany+Austria. We hope this means attending will be easy for all members at some point! Besides - it’s great fun to get to discover a new city or get to know another country better each time.

Angela: I agree with you 100 percent about the energy and sense of community. Tell us about the origins of the Europolitan Conference.

Dina: When I became Regional Advisor in 2012, three fellow Regional Advisors aka ‘RAs’ (Tioka Tokedira in France, Kirsten Carlson in Germany-Austria and Mina Witteman in the Netherlands) had just begun discussing ways of creating a larger event than any one of us could host on our own with the idea that such an event would be beneficial to all of our members. 

I remember the excitement of my first discussions with them at the Bologna Book Fair. Not long after this, Jay Whistler became RA for Switzerland and joined in the discussion. From Tioka, Kirsten and Mina’s original idea, the Europolitan with our 5 participating regions was born.

Just about a year later, the first Europolitan was held in France in April 2013 right after the Bologna Book Fair. The idea was to capitalize on potential U.S. faculty who would already be in Europe as well as to invite U.K. faculty. The first Europolitan was a resounding success.

Amsterdam Scrawl Crawl, photo by Monika Baum
Mina took up the challenge of creating the second Europolitan in the Netherlands two years later. As I mentioned previously, some of what I feel are the key elements of the Europolitan have been in place since the beginning: the desire to create a community across Europe and to give our small regions a special conference that will help members not only learn more about craft and the marketplace but will also promote long-term friendships and provide the opportunity to interact with industry professionals.

Our current team, with myself in Belgium+Luxembourg, Tioka Tokedira in France, Patti Buff in Germany+Austria, Melanie Rook Welfing in the Netherlands and Elisabeth Norton in Switzerland, continue to believe in these ideas and have worked hard to create the third edition of the Europolitan in Belgium. In fact, we’ve even taken the idea of collaboration one step further and now work together in-between conferences as well.

Angela: How do you collaborate across borders?

Elisabeth's desk
Elisabeth: The host region has a lot to do related to the local aspects of hosting the conference - finding a suitable venue, figuring out meals, hotels, etc. 

The official planning committee consists of the Regional Advisors from the country that hosted the previous conference (in this case, The Netherlands), the host of the current conference (Belgium-Luxembourg), and the host of the next conference (Switzerland). That said, the reality is that the Regional Advisors from all five regions spend many hours working together via video conference and email to collaborate on every detail of the conference - from the website to the program schedule.

Dina: The original idea was to make the planning committee the trio Elisabeth mentioned. But I think each Europolitan reflects the host country and I prefer a broader, more inclusive approach. 

I’ve always included the other four RAs in all my discussions and they have each participated and helped in different ways. The conference is a team effort - or rather it is the result of the efforts of multiple teams. 

In addition to the planning team of RAs, there is the Local Team consisting of myself, the Belgian Illustrator Coordinator (I.C.), Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez and our U.K. coordinator, Catherine Coe. During the conference, there will also be the Volunteer Team consisting of the ICs and ARAs of our 5 regions. 

Chateau-du-Cheneau in Braine l’Alleud
Because of the nature of the venue (a manor house in Braine l’Alleud) I also have a duo of volunteers, SCBWI members Rose Deniz and Jeannine Johnson-Maia, to help me on site. In total, there are 14 people who have volunteered their time and collaborated to make this event happen. 

So even if the host country is the one to orchestrate the event, no Europolitan can come into existence without the help and support of all of the member regions.

One thing that has come out of our five-region collaboration is, not surprisingly, a desire to find other ways to offer our members even more. As I mentioned earlier, in between the conferences we continue to build on our team efforts. 

For example, we’ve requested and been granted an official page on the scbwi.org website. We’ve brainstormed about the needs of our members and the kinds of offerings we can give. 

We’ve maintained a WebEx platform to facilitate crit groups and to be able to offer webinars. And we even have a few exciting things in the works for our ‘off’ years in between conferences. But shhh… more about that to be announced at the Europolitan in May in Belgium!



Angela: How did your team arrive at this year’s theme: Pens, Pencils & Partnerships?

Dina: One of the things that has struck me from the beginning with SCBWI is the way people come together and share - be it on craft, on industry insights or on creating events to help others. 

Writing and/or illustrating are often solitary activities - but being part of SCBWI has shown me just how much more fulfilling it is when you can share that path with fellow creatives. I have also learned over the years that even if you do write your manuscript on your own, you don’t get it out to market on your own. 

Every step along the way includes various forms of partnerships, be it crit partners, an agent, an editor, a cover artist or a publicist… and the many ways you interact with others is part of what makes this industry so special. Because of that, and because of the collaborative nature of how the Europolitan is run, I felt that paying homage to this theme was a nice way of sharing with everyone one of the values I personally believe in: respect - because you can’t have a partnership without it. 

And although I didn’t plan it (the idea first came up in early 2016), I feel that the idea of working together, of respect and giving everyone the freedom to create according to their own vision, is timely.

