Monday, June 11, 2012

My Day at the Book Blog UNCON & the BEA Blogger Conference

Hey!  Guess what I did last Monday?
I went to the Book Blog UNCON and the BEA Blogger Conference!

I had registered for BBC back in early February.  The registration process blew (You can read my bitchfest here.), and when the schedule was released, I was underwhelmed;  it seemed more of a publishing industry event than something geared towards the actual process of blogging.  So when Jeff over at The Reading Ape proposed an "unconference" for book bloggers, I was intrigued.  I have been blogging for over a year but I feel like I’m still figuring it out.  The UNCON sounded like more my speed.  But, I wasn’t ready to walk away from BBC completely.  I went last year and found it informative.  There was always a chance I’d get something out of it this year.  Since the BBC morning events were a big snoozefest, I decided to hedge my bets and split the day between the two.

On Monday I got up at an ungodly hour and headed over to The Center for Fiction, the site of the UNCON.  I was a little nervous because unlike BBC, the UNCON is participant driven with a loose form structure.  Topics would be determined by the participants at the top of the day so I wasn't sure what to expect.  (Plus, I am NOT a morning person.  Coherent conversation before the crack of noon?  I wasn’t sure I could manage that.)  I needn’t have worried.  It ended up being a stimulating morning. 

There where about 14 bloggers there from across the spectrum of book blogging - – romance, speculative fiction, YA, literary fiction, mysteries, non-fiction and some I’m sure I’ve missed - and we began the day, throwing out ideas for discussion, all recorded on a big blackboard by Jeff. Here's what we came up with:

10:30-11:30am         State of the Industry

                       Close Reading

11:40-12:40pm          Social Media/Publishers/Authors 

12:40-1:30pm            Lunch

1:30-2:30pm              Comments/Drama

2:45-3:45pm              Reviews/Future of Blogging

Once the schedule had been decided upon, we split up into two groups for the first hour.  I went with State of the Industry, although it was a tough choice between that and Close Reading.   Then the two groups came back together for a combined session of Social Media and Publishers/Authors before breaking for lunch.  I wish I could give you more specifics.  I had my notepad out but I ended up taking few notes.  I was too busy either talking or just listening to what my fellow bloggers had to say about what it is we do.  We touched on DRM, Is Amazon Evil?, Is Twitter useful and should you interact with authors on it?, Google+, Klout, Goodreads, plus a little industry gossip.  Everything was so interesting and everyone had something to offer. One of the participants had been a panelist at BBC the year before.  Listening to her talk was good but being in a conversation with her was even more satisfying.  I’ve been in a real blogging slump but I left that afternoon feeling creatively energized in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. 

I headed over to BBC for the afternoon sessions.  There was a panel on Critical Reviews I wanted to check out.  The panel was made up of two bloggers and an attorney.  I found it interesting, though much of it in an anxious kind of way.  There were a lot of questions for Mark Fowler, the attorney, regarding libel and I could see that I wasn’t the only one a little freaked out… I kind of enjoyed it.  It was a little bit like a scary movie.  BOO!  
This was balanced out somewhat by blogger, Janice Harayda, who told us to be brave, have the courage of our convictions, as well as the perverse courage to be wrong, and to be blunt but fair.  The third panelist was Florinda Vasquez.  She was the moderator for my least favorite panel at last year’s BBC…  I felt she had little insight to offer and the less said about her the better.  Moderator Barbara Hoffert was competent and often had something to add to the discussion.  Overall it was a decent panel, if a little law heavy.  But obviously, there are a lot of bloggers interested in the law issues.  It would probably be a smart idea to have a panel on blogging & the law at the next BBC.  I bet it would be packed.

After that I headed into Demystifying the Book Blogger & Publisher Relationship.  The panel was made up of a marketing director from Simon & Schuster, a gal from NetGalley, and blogger Jenn Lawrence.  It was fine.  Not much new was added to the topic.  It wasn’t uninteresting but I felt like many of the questions were ones I had heard last year, just with new people giving their variation of the same old answers.  I did think the moderator did an excellent job at keeping the panel focused and moving along.  This was a moderator who understood his job.  The two things I walked away with from this panel were: Twitter can be an incredibly useful tool and stats are an important way for publishers to get to know a new-to-them blog, although there is no one facet in stats that is more important than the other; the value is in the sum of the parts. 

I finished the day by popping into the BEA Editors Buzz but I wasn’t interested in any of the Buzz books, it was really crowded, and I had to pick up theatre tickets.  So, I hightailed it out of there.  With my crazy BEA book week only just beginning, plus my regular crazy 6 show week, I figured I shouldn't push it.  The week was only going to get more intense.

Bottom Line: 
My BBC afternoon was ok.  I feel that it was geared more towards new bloggers or first time attendees.  The focus is more on the business of blogging and cultivating industry relationships.  There’s nothing wrong with that, lots of bloggers are looking for that… but it is not  something I am interested in.  Would I go again?  Maybe.  But I definitely wouldn’t decide until after the panels were announced.  I realize that this year brought new owner, Reed Exhibitions, to BBC but I didn’t see any improvement over last years con and that one was put together by amateurs, not a fancy exhibition company.  I don’t think Reed has a handle on what a blogger conference should be and are only looking at it from a marketing point of view.  It’s understandable – they are in the publishing business after all – but if that’s all the conference has to offer, it’s not worth attending to me.

Good thing I spent part of the day at the UNCON.  The conversational atmosphere worked for me. There was a nice mix of bloggers and we found plenty to talk about.  14 may not sound like a lot of people but it was quality over quantity, baby.  (My understanding is that more bloggers showed up for the afternoon sessions bringing the total up to about 25.)  And the nice thing about a smaller group is that it is easier for everyone to take part.  There was a free exchange of ideas on so many different aspects of blogging but always from the point of view of the blogger.  I hope there is an UNCON next year.  I’d like to do it again.  There is so much more to talk about.  UNCON left me feeling excited about blogging again.  It was intellectually inspiring, it was fun, and it just...made me happy.

ETA: The Book Blog UNCON has a page here with links to more reviews of the days events.


  1. I hope there is an UnCon next year too! I had such an amazing time, thanks for typing up a bit on it because I'm woefully behind in my plans on doing the same.

    I didn't go to the BBC later, and yes, a few more people did show up. More like 20 max though I would still think? Definitely quality over quantity :) Like you I think Reed Exhibitors just isn't quite sure what to do with us, and I'd much rather talk with others about what they do then have someone tell me what to do.

    It was great chatting and I hope I see you again!

  2. I hear ya. I wasn't able to post about the UnCon until yesterday and I am still working on my experiences at BEA (I left each day and went right to work, leaving me no time to get them done), but I encourage you to write up your assessment when you have time. I know I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

    As I said in my post, I'm not sure I would attend BBC again. There are a lot of bloggers who plan to email feedback and recommendations to Reed on how to improve the conference - which is great- but I have my doubts that any of those suggestion will be taken. Reed has its own priorities and they don't seem to mesh well with this blogger. But, hey, I could be wrong. So, I am open to being pleasantly surprised but have little expectations that it will change much.

    UnCon really worked for me and from the other accounts I've read, most people felt the same. I think it is likely it will happen again - especially considering the number of discontented BBC recaps that have since appeared.

    It was great to meet you! You're real interesting to talk to.

  3. Like you, I can't see Reed really doing anything to improve :P They want to make money, they are a business... Loved chatting with you too, and I look forward to chatting more!

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