As a journalist, I’m always looking for the telling anecdote, the short story that sums up in just a few paragraphs the theme of what I’m trying to write about. The story that I think sums up my experience at BEA Bloggers (formerly the Book Blogger Convention) last Monday in New York City is this one:
I was standing in the back of a meeting room during a panel discussion on developing a relationship between bloggers and publishers. As I was in the process of listening to the speakers, taking notes for this post, and following a hashtag discussion on Twitter (#publog), a man walked into the room and start talking to the blogger standing next to me.
In order to make it clear that I was involved with the panel, I pulled my notebook closer to my face, scribbled furiously, and tried to otherwise not make eye contact with him as he stepped over and interrupted what I was doing. After shoving his business card into my hand, he told me he was an author and invited me a signing of this third book the next day. It was all I could do to just tersely say, “Thanks,” and refocus on the panel rather than point out how outrageously rude he had just been. (And that, barring an incident where every book in the world was destroyed except his, I probably wouldn’t be picking up his novel).
I don’t think this particular author intended to be totally inconsiderate. I think we just had different expectations for what was happening in that particular moment and for the entire BEA Blogger experience: I expected to spend the day learning and engaging with other bloggers, while he expected that all bloggers in attendance were there just to “talk with” (i.e. “be pitched too”) by authors and other publishing industry folks.
If it wasn’t already clear, I’ll be blunt — I was disappointed and frustrated by my day spent at BEA Bloggers. It felt like a conference featuring what the publishing industry wants bloggers to be interested in (Authors! Swag! Famous people!), rather than what I think bloggers are actually interested in (connecting with each other in the real world).
This isn’t going to be a post that summarizes the day; I’ll link to a few of those recaps at the end. Instead, I’m going to try to outline my broad concerns with the conference organization and try to offer some suggestions for what I would like to see done differently next year.
Networking… with Authors?
One of the purported draws of the day was the chance to spend both breakfast and lunch “networking” with authors. In a session modeled like speed taking, authors spent about 10-20 minutes at a table “talking” with bloggers about their book, before jumping to switch tables to “meet” another group of bloggers.
I put all those words in quotations because (in my experience at breakfast) it really was more of a chance for authors to pitch their book to a captive audience, rather than do any real networking, which I usually feel means each person in an interaction feels like they’ve gained something useful. I’m not sure if the authors that sat at our table even asked us our names.
I think this author pitching breakfast wouldn’t have been so frustrating to me if I’d also had a chance to converse with other bloggers at the same time. However, the table I was sitting at had only three bloggers — the other five seats were grabbed by people connected to the publishing industry. That proportion seems off to me, and I think is reflective of a broader issue of conference attendance — there were too many people who weren’t bloggers, which hijacked the focus of the conference.
Who Is the Audience?
One of my strongest feelings from the day was that it felt like the panel discussions were dominated by people who were not book bloggers. I missed the morning panel because of lunch plans, but did attend two afternoon panels, “Critical Reviews” and “Demystifying the Book Blogger & Publisher Relationship.” In both cases, the questions from the audience were clearly coming from people who were not book bloggers (“How do you pitch Library Journal?” or something to the effect of “Don’t bloggers sell galleys?”). It felt like what could have been legitimate discussions got sidetracked by people with an agenda.
Where Were the Bloggers?
And that leads me to my biggest pet peeve — where were the bloggers? Both keynotes were given by authors (granted, who had blogging experience, but who are not what I would consider book bloggers). The majority of the panelists were people without a background as book bloggers. And the audience members I met or noticed were also clearly not book bloggers. Where were we?
I really don’t know the answer to this questions. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to decide if it was the conference organization, attendees, or my lack of reaching out during the day that prevented me from connecting with other bloggers. It’s probably a combination of the three, but I have to think there was something seriously amiss about a blogging conference where I didn’t meet a single unfamiliar blogger.
Suggestions for the Future
After hashing out my frustrations with some close blogging friends for the last week, I’ve come up with some suggestions that I think could improve the conference for next year:
- Give bloggers time to interact ONLY with other bloggers. One of the “networking” meals should have been abandoned, leaving the time open for bloggers to talk to each other. I wasn’t at the lunch session, but I’ve read in a few recaps that people took their box lunches and went to eat in the hallway. Paid attendees to a conference shouldn’t have to do that.
- Be more strict about attendance. This is going to sound cranky, I know, but I think attendance should be limited, somehow, to people who are actually book bloggers. I’m all for opportunities for bloggers and publishing industry people to meet and network, but that seems more like part of BEA proper rather than a conference for bloggers.
- Offer a session during BEA about working with bloggers from an author/publisher perspective. I think there is still a lot of confusion about how authors/publishers can work with bloggers. Since BEA Bloggers is a time where there are a bunch of bloggers in a room, it gets tempting to focus on that issue alone rather than concerns specific to bloggers. I think adding a BEA Education session would give a space to discuss blogger/author/publisher relationships from that perspective rather than trying to shove it, unsuccessfully, into a blogging conference.
- Include more bloggers in the panels. I think the bloggers who were part of the panel discussions were great, but there needed to be more of them. I want to hear about book blogging issues from other bloggers. Bring in industry folks when it’s appropriate — a panel on blogger/publisher relationships, or one professional reviewer to talk about critical reviews — but please give us a space to talk blogger-to-blogger.
- Offer topics for more experienced bloggers. I think every bloggers’ conference will (and should) have a panel on the blogger/publisher relationship. With new bloggers starting every year, that’s a good discussion to keep having. But I think there is space in a conference like this to talk about issues that impact bloggers who have been writing longer — fighting burnout, leveraging your blog for job opportunities, or blogging ethics, for example.
This post has been almost exhaustingly negative, and I am sorry about that. I’ve waited awhile to write it because I hoped my feelings would mellow a little bit, but that just hasn’t happened. Other bloggers have written more specific recaps, and I urge you to check them out as well:
- The Book Smugglers — “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.”
- Read, React, Review — “Everyone I talked to did not want to repeat the breakfast experience of being held captive by an author shilling a book. We considered ways to keep authors away from our table (Hiding the placard? Dirty looks? Farting noises?) but none seemed foolproof. So a bunch of us decided to take our box lunches outside into the hallway and sit there. If there is an image I take away from the day, it is me and my friends eating lunch on the floor in the hallway of Javits, while the authors sat inside at tables supposedly set for us.”
- Dear Author — “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.”
- Alita Reads — “I would go back to BEA in a heartbeat for more of those memories. It’s like the internet came alive, and instead of stumbling across someone’s blog or tweet, you’re face to face with the actual person. In fact, my biggest complaint about Blogger Con was that there wasn’t much room for blogger interaction. I wish there had been a better way to put blog names to faces instead of walking up to one of the 400 attendees, peering at their badge (if it was flipped the right way around), and asking ‘Do I know you from the internet?’”