Gemma and Natalie
One of the things we tried to do when looking for faculty was to find industry professionals and creatives who are currently working together. Some of our first faculty members were agent Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency, and her client, author Robin Stevens. We were then lucky enough to be able to invite Natalie Doherty, commissioning editor at Penguin Random House Children’s, who published Robin’s books.

One funny, and very Europolitan anecdote, is that when I reached out to our previous faculty member Jill Santopolo, editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, she suggested I contact Kendra Levin, executive editor at Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House - who it turns out has collaborated with Natalie Doherty on various projects between the U.K. and the U.S.

Jill Santopolo, photo by Alison May
And since the agent-client relationship is so important, we also decided to bring in an agent-illustrator
duo with Penny Holroyde, co-founder of Holroyde-Cartey, and author/illustrator Chris Mould.

These are just some of the many relationships we have threading through this year’s Europolitan and some of the facets we will explore in our panels on Working Together, whether it be in terms of relationships within the industry or in the terms of the actual process of how a book gets from idea to reader.

I’d also like to point out that even this interview is a fun expression of the many roles and relationships we all have because you, Angela, are also one of our faculty members and a fellow SCBWI volunteer.

Angela: Thank you, Dina, another obvious partnership is Cynsations. After attending and volunteering at many SCBWI international conferences, I’m honored to be part of the Europolitan faculty this year. The Europolitan certainly creates a community. It strikes me that the community begins to form even before the event and lasts long after. Can you speak to the webinars that are offered before the conference as well as the lasting connections from attending Europolitan?

Dina: Yes, it’s true - the community starts to come together well before the conference, even before the Scrawl Crawl!

Amsterdam Europolitan Conference, photo by Mina Witteman
The webinars are something we started for the second Europolitan in Amsterdam in 2015. It’s a nice way of kick-starting the conference, bringing the community together and getting to know the faculty. Our webinars are always small and they feel more like a workshop than an impersonal web lecture. Everyone has video - from faculty to the SCBWI host to the attending members - which means we can all see each other, making it feel more like being together. 

We always start the session half an hour early and encourage members to log on then so that we can check for any technical issues. We then chat and catch up before the faculty member joins us. I really appreciate having that extra time and chance to hear what everyone is working on, what good news they have to share or what craft issue they have been working through.

Faculty members have really enjoyed our smaller, more intimate format - and even if we are each on our own computer in a number of different countries, it always feels like we have shared a moment together. 

Members can ask questions themselves instead of typing in their question as one has to do with the larger webinars and we’ve often had some really interesting discussions. Running these webinars is something I really enjoy doing - not only does it allow us to get into the Europolitan feeling early, it also allows those who can’t attend the conference to still benefit from the fabulous line-up we have. 

We’ve also scheduled two webinars for after the conference, which we hope will help people keep up their motivation and the connections they made at the conference.

I love how we are able to create a community feeling across borders - and know it is so much nicer to show up at an event already knowing other people and having exchanged with them. It’s also why we are so happy to have the opportunity to do these interviews - it helps members get to know our faculty members and the people behind the making of the Europolitan.

Elisabeth hiking at Zermatt
Elisabeth: I think the sense of community starts to form as soon as people announce on social media that they have registered, and talk about how excited they are to be attending. This continues as people start talking about accommodations, looking for roommates and/or travel buddies. 

For example, through social media we’ve learned that (so far) there are five Swiss SCBWI members flying to Brussels on the same flight! Just knowing that we’ll be traveling together heightens our anticipation, and of course the conference, writing and illustrating will be our primary topics of conversation as we travel.

There are some people that only see each other in person at the Europolitan conferences, but between conferences, they keep in touch via email and social media. Personally I have critiqued for people that I’ve met at Europolitan, and it’s great to know that when I’m ready, they will critique my manuscript.

I love initiatives like the webinars. As Dina said, they enable people who are unable to attend the conference to participate in one aspect of the conference initiatives. And I’m excited about some of the other initiatives that we have up our sleeves! 

By combining the efforts of five smaller regions, we’ve managed to put some amazing opportunities out there that not only members of our own regions, but from the entire SCBWI and greater Kidlit community can benefit from.

Angela : SCBWI members come to Europolitan with various levels of experience (from newly starting out to multi-published), creating a wide variety of content (writers, illustrators, picture books, non-fiction, graphic novels, middle grade, young adult, interactive media and more) as well as being diverse in many other ways including language and culture. How do you manage create an event that offers something for everyone?

Dina: That’s a great question, Angela! And an issue that isn’t easy to juggle, as you can imagine. 

Dina and daughter with pony
One of the things we look for when we start looking for faculty are professionals who themselves cover a wide spectrum of the industry - that and being fun people who are passionate about what they do! By finding faculty who themselves juggle many types of children’s content, we are able to ask them to offer several different topics for their presentations, workshops and/or webinars. 

We also set up the Europolitan to have several presentations and workshops at any given moment so people can choose which one suits them best - which unfortunately often means people want to be in several places at once. I know I do… there are so many wonderful topics being covered that I myself don’t know which session to attend!

