This week, we Smugglers Assembled! …to attend the BEA Book Blogger Conference on Monday and Book Expo America on Tuesday through Thursday. It was a hectic week full of meetings, get-togethers, parties, and book signings. And, while we are dead tired, we have decided to write out our disjointed thoughts about the highs and lows of the week (before we completely forget everything in a blur of Javits center-fueled exhaustion).
BEA Bloggers Convention
We have mixed feelings about this year’s BEA “Bloggers” Conference (on a side note, why are there quotation marks around “bloggers” in the logo for the conference? SO. WEIRD.). This is the third time we have attended the conference, but in many ways this year was a first as it was the first time that BEA officially organized and ran the con after purchasing it from the hardworking bloggers that founded and ran the show in prior years. While we were somewhat wary of this shift in ownership and organization – especially after the panel lineup was announced, seeming to focus on bloggers and how we can best blossom in their supporting roles for authors and publishers – we were cautiously optimistic and excited to attend the full-day conference. Unfortunately, our fears were not unfounded.
It all started with the author-blogger networking breakfast which set the tone for the remainder of the con. The breakfast involved authors sitting at designated tables, then rotating around after a few minutes to a new table of eager and adoring bloggers – essentially, speed dating with authors. Some of it was fine: Justin Cronin (author of The Passage, Thea’s favorite book of 2010) was gracious and hilarious and seemed to know that this was a meet and greet (and not an elevator pitch session). The other two authors that sat with us didn’t seem to know exactly what they were doing there – or perhaps they were a little uncertain as to what the conference entailed. One author seemed to be under the impression that we were all aspiring authors and actually asked about which books we had written that had resonated the most with readers… causing all of the bloggers at the table to basically stare at each other, wordless. Another author made some ill-advised comments berating reviewers for writing negative reviews! This, to a table FULL of reviewers! It felt like we had crossed over into the Twilight Zone – a feeling that was only reinforced by Jennifer Weiner’s Keynote Speech that followed the breakfast session.
2012 BEA Bloggers Keynote, or, The Trials and Tribulations of Jennifer Weiner
We have dubbed the keynote speech as “The Life and Tribulations of Jennifer Weiner” – for the speech was almost completely about her books, her life, and randomly, the history of Oprah’s Book Club (whom Weiner described as the “first book blogger”). There was very little about actual book blogging and the rest of her speech focused on the marvels of twitter (Weiner exclaimed she was born for Twitter) and how bloggers can show support to authors (we are their cheerleaders, apparently). On the heels of these revelations, Weiner also asserted that bloggers should be just like her and be vocal about the books we LOVE and not those that we hate (i.e. don’t write negative reviews, yo). There was some time for Q&A and most of the questions were about her books with the odd question about blogging. When asked about the importance of book blogging, the author mentioned ads on fashion blogs. Yeah, we are still puzzling it out too. You can read her entire speech here.
To be fair, Jennifer Weiner was a very entertaining speaker and quite funny – but the focus of her speech was not really on book blogging, or coming from a reader/critic perspective. This muddled message, plus the earlier bizzaro sales-pitchy breakfast session set the tone of the entire conference: that is, BEA Bloggers Con 2012 was not really about blogging and community, and more about authors and publishers and what we bloggers can do for them.
Following the morning sessions, we attended a panel called “Blogging Today: What You Need to Know and What’s Next.” Main questions focused (again) on the relationship between bloggers and publishers and how the nature and ethics of that relationship is changing. The biggest moment of this panel happened when panellist Erica Barmash, Senior Marketing Manager, Harper Perennial and Harper paperbacks, emphatically drew a line in the sand and said that she would not work with plagiarists – referring to the recent scandal featuring The Story Siren’s case of plagiarism. We wanted to jump out of our seats in applause. Of all the panels of the day, this was the best – even though it was cut short as Jennifer Weiner was signing books on stage and pushed back the start time of the panel. Erica Barmash and Patrick Brown (Community Manager at Goodreads) had some interesting things to say, and didn’t shy away from tough questions, and we respect that.
Next, we broke for lunch – this was supposed to be another meet and greet with authors rotating tables but based on the dismal results of the morning “networking” session, we decided to just grab our boxed lunch and sit outside with a few other fellow bloggers.
