Welcome to BEA Appreciation Week 2011! As is our annual tradition, this week we bring you reviews of some of the titles we have scooped up at BEA, as well as some general news and ponderings concerning the trade show and affiliated conferences.
As many of you know, last week we had the great pleasure of attending our second ever BookExpo America and affiliated Book Blogger Con. In addition to the many galleys and author signings, BEA/BBC is a unique event because it provides a unique opportunity for reviewers, bloggers, and industry professionals to meet, talk, and share knowledge. In particular, the affiliated Book Blogger Convention (now in its second year) is a wonderful resource for bloggers to connect with one another, while it also seems to be an invaluable resource for professionals on the publicity/marketing end to pick the brains of online rabble-rousers. This year’s BBC included the following panel topics:
- Ask A Publisher or Publicist – In which a variety of publishing professionals answered questions from bloggers, such as “What do publishers expect from a blogger? How do you best approach publicists?”
- Practical Challenges of Blogging – In which a panel of bloggers discussed issues like organization, time management, and other “life impacting” blogging challenges
- Navigating the Grey Areas of Book Blogging – In which a panel of bloggers discussed the challenges of negative reviews, netiquette, ethics, and other grey zones
- Author Speed Dating – In which bloggers had the chance to sit and chat (briefly) with authors to talk about books and the industry
- Blogging for a Niche Market – In which an enormous panel of bloggers talked a bit about about their respective specialty genres
- Technology for Blogging – In which a panel of bloggers and professionals talked about the technical aspects of blogging, including social media, online libraries, podcasting, and the whole gamut of technological weapons available at a blogger’s fingertips
As you can see, there was an interesting mix of topics available for attendees. We were excited about attending the convention once again and thrilled to have been invited to speak on one of the panels (Thea repped SciFi/Fantasy on the “Blogging for a Niche Market” panel). While the convention has clearly grown in size and scope since last year and we were impressed with some of the variety available to attendees, we were a little disappointed with some of the questions and topics that were NOT addressed, just as we were a little disappointed with the manner in which some of the questions and topics that WERE present were handled.
Easily, the best, most useful panel (in our opinion) was the “Navigating the Grey Areas of Blogging” session, moderated by the superb Heather of Age 30+ A Lifetime In Books. The panel didn’t shy away from potentially provocative topics, and panelists were awesomely candid about their opinions concerning some tough issues, such as FTC regulations, relationships with publishers, and the motivation behind reviews with a personal v. professional voice, and writing negative reviews. On the other end of the spectrum, the “Blogging for a Niche Market” panel (yes, the one that Thea was on) was, to be frank, a huge mess. There were far too many panelists – this became evident when it was physically impossible to fit enough chairs for speakers on stage – and the break-out sessions with bloggers sitting in groups at tables, sans topics to discuss, resulted in a very awkward and protracted experience for all those involved.
But that’s par for the course, because, as anyone that’s attended a convention before knows, there are inevitable ups and downs. Some panels will be superb, and others will be filler. There are some panels that you will think are right on the money, and some at which you will shoot your mental death-rays. Such is the way of convention life. Uneven panels are not the reason for this post.
This year, we picked up on several trends over the course of the conference, and we would like to address them on a series of Ponderings posts. First, let us make it clear that: 1) This series of posts is not an attack on the Book Blogger Convention. Quite the contrary! We are *huge* supporters of the event and thoroughly impressed with its achievements so far, especially given that the BBC is still in its early infancy; 2) The opinions presented on this series of posts are based on our own experiences for the past three years of blogging. They are OUR truth.
Disclaimer made, the topic we would like to address on this first BEA/BBC inspired Ponderings post is the relationship between bloggers and publishers. We could not help but notice a theme that ran throughout the convention, on almost every panel we attended, which is the impetus for this post: the idea that book bloggers are beholden to publishers.
Throughout the day and from our experiences beyond BEA and BBC, it has become very clear to us that there seems to be a widespread perception that bloggers are working for, and subordinate to, publishers. Even one of the panel descriptions (“Ask a Publisher or Publicist”) explicitly states, “What do publishers expect from a blogger?”
