This past Thursday and Friday I was at the annual Book Expo America held at the Javits Center in New York City. I also attended the BEA Bloggers Conference (formerly the Book Bloggers Conference) on Wednesday. Here's my (supah long) report of these things.
BEA BLOGGERS CONFERENCE:
BEA Bloggers is a book blogger convention affiliated with BEA. You may or may not recall, but last year I had a horrible time dealing with registration for the BEA Bloggers Con, and after that I was rather disappointed in the conference itself. That was the year the convention was bought by Reed and it felt like the new management didn't really understand book bloggers and it led to there being a ridiculous amount of promotion to a captive audience amongst other blunders. This was not really what I'd paid money to have to deal with, and from the posts online there were a lot of book bloggers that shared my disappointment. Thankfully Reed Exhibitions seemed to be listening, sent out surveys to book bloggers, and set up a conference advisory board to make this year's conference better. Even with this, I dragged my feet when it came to registering again this year. I only live a train ride away and I can afford to go (I know I am very lucky to be in my situation), but last year honestly drained me. On top of that I've been neglecting book blogging because of my full-time job. I finally decided to go a week before the conference itself, but a lot of bloggers who went last year told me they were skipping the BEA Blogger Con if they were coming to BEA at all.
So with that optimistic preamble, how was it?
I think it was a lot better than last year. This time I had minimal problems registering (I had the page open too long and it didn't register me when I hit submit, so I had to redo it all. It also hiccuped and sent me back to the main BEA registration page, not back to the BEA Blogger Con registration page), I felt like the con was more about book blogging than it was about promoting things to book bloggers than it was last year, and I also felt like this year I learned something from a couple of the panels that I attended. On top of that there seemed to be more effort to represent the different genres of bloggers in the panels with a YA and adult blog track, genre fiction like Romance and SFF were better represented, there were more book bloggers on panels about book blogging, and it felt like the way the sessions were timed at 45 minutes this year allowed for more sessions and decent breaks between them.
On the other hand, there is still room for improvement. I'm not convinced the keynote speakers fully understood book bloggers (maybe we should do away with the keynote speeches - I'd personally be OK with having the time to talk to people over breakfast/drinks instead), I had some trouble deciding what sessions to attend because all I had was a title and no description, and there were still a few comments by some non-book-blogger speakers that made me pause. Most notable for me were remarks about "being nice". I'm going to say I think their hearts may have been in the right place but I was wincing internally. Between the opening keynote speaker's comments on negative reviews and a couple of other offhand comments in other sessions (from mostly non-book blogger panelists) telling bloggers not to post on controversial topics for page views and not to fight with authors on social media, I left the con wondering a little bit about how book bloggers are seen by those who are in the publishing industry. In my mind the comments suggest a disconnect from the book blogger's perspective. There could be some validity to the speakers' comments, but reviewers have been targeted for critical reviews that were not attacks on an author, posting on controversial topics is not necessarily a bid for attention, and as for fights over social media--there are always two sides to every story. Maybe I'm feeling defensive of being a book blogger and I'm taking some comments and seeing a pattern where there isn't one, but this was food for thought for me after BEA. Anyway, putting that aside, I really did feel a lot better about the con compared to last year - but last year set a pretty low bar. If I don't go next year it would be more about having gotten what I can out of this con rather than anything else. That said, there are bloggers who were more disappointed than I was.
The opening and closing keynotes and the Ethics Panel Luncheon were events that was shared universally by all attendees, but in the morning and afternoon there were sessions where there was a choice between two options. In the morning there was a YA focused track and a non-YA focused track (which they called "adult") to choose from, .and in the afternoon the sessions were more about general blogging topics.