One of the tremendous opportunities we have at the Europolitan - and perhaps that which makes it the most unique - is the opportunity to discover both the U.K. and the U.S. markets all in one place. Even if both markets are in English, the culture difference is certainly there for both illustrations and manuscripts. The Europolitan is a wonderful opportunity for our members to learn about both markets and to see where their work might fit. 

I also think it’s fun for our faculty to share their experiences with their homologues (and sometimes work partners!) from across the pond. The Europolitan is small enough we can really share. It’s a unique opportunity for all of us to get together and discuss that which we all love - children’s books.

Elisabeth: You’ve hit on one of the biggest challenges we face! As we evaluate program content and presenters, we are always aware of the diversity of creators who will be attending the conference. 

Angela Cerrito
As Dina said, the key is finding presenters with a broad range of industry experience, and finding
topics that can apply to more than one demographic. I think the great thing about taking these things into consideration is that it pushes us to think creatively about our programming. 

A larger conference can have more presenters and program opportunities, enabling them to offer a more specialized approach to discussions of craft and the industry, whereas we need to take a broader approach.

I think this year’s theme is a perfect example: by talking about the partnerships within the industry, there will be content meaningful to members no matter where they are in their publishing journey: for someone not-yet agented, they may key in on the agent-creator relationship. 

For authors or illustrators who are agented, but not-yet published, the discussions about the editorial process might resonate with them. Those already published might gravitate towards discussions about marketing or discussions about craft. 

I think that regardless of what stage of their career attendees are at, they will come away with insights that will help them as they work toward the next stage.

Angela: SCBWI Europolitan is certainly all about relationships and offering support for creating content for children and teens. Thank you both for this insightful interview!


A few impressions from prior faculty:

Heather Alexander,
photo by Marcy Pusey
"The SCBWI Europolitan conference was a very special and totally unique experience. It was held in an art school in Paris, which was pretty marvelous, and the talent from around the world became people I'd never forget. It was fascinating to see how the different children's book markets from around Europe influenced each writers' style, and the mix of faculty from Europe and the U.S. helped bring those differences into focus. Not to mention chic Parisian dinners before and after--perfect for getting to know each other and the city."

Heather Alexander
Editor and founder of Heather Alexander Editorial
faculty at Europolitan 2013 in Paris

"I had such a remarkable time getting to know the writers who attended the Europolitan conference in 2015. Their experiences living outside of the United States lent themselves to fascinating stories that offered different points of view and a variety of traditions and customs. And getting to eat Stroopwaffels and visit the Van Gogh Museum was an added bonus…"

Jill Santopolo
Editorial Director of Philomel Books
faculty at Europolitan 2015 in Amsterdam

Marrietta Zacker,
photo by Doug Zacker
“Hearing the perspectives of writers and illustrators from other countries and those living abroad was so valuable. I would recommend the conference to anyone, regardless of where they are in their career. The conference was well-planned and well-run and the sessions were fun and informative for both the faculty and the attendees. We had the time and the space to learn about one another, and because we were looking at the industry with different lenses, our discussions were vibrant and enlightening.”

Marietta Zacker
Partner at Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency
faculty at Europolitan 2015 in Amsterdam

Born in the U.S., Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium & Luxembourg, where she lives with her husband. She has two college-going daughters, two horses, a cat and multiple stacks of books to be read. Dina's happy spot is a thousand kilometers north of the Arctic Circle.

Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.  Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and has served as Regional Advisor for Switzerland since early 2014. Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura with her family and two dogs, a 16-year-old Poodle and a 13-year-old Westie. When she's writing, she can be found at her desk with a poodle lying on a pillow underneath it. When she's not writing, you can find her spending time with her family hiking, biking, playing board games, and watching Star Trek.

Angela Cerrito is an author and a playwright. Her recent novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House, 2015), was named a Best Children’s Book of the Year by The Guardian, a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award. She speaks about history, research, writing and early literacy to students, teachers and parents.

Cynsational Note:

Huge thanks to Elisabeth Norton for organizing and coordinating the Europolitian Conference Interview series for Cynsations! All week we have in-depth interviews with agents, editors and art directors sharing industry insights (even if you can't make it to Belgium in May.)

Elisabeth Norton

3 comments:

minawitteman.com said...

Thank you, Angela, Elisabeth and Dina for this insightful interview AND for carrying on the Europolitan torch. I can't wait to see you all in Brussels in May.
-Mina

Kirsten said...

I'm so happy to see how the Europolitan Conference has continued to evolve! The interview covered so much about it's history and the amazing work the whole team has been doing to make this year's the best yet.

I will be there in spirit and tune into social media to see things as they unfold. Congratulations my amazing Euro-scbwi-ers! The Belgian manor house will be filled to the eaves with kidlit creativity!

Kirsten
[from the middle of the Pacific Ocean]

kathryn evans said...

One day I'll make it!!!

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