In many of our interactions with publishers, the expectation we are almost always presented with is: what else can we bloggers do for publishers? In these meetings we are prodded about when we should be posting reviews, how we should post reviews, what sort of extras should we include with our reviews (book trailers? blog tours?), etc.
The idea seems to be that because book bloggers are not part of some larger, professional (read: paid) organization, because we run the gamut from teenagers to housewives, we are not on the level. We should be happy with the free books and any other extras we receive – and in return for those ARCs/galleys/review copies, we automatically are inured to a bizarre power hierarchy in which bloggers are expected to do certain things. And the worst part is, we’ve noticed that this assumption of being indebted to publishers stems from bloggers.
This, dear readers, makes us a little bit frustrated.
This makes us frustrated because we are not publisher subordinates. We aren’t their employees. As awesome as free books are, they aren’t really that huge of an incentive. If you, dear reader, are anything like us Smugglers, you probably buy a shameful amount of books on your own. Here at Smuggler Headquarters, we buy just as many books (who are we kidding – we probably buy more) as we get for “free.”
We bloggers do what we do because we love reading. Because of this shared love for reading, we occupy a unique position in the increasingly effective online world – people trust us and our opinions. Or, they hate us and our opinions. The point is, people hear us and engage, individually and collectively. This amounts to a helluva lot in a world where professional review outlets are shrinking and communities are becoming more socially driven by the powers of teh interwebs.
The truth is, fellow readers and bloggers, we are far more influential than we may think. If you were at Book Blogger Con, think of the questions during panels – primarily from marketing and publicity people, or independent authors and publishers – about OUR opinions concerning the efficacy of blog tours, email subject lines, and publicity pitches. The fact of the matter is, publishers actually need us bloggers to connect with audiences, because in many cases, they haven’t built that trust or relationship with their readers. In the vacuum left by disappearing bookstores, shrinking physical shelf space, and vanishing traditional print outlets, and with the proliferation of online audience engagement, publishers are ill-equipped. They need to find a way to engage with an audience they haven’t ever had to deal with before, and as such, their marketing/publicity campaigns are increasingly relying on non-traditional media (aka bloggers) to spread the word about books.
The mindset that we’ve observed both at the convention and online, however, demonstrates that an essential part of this equation is being overlooked, forgotten, or ignored. The thing is, we bloggers have worked long and hard to build our readerships. As we’ve always seen it, as book bloggers, our responsibility is to our readers. Period. This relationship with our readers is based on trust, and that trust can only happen if readers know that we are being not only completely and totally honest in our reviews but also about how we get our review copies (this is why full disclosure is so important).
In the end, we believe the question should not be “What do we owe publishers?” but “What do we owe our readers?” To that end, we wish that Book Blogger Con, in addition to the “Ask A Publisher or Publicist” session had an “Ask the Bloggers” session. Perhaps next year?
This isn’t to say that we think that we don’t need publishers! The truth is just the opposite. We LOVE the industry. We love getting galleys. We love the thrill of opening a package of books or refreshing a browser to see what’s new on NetGalley. We want to help the industry thrive, and we want to help authors and publishers reach new readers – but never to the detriment of a blog’s community of readers and above all, never in lieu of honesty (and this is why negative reviews are so important as well – but this is a topic for a different post). We blog for love of the written word, in all its forms (and incidentally, this is the best “service” we could offer a publisher).
We are not employees or lesser beings who are at the behest of publishers, eager to do whatever publishers want in order to promote or sell more books. No, we are partners in a symbiotic relationship – and we appreciate it when we are treated like partners. Not as lower-echelon minions that owe a publisher something in exchange for a free copy of a book. Like it or not, book bloggers are part of an ever-growing, ever-evolving publishing industry, and we deeply wish that more bloggers would also embrace this frame of mind. See, the thing about relationships and partnerships are that they are a two-way street. Publishers and other industry professionals will only truly take us seriously when we take ourselves and our position, as a vital part of the digital publishing ecosystem, connecting readers with new books, seriously too.
What about you? Did you attend BEA or BBC? Do you have an opinion about the strange new relationship evolving between readers, bloggers, and publishers?