It is 11:15 pm as I write this post so forgive my incoherence and forgetfulness. However, I feel that should I delay in putting permanence to my thoughts there will be very little I will remember by the end of the week, as one event rushes on the heels of the next. Today was my first BEA Blogger conference. I recognize that having been blogging since 2006 and an internet denizen for much longer than that, my expectations of educational events associated with blogging might be quite different than others. The focus of the BEA Blogger conference appeared to be what bloggers can do for the industry instead of what can bloggers do to service their audience, with a few exceptions.
BEA BloggerCon Commences
The BEA Blogger conference begins with a breakfast roundtable. It is marketed as a networking event but it is really a speed dating / pitch session for authors. An author pitched his or her book for about 15 minutes and then moved on and another author filled their spot. I’m not certain that all the authors who signed up for this had a clear understanding of their audience. At least one author asked a table of bloggers what books they had written recently.
The keynote followed and was given by Jennifer Weiner who was at times vulgar and funny. You can read her entire speech here as she has posted it online. I think it is good that she posted her remarks because as I was listening and tweeting them, I could tell some of the online audience did not believe I correctly transcribed her remarks. Ms Weiner spoke very little about blogging and a lot about her persecution by the mainstream press as a female author. She did label Oprah as the first book blogger and herself as the first author blogger:
Of course, this brave new world of overlapping conversation and unprecedented access was not without its complications and growing pains.
Consider the rise and fall of the women I consider to be the world’s first book blogger: Oprah Winfrey.
If Oprah was one of the first book bloggers, than I was part of that first wave of novelists who used blogs to invite readers to step into our parlors, and our lives, to share intimate details of what went on behind the scenes and between the books. …I launched my blog, then called SnarkSpot, in January of 2002, and, as bloggers did, I treated my life as material.
I’m not sure if Weiner edited her this latter section or, off the cuff revised them while speaking, but many of us heard her say she was the first author blogger. There was a real sense that Weiner was not aware of the existence of say, SFF.net, or romance bloggers like Carolyn Jewel and others who predated Weiner. Weiner gave little insight into blogging until her closing paragraphs when she brought up the importance of transparence and encouraged us to spread fairy dust in the form of good things.
I am so pleased to be in a position where, instead of just complaining about the Times’ bias, I can actually do something about it — that I can now be part of someone else’s magic, that I can be the one sprinkling the fairy dust.
If you’ve got a blog, you can it, too.
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…or that even the projects with the absolute best and most politically-correct intensions can’t go down in flames.
But there’s something to be said for talking up the things you love instead of talking down the things you hate.
The majority of Weiner’s focus was on the success of her books and the failure of the mainstream media to responsibly report on her success.
I wanted to attend the next panel which included Patrick Brown from Goodreads. I’ve heard him speak before and Goodreads gets bloggers and communities, but unfortunately, Jennifer Weiner had a book signing after her speech in the room where the next panel was taking place and after a half hour had past, the panel still hadn’t started and I had to leave for lunch. Alas.
While I Was Away, These Things Were Said
I wasn’t able to attend all the panels but a couple of things were said during the panels I missed that should be mentioned here. First, during the “Blogging Today: What you need to know and what’s next” panel, KatieBabs asked a question about plagiarism and bloggers maybe obliquely referencing The Story Siren scandal. Erica Barmash, Senior Marketing Manager, Harper Perennial and Harper paperbacks, said that they will not work with plagiarists. Another panelist said that plagiarism could ruin bloggers much like it does journalists.
In the panel “Demystifying the Book Blogger & Publisher Relationship”, the Booksmugglers recorded the NetGalley panelist as asserting “‘mature’ coverage of books is more than writing a review. Is also posting covers, QAs, promoting the book as much as poss[ible].” Color me confused as to what that means.