These were the sessions I attended:
- Opening Keynote (Will Schwalbe)
- Adult Editor Insight Panel (other choice: Young Adult Editor Insight Panel)
- Adult Book Blogging Pros: Successes, Struggles and Insider Secrets (other choice: Young Adult Book Blogging Pros)
- Ethics Forum Luncheon
- Blogging Platforms (other choice: Taking Your Online Presence Offline)
- Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online (other choice: Book Blogging and the "Big" Niches)
(I skipped the Closing Keynote with Randi Zuckerberg)
Opening Keynote: I saw that there was a camera set up but I am unable to find the video online, but I found a nice recap from a fellow blogger here that I thought hit the highlights. The general feeling I came away with was that Schwalbe had a genuine enthusiasm for books and for how reading connects people. He had some poignant things to say about the book club for two he had with his mother after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he talked about the different definitions of success in publishing with a story about connecting to one reader at a book signing, but he also said a couple of things that I don't think he realized were a bit touchy for his audience. This included talking about the affect that "negative reviews" have on authors with advice such as "keep in mind the human beings behind these books". I wish I could find the video so I could just link to it and ask people to watch and decide how they feel about what he said. Overall it was a nice speech and I thought Schwalbe's earnestness very likable, but his comments about negative reviews have me mulling days later. OK, let's move on.
Adult Editor Insight Panel: This turned out to be a buzz panel where each of the editors discussed books they were particularly excited about this year. Joshua Kendall of Mulholland Books talked about two books: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (who won the Arther C. Clarke award for her Zoo City), about a time traveling serial killer ("imagine Silence of the Lambs written by Margaret Atwood"), and S, a book by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst which he says reorients your experience as a reader (he compares it to House of Leaves) and is a book about storytelling. There will be 20 to 22 pieces of ephemera related to S and the first one is a postcard from Brazil (see picture below). Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books discussed Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great, which is a collection of selected tor.com essays by Walton in which she rereads books and discusses them; Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, a collection of science fiction stories; and The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White, a supernatural procedural centered around a society with special powers and a goal to make the world a little bit better a little bit at a time. Mary-Theresa Hussey talked about The Returned by Jason Mott, which is about people who have died returning to their families, and Sarah Beth Durst's first adult trilogy which begins with The Lost, and is about a small town in the desert where missing things go - this includes the heroine, Lauren. Out of all the books discussed, I was most interested in Sarah Beth Durst's and Jo Walton's, so they're going on my "what to watch for" list.
Adult Book Blogging Pros: Jim Hines was the moderator here, with bloggers Mandi Schreiner from Smexy Books, Rebecca Joines Schinsky of Bookriot, and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books making up the panel. I was excited by this one because the panel was full of actual bloggers, and two of the blogs were Romance, which I felt was a genre that is hugely popular and strangely underrepresented at this con in previous years. This was a fun session and I thought the panelists had some good advice, notably from Sarah Wendell: "your opinion belongs to you, no one should tell you it's not valid". Also Jim Hines specifically joked about being in front of book bloggers and holding back from pitching his books. I thought this showed awareness for staying on topic and why the audience was there that was refreshing. Another thing I thought was a good takeaway was their discussion on social media and how it didn't always have to be about books - that just linking to your posts on twitter isn't enough. They recommended being multidimensional and not being afraid of being vulnerable because people will connect to you (Sarah of Smart Bitches said she just has rules about what she won't talk about - like the mafia, don't talk about the job, don't talk about the family).
Ethics Forum Luncheon: I think a couple of years back there was a rash of posts about FTC disclosures and we've had previous sessions on this at BBC, so I wasn't unfamiliar with the topics at this forum, but this is still a useful panel nonetheless. Jane Litte of Dear Author moderated a discussion with Richard Newman of Hinch Newman LLP and Professor Geanne Rosenberg of Baruch College. First the speakers went over their credentials, then they discussed what the FTC guidelines for bloggers were. Basically you must disclose if you got a free product to review or are compensated in any way. It should be noted that the FTC is more concerned about reviews that are falsely positive in order to sell a product rather than reviews that are not positive. Disclosure should be clear and conspicuous. After this there was some discussion of ethics and conflicts of interest (something that gets in the way of or appears to get in the way of clear, unbiased, independent opinion), and then the floor opened up to questions. I wish I could say I paid more attention, but I'm afraid I zoned out after a while. :\ ETA: I meant to link to this Book Smuggler's post in which they pointed out some of the problems with this panel which includes calling ARCs "free".
