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!
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.
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.
The other thing that makes the Europolitan unique is its moving venue.
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.
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: 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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
|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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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…”
Editorial Director of Philomel Books
faculty at Europolitan 2015 in Amsterdam
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.”
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.
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.)