After lunch, it was time for the panel “So You Want to Make Money,” focusing on Syndication, Monetization and Affiliate Programs for your Blog – and Thea was one of the panellists. The panel discussed the different ways one might monetize one’s blog and the four panellists spoke from their own experience. Although most of it wasn’t really that useful to those who want to know HOW to monetize their blogs, we felt the panellists made interesting points. Rita Arens, Senior Editor of Blogher.com was very firm on stating that bloggers should know the worth of their skills as writers – a principle with which we completely agree. That said, there are other ways of valuing what we do that to not involve trying to make money out of every single thing. For example, it was brought up during the panel that bloggers could potentially bind and sell reviews at Amazon or as an app (or, heavens forbid, behind a paywall on the blog itself). Thea reacted instinctively and immediately to this by saying that she didn’t think this was a particular course of action we would be taking as Book Smugglers, EVER (why would anyone want to buy our free reviews?). This prompted one of the most bizarre moments of the entire week when, at the end of the panel, the floor opened for questions and one woman basically attacked Thea by saying that she was WRONG and that we NEED to sell our reviews because DAMMIT WE HAVE TO AND WE ARE DOING IT WRONG. It was an extremely tense, aggressive moment that did not go by unnoticed by those in the audience.
Concurrent with the monetization panel, another parallel panel on “Critical Reviews” featured a very lively discussion. One of the panellists was Mark Fowler, Attorney & Blogger, Rights of Writers, whose role was basically to scare the shit out of attendees, citing potential libel suits that could arise from negative reviews. We didn’t attend that panel (as we were mired in monetization craziness), but you can read all about it from Jane at Dear Author – if you don’t know, in addition to being one of the internets’s preeminent book bloggers, Jane also is a lawyer and provides an invaluable professional perspective. In any case, we are still dismayed at the composition of the panel itself – what good could really come from inviting a Writers’ Rights lawyer to a panel supposedly geared towards critical book bloggers?
The last panel we attended “Demystifying the Book Blogger & Publisher Relationship”, which consisted of exactly ONE book blogger. We felt that this panel was very one-sided (though Jenn, the blogger on the panel, did try to be as vocal and representative as possible as a voice for book bloggers), and focused on what sorts of things publishers could expect from bloggers. The main takeaway we had from this session was this notion (from the perspective of publicists) that book bloggers are really around to promote books. One of the panellists (from NetGalley) went as far as saying that a “mature” coverage of books is more than writing a review and liking/disliking a book. It is also posting covers, Q&As, and otherwise promoting the book as much as possible. (How the word “mature” applies to all of us bloggers is still puzzling to us.) The most useful portions of the panel, focusing on driving traffic and stats, actually came from audience questions and suggestions. We were happy to hear from Lucille Rettino, Vice President, Director of Marketing at Simon & Schuster, who said that stats, while important, are not the only barometer that should be applied to a blog.
To close out the day, we attended the closing remarks made by Jennifer Lawson who was a very interesting and heartfelt speaker (we LOVE The Bloggess!), but again, the closing remarks felt odd in this context, as her speech was more about Jenny Lawson: The Bloggess and her road to writing a successful book…and not so much about book blogging.
All Hail the Hypnotoad
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.
We plan on emailing the organizers with our feedback and suggestions for next year. If you were an attendee and felt the same way, perhaps you could do the same?
Book Expo America
With the Blogger Conference out of the way, we hit the floor of the Javits Center from Tuesday to Thursday, and it was as usual a mix of super awesomeness and extreme tiredness. For those who have not attended this event before, words can not describe the soul-grinding tiredness that one feels at the end of a whole day cooped up inside Javits. That said, BEA is a dream for book lovers. We found ourselves surrounded by books and fellow book lovers, and there is really nothing like that in the world. We met some of our favourite authors (including Cat Valente and N.K. Jemisin!) as well as loads of our favourite bloggers – some of them whom we had already met from previous years, some of whom we met for the first time in person this year (and, naturally, with whom we became insta-friends).
Tons of books were available throughout the show, per usual, but we felt that this year there were fewer galleys – either that, or we were not as interested as previous years (we came away with about 30 books each, as opposed to a whopping 60+ last year). As usual, BEA trends strongly in the Middle Grade, YA and LitFic categories, with a lesser focus on Fantasy, Science Fiction and Romance. Orbit and Tor represented with a few solid books, but surprisingly the vast majority of Speculative Fiction we received was from *insert music of doom* Amazon Publishing’s 47North imprint. We had a fantastic meeting with one of their publicists, sat down to talk about their upcoming titles, and we have to report that their forthcoming list looks REALLY good. (Their childrens/YA imprint also looks pretty awesome.)
With regard to trends: we are a little bummed out to report that a LOT of the YA galleys around seemed to be the standard “dystopian” fare. That said, Thrillers and Crime seem to be on an upswing – might these be the Next Big Thing?
Are we forgetting something? Probably, but there is a bottle of wine sitting in front of us and we have The Twilight Zone queued up on Netflix.
The Book Smugglers, from BEA 2012, over and out.
For other BEA experiences, make sure to check out these write-ups: