**UPDATED: As more excellent recaps come in, I will be adding them at the bottom**
On Monday I attended the BEA Blogger Con. I had a great time meeting friends old and new, but the conference itself was a mixed bag. Here’s an assessment with links at the end to other viewpoints.
8:45 am – 9:45 am: Continental Networking Breakfast + Swag Bag
I came in at the tail end of this. Bloggers were sitting at round table and authors rotated every few minutes from table to table. When a lone author sits down at a table full of blogger-reviewers, her natural inclination is to talk about her books. I heard from other bloggers that they spent most of the hour discussing the author and her work. Some bloggers who had written critical reviews of the author felt uncomfortable making small talk with someone whose book they had panned. Every blogger I spoke to said she would rather have just talked with other bloggers.
10:00 am – 11:00 am: Opening Day Keynote: Jennifer Weiner
This event began with the presentation of the First Annual AAP Book Blogger Awards Winners. I think having blogger awards is a great idea. Some of the rules were head-scratchers, though, like this one: “iii) Materials which contain profanities, vulgar language, lewd behavior, extensive or gratuitous violence, or are otherwise obscene or inappropriate for a general audience.” Funnily enough, one of the winners is called Insatiable Booksluts.
Weiner’s keynote started late. I was at a table with Kristen of Fantasy Cafe, my partner in crime for the trip, and seven publishing company employees, either editors or publicists. While waiting for Weiner’s talk to begin, we had a really nice chat with the folks from Norton, who were genuinely interested in what bloggers do. Still, I was stunned we were the only bloggers at the table. This turned out to be foreshadowing.
Weiner posted a transcript, and for the entire video click here. Everything you need to know about this talk can be summed up in in the first ten seconds, when she asks the audience to let her know if her bra straps become visible. She started with a chat about one of her booksignings a few years back, and spent the bulk of the talk on her fraught relationship with The New York Times. Noting that she is an odd choice for the keynote — because she is not a publisher (huh?) — she claims that what she brings to us is her success as an author who is an expert at social media.
Weiner made an interesting claim that Oprah was one of the first people to model a new kind of horizontal reader-author interaction, with an unselfconscious style. But then, sadly, Oprah got Franzened. Weiner theorized that the Franzen debacle took the wind out of Oprah’s natural, casual, peer to peer book blog style, and turned her into a New Yorker wannabe. That was unfortunate for Oprah. More unfortunate for me as an attendee, the rest of the talk was devoted to Weiner’s personal journey as a one of the first wave of author bloggers, and how that affected her relationship with the New York literary establishment.
I would have been interested to hear about her relationship with book bloggers, and how that has evolved. Weiner was funny, and this might have been a good talk in another setting. But I was in New York to hear about book blogging. I had the rest of BEA to meet and fawn over authors and their books.
After giving examples of her ability to sprinkle fairy dust (she actually said that), instead of just complaining about the Times bias (although I think she wanted a conjunction there, ‘cuz she sure did both in this talk), Weiner concluded with: “and if you’ve got a blog, you can do this, too.”
Weiner turned to book bloggers in the last two minutes. She shared some words of advice for us bloggers:
I’m not saying never write bad reviews, or that there’s no place in the world for some well-deserved snark. I’m not saying not to be honest. But there is something to be said for talking up the things you love instead of talking down the things you hate.
As bloggers, you help readers just by being there, by tweeting about what you’re reading, by answering questions, by covering the books and genres that mainstream media ignores, or covering popular books in a way the mainstream can’t.
Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one can hear, tweet like you mom is not online. … Be yourself, and I promise, readers will find you.
11:15 am – 12:15 pm: Blogging Today: What you need to know and what’s next
Moderator: Zoë Triska, Associate Books Editor, Huffington Post
Speaker: Erica Barmash, Senior Marketing Manager, Harper Perennial and Harper paperbacks
Speaker: Patrick Brown, Community Manager, Goodreads
Speaker: Jen Lancaster, author/blogger, jennsylvania.com
Speaker: Candace Levy, editor, blogging at Beth Fish Reads
This was the best panel I heard all day. Everyone on it was good. I disagreed with some of the perspectives and advice, but each was offered in a spirit of collegiality and openness.
