Sunday, May 29, 2011

My First Book Blogger Convention

Going to BEA 2011 was great.  Exhausting but great.  My focus and main reason for attending though, was Friday's Book Blogger Convention.

Registration/Breakfast/Swag Bag began at 7:15am.  I arrived at 7:45, feeling that was plenty of time for swagging since I was already registered and had eaten breakfast before I left the house.  I brought my rolling suitcase, although it turned out I didn't need it.  (Apparently, most didn't bother.  There were under 10 bags checked at the bag check.  They looked so lonely sitting there in a tightly packed half row.  So different from the proceeding days, when the bag check was overflowing with suitcases.)  The swagging had not yet begun though the continental breakfast was in full swing with many tables filled with laughing, talking, noshing women.  This was more than I could take at that hour.  As I've previously stated elsewhere - Not. A. Morning. Person.  So I went for some fresh air.  When I returned, the swagging had started.  I managed to pick up a couple of books and a book light (Yay!  I really needed one of these.)  But I wasn't there for the swag and after the excesses of BEA, I was ready to hop off the greed train. (Seriously.  I was feeling slightly ill from all the book overindulgence.  Kinda the way I feel after eating a holiday meal at my in-law's.)

The keynote speech was by Sara Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  She spoke for about 45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A.  Wendell was funny and engaging and touched on several topics relevant to book bloggers such as the need for legitimate and thoughtful criticism, whether authors should write book reviews (My answer - Yes!  If only because it could lead to more author feuds.  I am greatly entertained by author feuds.  Always exciting when one erupts in the letter section of  the Times Book Review), as well as how she was able to turn her book blogging hobby into a full time job.  It was a good speech, although I wish it had been a little more tightly paced.

Next up for me was the Practical Challenges of Blogging panel.  Moderated by Meg Snider from Write Meg, the panel consisted of Jennifer Lawrence (Jenn's Bookshelves), Raych (Books I Done Read), Kristen Bell (Fantasy Cafe), and Lenore Appelhans (Presenting Lenore).  Presented in a casual, conversational tone, the panel discussed many of the common issues faced by book bloggers.  One thing they all agreed on was the response to the questions - How do you find the time to read?  And blog?  The answer - You make time.  However you need to do it, you do it.  Some helpful tips followed, including but not limited to:

  • Be consistent in your posting schedule.  Even if you only post once a week, make it the same day so your readers will know when to check your blog. 
  • Don't be afraid to post your opinions.  Your readers want to hear what you have to say. 
  • Don't spend too much time on your review policy.  Most people don't read them. 
  • If you want to be blurbed, you must learn to write sound bites.  Thoughtful, insightful, in-depth reviews do not always translate into blurbs.
  • Keep a list of blog post ideas so that you always have something to write about.
  • Don't take it personally when a commenter disagrees with your review.  
There were also several references as to what publishers and publicists like but, to be honest, I didn't pay too much attention.  I write for myself.

Next was lunch.  Not much to say on that.  It's what you'd expect from lunch at a conference.  Salad, sandwiches and soda.  Totally acceptable.  Look, if you're going to conferences for the food then it may be time for you to take your lunch selection to the next level and try Denny's or HoJos.

My afternoon began with Navigating the Grey Areas of Book Blogging, a panel on professionalism and ethics.  This was my favorite panel.  Moderator Heather Johnson, of Age 30 + ...A Lifetime of Books, was joined by Bethanne Patrick (The Book Studio), Kathleen Schmidt (A Bookish Broad), Candace Levy (Beth Fish Reads), Pam Coughlan (Mother Reader), and Amy McKie (Amy Reads) for a lively and often fascinating discussion followed by a Q&A.  For me, this was the sharpest and most useful panel of the day.  There was discussion on the author/blogger relationship, policies on accepting books for review, FTC guidelines (you must disclose any financial relationships in each post), and whether book reviews are objective or subjective.  Some tips:

  • Expectations.  Know why you are writing a book blog.  What are your goals?  What do you hope to achieve?
  • Be professional in your dealings.  And know what professionalism means to you.
  • Be Consistent.  And Polite.
  • Be careful in your relationships with those you review.  Impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety can taint a review.   
There was also an interesting bit about whether DNF reviews are, in fact, actually reviews.  (The general consensus was that they are not, although there is nothing wrong with posting a piece on why you couldn't finish a book.  It just isn't a review.)

And finally, my day ended with Blogging for a Niche Market.  This was a large panel, with thirteen bloggers plus a moderator. It was also my least favorite panel and I only stayed for the first 45 minutes, popping over to Technology for Blogging for a short period before heading out to beat some of the Memorial Day Weekend subway crush.  (So I guess I can't really review it, although it is ok to post on why I didn't care for it.)

Basically, I didn't find the panel to be all that informational in regards to blogging for a niche market.  I thought the moderator came across as unfocused and the panel section never got much more in depth than general background info on who each blogger was and what they blogged about.  Though some of it was interesting, it didn't translate into practical information for me.  I got the impression that the moderator was hoping her questions would generate more discussion from the panel than they did.  It also seemed to me that the panelists were not completely comfortable, which may have had to do with the number of them squashed together on the dais and the logistics of having to pass two microphones between thirteen people in order for everyone to be heard.  After 45 minutes, the panel broke up into smaller groups so that attendees could network and ask questions of those panelists in their particular niche.  That's when I left.  Looking back on it now, I think that the network/question portion was probably very useful to many of the folk there, just not to me.  I had no questions to ask as most of the things I wanted to know had already been addressed in the earlier panels.  I wasn't engaged by the first half of the panel and sticking around was not as appealing as getting home a little early for the start of the holiday weekend.  Others may have found it more useful than I did.

Some General Thoughts:  As a stage manager in RL, I am perhaps more sensitive aware critical than your average person when it comes to public events.  There was a lot of terrific information to be found at BBC but I think the presentations could be finessed.  I'd like to see the moderators act more as moderators instead of as panelists who also ask the questions.  Which is not to say that the moderators didn't have insightful commentary to share but when your panelists need to speak into a shared microphone to be heard, the moderator should make sure that mic is being passed.  I would have liked to have heard more from Kristen Bell in the first panel but there were several times she was overlooked and not passed the mic when she had something to say.  Though unintentional, this is something the moderator should have been on top of.  A good moderator is the host of the panel, asking questions and facilitating the general flow of the discussion.  Part of that is making sure that the panelists get to speak.  One way to ensure that happens is to have the moderators focused on the job of moderating.

Overall, I thought the panels offered a nice selection of topics; there was something for everyone.  As the convention continues to grow, I'd love to see them offer some genre specific panels.  I'd also like to see a panel on basic blogging technology.  The Technology for Blogging panel that was offered was described as a chance to learn about the latest and greatest in technology and innovation for blogging.  I'm still trying to figure out the basics so this sounded way over my head.  Throughout the course of the day, I heard more than one panelist reference their own lack of knowledge regarding the rudiments of blog technology so I don't think I am the only one who would find this useful.

The Bottom Line: Was BBC worth it?  Absolutely.  Would I go again?  Yes.  Even if it was not linked with BEA?  You betcha.  (Although linking it with BEA was a super duper added bonus and I hope it continues this way.)

This is only the second year of the Book Blogger Convention and despite my nitpicky criticisms, the pros definitely outweighed the cons.  (No pun intended.)  BBC is a tremendous achievement on the part of the organizers; what was offered, helpful on many levels.  I have no doubt that next year will be even bigger and better. If you are a book blogger, I strongly encourage you to consider attending.  The information as well as the networking opportunities are invaluable.
The free books don't hurt either.

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