I may only have arrived in London two weeks ago, but I couldn’t resist the temptation, yesterday, to crawl out from under the boxes to attend The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference 2014.

I am so glad I did!

What a wonderful opportunity to cross paths with the few people I already know in the UK Kidlit world – shout out to you, Lucy Coats – as well as to make the acquaintance of so many other fellow writers and publishers. Most importantly, it provided me a quick lesson in all the latest news and updates in the UK world of creating awesome content for children.

Here’s a summary of what I learned:

In her opening keynote address, Ann-Janine Murtagh, HarperCollins Children’s Books, likened the current era in children’s publishing to the Gold Rush. In her view, there has never been a better moment to be working in children’s publishing. It's the fastest growing sector in the publishing market, at least in the UK.

She believes this is due to “the incredible transforming power of the story;” that in this increasingly fast paced world of screens and all the distractions that go with them, children are in need of being transported by narrative like never before.

I would argue, too, that kids are in ever increasing need of the story’s power to calm the mind and to bring quiet to an otherwise “noisy” day.

Narrative, Anne-Janine said, is the new gold. Creators and publishers of children’s media, she went on, are the natural custodians of the business of narrative.

“Have confidence in the resilience and power of great content,” she urged us, “and give kids the best, because they deserve it.”

That children’s publishing is a growth area was confirmed by John Lewis of The Bookseller, whose stunningly clear and in-depth overview of the UK children’s book market thus far in 2014 indicates there will be year-end growth in all segments of the industry, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and study and teachers guides.

In the second keynote speech, Alison York of Nickelodeon UK revealed the results of her research on the impact of technology and new media on developing minds. Her conclusion is that “digital natives,” i.e., those born into the world of smart phones, touch screens, and interactive virtual experiences, are able to negotiate seamlessly between the digital and real worlds. What’s more, the most successful media products for kids tend to facilitate access between the actual and the virtual. She stated that kids love immersive experiences: the bigger the screen, the better. But, in a world of quantity, it’s quality that holds kids' attention longest and keeps them coming back for more.

Michael Acton-Smith of Moshi Monsters' fame talked about how challenging it is to achieve success if limited only to the mobile space. The key, he stated, is to diversify across formats. Tom Bonnick of Nosy Crow joined him in this advice, advocating that re-purposing beloved kid's content across formats not only makes it available to a broader audience, but can also extend the life-cycle of both characters and narrative.

As you can imagine, I found the above advice very validating, coming as it did from these two industry pros, as this is a business direction we’ve already taken at Time Traveler Tours & Tales.

Similarly, literacy & technology consultant Bev Humphrey offered the TTT&T a proverbial pat on the back. Her presentation confirmed that schools are indeed “switching on,” that is, adopting digital learning tools, thus presenting a great opportunity for publishers targeting the education market.

The Bookseller Children’s Conference 2014 also included two great panels with voices spanning the industry from the usual agent and editor to the librarian, author, independent bookstore owner, and reviewer. I found this extremely refreshing – Bravo Bookseller conference staff!

One panel focused on the need for more industry collaboration across these groups at the service of win-win marketing, and of making kids media more discoverable, at a time when marketing budgets continue to shrink. The second panel focused on what’s working in social media marketing. Panel participants spoke, in particular, about where kids are congregating. The upshot? YouTube and Tumblr. But mostly YouTube.

So get your video mojo on folks! Our target audience still loves to read and to be transported, and calmed, by a great story, that much is clear. But they appear to be searching for their new fave reads on line, through primarily visual media, like book-trailers and author interviews.

The next Bookseller conference, FutureBook,
will take place on 14 November in London.

Can you guess who’s going to be there?