12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Let’s Talk Blogs! Networking Luncheon
Make New Friends: sit at tables identified by different genres and led by a blogging author from that genre
Everyone I talked to did not want to repeat the breakfast experience of being held captive by an author shilling a book. We considered ways to keep authors away from our table (Hiding the placard? Dirty looks? Farting noises?) but none seemed foolproof. So a bunch of us decided to take our box lunches outside into the hallway and sit there. If there is an image I take away from the day, it is me and my friends eating lunch on the floor in the hallway of Javits, while the authors sat inside at tables supposedly set for us.
1:45 pm – 2:45 pm So You Want to Make Money? Syndication, Monetization and Affiliate Programs for your Blog
Moderator: Scott Fox, ClickMillionaires.com
Speaker: Rita Arens, Senior Editor, Blogher.com
Speaker: Ron Hogan, Beatrice.com
Speaker: Thea James, Co-Founder, The Book Smugglers
Speaker: Sarah Pitre, Blogger, Forever Young Adult
I have no interest at the moment in monetization, but I wanted to support Thea and I also wanted to broaden my horizons. I had been asked to sit on the competing panel, Demystifying the Blogger Publisher Relationship, but declined since I don’t know much about that. After hearing about that panel, I wish I had agreed to do it. Even if I was an idiot, at least there would have been an amateur blogger up there.
Anyway, I really appreciated Thea’s perspective as a blogger who, with her partner Ana at The Book Smugglers, was reluctant to monetize. Thea’s focus was very much on the relationship she and Ana have with their blog’s readers, and the impact monetization might have on the trust-based culture of amateur reader-bloggers from which The Book Smugglers sprang. Given that, I was disappointed that during the Q&A, a partner of the Blogher panelist took the opportunity to chastise Thea for her attitude.
I feel that there are many different book blogging subcultures, and Thea’s perspective presented a valuable counterpoint to that of Rita Arens. I wish more of this diversity– and specifically, more voices from the amateur blogging sub-cultures — were represented at this conference.
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Creating Community & Driving Engagement
Moderator: Jennifer Conner, Blogger, The Literate Housewife Review
Speaker: Mandy Boles, Blogger, The Well-Read Wife
Speaker: David Lee King, Digital Services Director at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, and blogs at davidleeking.com
Speaker: Stacey O’Neale, Senior Publicist, Month9Books
This is nothing against the panelists, but I was bored to tears by this session and left early. It was more geared to new bloggers (advice on vloging: “take video with your smart phone. Post it to YouTube.”). I felt they tried to cover way too much. I think an entire session on video, for instance, would hardly cover the basic issues in vloging, never mind trying to cover all of the other things they did. I also felt that there was a big focus on getting eyeballs, which is fine, but trying to justify talking about page views when the topic is supposed to be “community engagement” by saying “and you need eyeballs to have a community” really doesn’t cut it.
4:15 pm – 5:15 pm Closing Remarks: Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)
Lawson was excellent. I was truly spellbound by her talk. She was funny, smart, humble, irreverent — everything she seems to be on her blog. After the suffocating air of self-congratulation Weiner exuded, it felt freeing to hear Lawson. That said, while I think Lawson is great, at the end of the day, just like Weiner, she’s an author with a book to pitch. No, Lawson wasn’t as crass as Weiner, who made a running “joke” of her book’s release date throughout her talk, and she had more to say than Weiner about being an amateur blogger, but her focus was on the journey from blogger to published author. If I had heard this talk at BEA, I would have been over the moon with it. As the closing address of BEA Blogger Con, it just solidified my feeling that the conference was oriented to publishers and authors.
1. Hate reading: Both keynote speakers mentioned “hate viewing/reading.” Do you find yourself returning to a blog, twitter feed, or TV show that you hate? Is this a thing?
PS. If you are hate reading this right now, don’t answer this question.
2. Diversity: Beginning with Weiner, at least one person in every session I attended mentioned “diversifying” your book blog. Post pictures, top tens, movie reviews, memes, anything but book reviews.
(I’ve had a shockingly hard time finding blogs on BEA Blogger Con. If you know of others, please link in the comments.)
I thought this was a book blogger conference, but there was a shocking number of people who weren’t book bloggers or who weren’t in the book industry at all. Maybe BlogWorld being nearby caused a mixup and we had people from that conference waltzing into ours, or maybe Reed thought “book blogging” and “blogging” could be mixed without issue, but I didn’t go to a Book Blogger Convention to meet someone with a blog about the environment. There didn’t seem to be a cap on the number of non-book bloggers present, which I feel affected the conference. I am very curious how many people there that day were book bloggers, how many were authors, and how many were publicists.