When I returned I attended the last half hour or so of the panel of Critical Reviews. The panelists included Mark Fowler, Attorney & Blogger, Rights of Writers who proceeded to scare the crap out of bloggers about possible libel suits. He ended the panel promising bloggers that the likelihood of being sued is very low…so long as you know a little about the law. Janice Harayda, Blogger, One Minute Book Reviews, reviews only the books she buys or gets from the library. She does not accept any review copies of books. She recommended that bloggers always begin with the good content even in a negative review. Florinda Vasquez, Blogger, The 3 R’s Blog, spoke about the importance of having a review policy that is clearly identified on the blog. (I actually think this is a good idea). The moderator was Barbara Hoffert, Editor, Prepub Alert, Library Journal and she was fantastic. She spoke about how book reviews are for the audience and thus she doesn’t think about the publisher or the author. She stated that she is not an extension of the publicity department for a publisher. She said she doesn’t feel obligated to review any book or to give a good review.
Florinda pointed out that having a well stated review policy can help clarify a blogger’s intentions such as they only accept books that will be considered for a review. Accepting a book is not a promise for a review. Hoffert also noticed that at the Library Journal their negative reviews are longer because they feel the need to substantiate their negative reviews but also went on to state that any review needs substantiation and that positive reviews with no reasoning behind them aren’t helpful either.
This was a fairly decent panel other than the focus being so much about libel and bloggers getting fearful of being sued over it. I will admit that I was invited to be part of this panel but declined because this is the first BEA I was attending and I wanted to attend just to learn and absorb information this first time. I did regret not accepting the invitation, though, so I could have allayed some unnecessary fear about the potential for a libel suit.
Creating Community & Driving Engagement
The next panel I went to was on community building. The title was “Creating Community & Driving Engagement”. I’m not going to name all the panelists because while I appreciate their willingness to participate, the panel was really dull. There were a few good tips being handed out but the energy of the panel seemed very subdued. The one useful and interesting tip that was offered was from the blogger, Well Read Wife, who uses google adwords to craft the titles of her posts. For instance, she was writing something about Charlaine Harris’ last book. Google Adwords revealed to her that Charlaine Harris garnered about 8,000+ searches but that Sookie Stackhouse phrase saw about 40,000+ searches (I don’t know if that is one day or a week or what) so the blogger titled the post using “Sookie Stackhouse” instead of “Charlaine Harris”. She also stated that Google will place you higher on the search engine list if the first paragraph of your blog post contains the same words as your title.
The Well Read Wife also is a fan of memes. She participates in a number of them. A meme is a topical post that is hosted by one blogger and then everyone links back to that one blogger (link backs are a way to build SEO ranking). I’m not a huge fan of memes but I know it is fairly popular amongst the YA crowd and perhaps in mommy blogging?
Other panelists recommended blogging about things other than books. One blogger admitted to writing about her depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses but admitted that she was estranged from her family because of her public posts. However, the blogger noted that her blog reach was beyond books because of this.
We don’t do any of these things here at DA and I don’t think any of you would stand for it if I did. Although, honestly, I did like the SEO idea for titling but most of our reviews show up on the first page anyway so I’ll probably be too lazy to do anything different.
The Bloggess closed the BEA Bookblogger Con but I decided to go to BEA Buzz instead. Over 200 books were submitted and only six were chosen.Of 6 books, only two of which I had any interest in. The first was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which I thought Jayne might like. It has been published in the UK already and is about a journey that Harold takes to his friend Queenie who is dying. Harold believes that if he does something extraordinary such as walk 500 miles to see his friend Queenie, she will do something extraordinary like recover. The two main protagonists are Harold and his wife. I’m not sure it has a happy ending though. The editor speaking about the book mentioned something about a tearful ending. That could mean a lot of things, many of them bad.
The other book of interest to me was In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner which appears to be like a fictionalized memoir of a young girl coming to age during the genocide in Cambodia.
I admit while I was listening to this hour long presentation about 6 books, most of which are likely destined to be book club books (and often do not sell well despite the BEABuzz I was told by another frequent BEA attendee) that it was evident why 50 Shades blew the minds of so many mainstream readers. One of the books discussed was published by McSweeney and the editor rambled on for about 15 minutes and claimed that the book was for everyone. I thought to myself that he couldn’t even manage to describe the book with any coherency. How could it be for “everyone”?
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.