Blogging Platforms: This might have been one of my favorite panels because the women who were in it (Rachel Rivera of Parajunkee, Evie Seo of Bookish, April Conant of good Books and Good Wine, and Stephanie Leary - a Wordpress consultant) went into some more technical detail of the day-to-day differences between some of the more popular blogging platforms (specifically blogger and wordpress were compared, and then the differences between wordpress.com versus wordpress.org were discussed). I have a wordpress.com site because I cannot be bothered to deal with self-hosting, keeping code up-to-date, dealing with security and backing up my blog that is involved with wordpress.org, so this panel cemented my continuing laziness, but may eventually get fed up with some of the plugins I can't get on the .com end. There was also an interesting discussion of useful-for-book-blogger wordpress.com plugins, including one for star-ratings. Plus I'd always been curious about blogger so it was interesting to have it's pros and cons laid out even if I'm not really ever going to move there.
Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online: I was seriously waffling over sitting in on this panel until the moderator busted out a laptop and we realized that a powerpoint presentation was happening. It was a long day and I needed some visual aids in my life. The panelists were Mandy Boles of The Well-Read Wife, Malle Vallik of Harlequin (moderator), Eric Smith of Quirk Books, and Robert Mooney of Blogads. Basically this session was about using social media in order to drive traffic to your blog. Mandy Boles started by saying she thinks that the next big thing after twitter and facebook is instagram because it is on its way to having 100 million users within 3 years. She talked about how she uses Instagram, and then moved on Vine, which is like Instagram except users share 6 second long videos. She recommended using the availability of hashtags in both these social platforms to get yourself noticed. [FYI: both of these social apps are geared towards Apple customers, and I am anti-Apple, so for those of you like me: Vine just became available on android this week]. Eric Smith talked about how offline events can produce traffic online - for example he has something called the Geek Awards that has created traffic for his blog. Finally Robert Mooney recommended using Stumbleupon because 'stumbles' last a long time, while on twitter you post a link and the effect of bringing in traffic is only a temporary blast. He also recommends Reddit but cautions that you can't just jump into the Reddit community, you have to be a "good citizen" and "do your research" before you dive in.
BEA: THE HAUL, THE PEOPLE
I attended BEA on Thursday and Friday (I thought about also going Saturday but I was pretty pooped by then). As usual it was pretty crowded and crazy, but this year I think I had a better time dealing with it. It helped that there weren't that many books that I HAD to have so I wasn't really rushing around. There were some long lines though - I think I waited up to an hour to get a couple of books signed. I didn't really go straight to the most crowded areas when BEA first opened it's doors so maybe I just wasn't looking at the right time, but to me it didn't seem like there were as many books out on the floor as before. It might be that there just was less Young Adult and Science Fiction & Fantasy out though because a couple of people told me they thought there were more books this year. I did feel like it was a lot harder to get extra copies of books. I was trying to get certain YA books that other bloggers asked me to look out for, but the publishers were pretty strict about the popular titles.
Anyway, here's my haul. I tried, but I have a hard time saying "no thanks" when someone hands me a book. This means there's a couple of YAs in here that I'm debating if I'll keep because I don't really know what they're about (The Wolf Princess and Catena in case you were wondering). The total is: 19 books, 1 sampler book, 1 novella.
As usual, seeing blogger friends was the best part, so I was happy I got to spend some time walking around with Stacey (USAToday's HEA and Heroes and Heartbreakers), and with Heidi (Bunbury In the Stacks). It was brief but I finally met Alyssa of Books Take You Places. I also met Andrew of Raging Biblioholism (he writes lovely reviews, you should all mosey over to his blog and check them out).
I saw a few other bloggers briefly through the days (Ana and Thea, Elizabeth, and Memory), but I wasn't able to find everyone I knew who was there. I have to say I was really missing a few bloggers that I had connected with at previous BEAs who decided not to come this year - it felt strange not to see some of my fellow YAckers and Kristen of Fantasy Cafe. BEA wasn't the same without them, but thank goodness for the Internet.
Overall, I was exhausted after three days, but BEA did it's job in making me feel re-energized about reading and blogging, so this means I'm probably going to be posting more regularly around here and visiting and commenting on other book blogs again. Watch this space. :)