Hearing perspectives from other parts of the industry is one thing, but I didn’t go there to be marketed to and to be told how to be a better cheerleader for publishing. In previous years, there were complaints about things said at panels, but at least there were panels full of book bloggers.
So the BEA Book Blogger Conference really wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. I plan to write a long list of suggestions to the BEA Bookblogger organizers to recommend things that are more from a blogger’s point of view. Right now, BEA Book Blogger Con is good for very young, new bloggers. I don’t think they are offering much for established bloggers.
On the whole, I was quite disappointed. I can look past communications screw ups (provided they get fixed). I can shrug off logistical blunders the day of an event. I can even tune out the occaisional poor speaker. But, as feared, Reed’s earlier missteps have proven where the organization’s priorities lie…and book bloggers do not make the cut.
This was a common theme in much of the Book Bloggers Conference’s programming: it was skewed to align with the interests of authors/publishers in promoting their books to the book blogging community. I understand the motivation, and I understand the temptation: after all, publishers spend a lot of money on booths at BEA. The breakfast, the keynote, (to a lesser extent) the panel which followed, lunch, and the closing presentations all were oriented around pitching to the book blogging community. I for one regret having – apparently – spent $135 to be not-so-subtly pitched.
After that came an interminably long question-and-answer period – with a very suspicious number of questions focusing on When Jennifer Weiner’s Next Book is Coming Out and What Jennifer Weiner’s Working On Next, rather than, um, Blogging and What It’s All About. I was sincerely starting to wonder if there were plants in the audience.
As for the conference itself, there was a whole lot of bluster from publishers and self-promo obsessed authors, but I had a great time hanging out with other bloggers (and also some lovely librarians) and can’t wait to start putting the tips I picked up into practice. I’ll go over all the panels I attended in greater detail in my wrap-up post, but I took some great notes and I can’t wait to share my insights.
As for the keynote by Jennifer Weiner and the closing remarks by The Bloggess, suffice to say that these ladies are kickass. Both of them inspired me not just to be a better blogger, but to be a better person–no lie. Both Jennifer Weiner’s speech and the Q&A session (in which I ask a YA question!) are online, and I’m still waiting to see what they do with Jenny’s.
Secondly, even though I read and very much enjoy Jennifer Lawson’s blog and luckily got her bestselling Let’s Pretend this Never Happened yesterday (which I started reading on the train ride home) I feel her strengths are not in the public speaking arena. That’s not to say she didn’t have some interesting and funny things to say (most notably I loved her statement “bloggers are more important than big media”) but she didn’t actually have a speech per se, but mostly talked about her random thoughts about being an author and blogging (which is very similar to her writing style). It was not a strong finish to the conference.
But I’m always a little worried that those bloggers will feel unwelcome or left out when there is always some focus on being part of this industry. Having no relationship with publishers and publicists does NOT make one less of a book blogger. A book blogger is anyone who blogs about books, and all the talk about what bloggers “owe” to the industry we provide free publicity for is offputting (to put it mildly). Maybe this fear is unfounded since the panel that focused more on the publisher/blogger relationship was up against one on community engagement so there’s another option to go to, but I’d be really curious to see what someone who has chosen never to receive review copies thought of the event.
–Kristen of Fantasy Cafe
It was a long day of discussion about what bloggers are and what’s expected of them from within the community and from the publishing industry. My experience for the most part was positive but there were some things that irked me. Most who blogged about their BEA blogger con experience have the same feeling I do. The vibe I experienced was that there was this belief that most bloggers want to be authors. There was this large amount of hard sell from the speakers and the panelist about their product and their book that it become ridiculous and tedious. But the ratio of women to men was greater. It seems most book bloggers are women and there was this great sense of women empowerment.
–Katiebabs of Babbling About Books
This is the third year in a row we have attended the Blogger Con. And, once again, we were witness to this strange hypnotoadish focus on “how bloggers can serve the industry” as opposed to how bloggers are a vital part of the new publishing ecosystem and what tips and useful help can be offered to bloggers that are interested in becoming more informed and better book bloggers. The environment felt exploitative and slightly condescending, as opposed to a horizontal meeting of equals. We also felt that the excitement of previous years was not present (a feeling we know many shared). Will we go back next year? Absolutely. We both think that the Book Blogger Con has the potential to be a big community building tool for bloggers. We just wish that the ones running the show would understand that bloggers attend this conference not to hear about how great they are at being cheerleaders for authors and publishers. We attend because we want to meet other bloggers, because we want to listen and participate in a dialogue between bloggers and the industry, because we want to learn from other bloggers their tips and tricks of the trade, best practices, and how to become better at what we do best: write reviews and spread the word about books, both good and bad, and on our own terms.
The blogger convention (the half I was present for) was disappointing, and I wasn’t the only one who thought that, either. I asked Thea about the panels I missed and she replied that I didn’t miss much. A lot of bloggers felt misunderstood and dissatisfied that most of the conference was spent with publishers telling us what they wanted from us, rather than talking about more blogger-focused topic like a Blogging Etiquette or Ethics.
–AnimeJune of Gossamer Obsessions
My BBC afternoon was ok. I feel that it was geared more towards new bloggers or first time attendees. The focus is more on the business of blogging and cultivating industry relationships. There’s nothing wrong with that, lots of bloggers are looking for that… but it is not something I am interested in. Would I go again? Maybe. But I definitely wouldn’t decide until after the panels were announced. I realize that this year brought new owner, Reed Exhibitions, to BBC but I didn’t see any improvement over last years con and that one was put together by amateurs, not a fancy exhibition company. I don’t think Reed has a handle on what a blogger conference should be and are only looking at it from a marketing point of view. It’s understandable – they are in the publishing business after all – but if that’s all the conference has to offer, it’s not worth attending to me.
Like many of the other bloggers have said, I think the bloggers conference lacked information and industry news for the more advanced set. Sessions on moving from Blogger to WordPress, ethics discussions or improving search engine optimization would have made great additions to the conference, I think.
I plan on contacting the event organizer, Joe Vella, with some suggestion for next year. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, for those of you interested in doing the same.
Overall, I’m so thankful I could attend both the conference and the expo this year, and I will definitely be returning in 2013!
Here’s to an awesome BEA 2012 – and here’s hoping next year is even better!
–Janicu of Janicu’s Book Blog
And that leads me to my biggest pet peeve — where were the bloggers? Both keynotes were given by authors (granted, who had blogging experience, but who are not what I would consider book bloggers). The majority of the panelists were people without a background as book bloggers. And the audience members I met or noticed were also clearly not book bloggers. Where were we?
I really don’t know the answer to this questions. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to decide if it was the conference organization, attendees, or my lack of reaching out during the day that prevented me from connecting with other bloggers. It’s probably a combination of the three, but I have to think there was something seriously amiss about a blogging conference where I didn’t meet a single unfamiliar blogger.
–Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness
Book Blogger Uncon
That evening, I had dinner with a group of bloggers, two of whom attended the Book Blog Uncon. They said about 20-25 bloggers attended, and they had a wonderful day. They talked freely about books and blogging all day, including topics such as social media, creating community, commenting, DNF reviews, and the future of blogging.
I feel strongly that there needed to be more of a focus on blogger to blogger interaction, including blogger keynotes. Organizers had little understanding of what would drive such a diverse array of bloggers to attend this event (Hint: not meeting authors and publishers and getting books. Those are two of the many things BEA itself is for.).
Another issue I had was the lack of representation of some genres. If they’re going to have authors, they ought to try to cover the spectrum. Out of thirty-two featured authors at the con, for example, not one was a romance writer.
I was also struck by the different tracks bloggers are on. As I met up with different bloggers, it became clear to me we wanted different things out of the whole experience, and were on very different trajectories with our blogs. Not every blogger hopes to one day quit her day job and live off her blog, whether it be from monetizing blog content, writing books, or using it as a platform to become an editor or author or work in publishing. Not every blogger wants to get more and more eyeballs or even more and more influence. I found myself feeling that the default definition of blog success at this conference was monetization and stats, and while that’s fine for those who have those goals, it’s a bit limiting for those who do not.
When I think about the vast gulf between the BEA Blogger Con and the UnCon, and the diverse goals of the bloggers I met, I wonder if one conference can ever be a happy home for all bloggers. Maybe the need for an UnCon was inevitable as book blogging grows and changes. But rather than giving up and striking out with a new conference, another idea is to try to have more diversity within the BEA Blogger Con itself. The organizers said the BEA Blogger Con had 400 attendees this year, up from 200 its first year. Although no one day event can accommodate every blogger’s personal raison de blog, I think that’s a large enough critical mass to have more concurrent sessions, which better address the diverse goals bloggers have.