Last week was our (now annual) Official Book Smuggler Get Together in which Ana travelled to NY to hang out with Thea. In between visits to The Strand and Barnes & Noble (SO.Many.Books), late night marathons of Parks and Recreation, going to parties and eating awesome NY food, we also got to attend Book Expo America and the BEA Bloggers Conference (formerly Book Blogger Convention) for the fourth time. Although we are still recovering from the BEA-induced exhaustion, here are some of our thoughts about this year’s BEA and BBC.
BEA Bloggers Convention
This was the BBC’s fourth year and the second year that it has been officially organised by BEA. We had serious misgivings after last year’s con and its strong focus on how bloggers can serve the industry. We felt that last year’s BBC environment was exploitative and condescending and completely out of touch with book blogging. We know that we were not the only ones who voiced that opinion though and we are happy to say that BEA not only listened to our concerns but actively sought to address them by creating an advisory board of bloggers to help organise this year’s con.
The conference opened with a keynote speech by author Will Schwalbe. Schwalbe was an engaging and energized speaker and to start with, he hit all the right notes when addressing the room: he talked about the importance of book bloggers in the current publishing scenario and asked readers to engage with books on their own, to focus on the words on the pages. Unfortunately things went pretty much downhill from there, as more and more he started to discuss his book and his own achievements and to proceed to ask bloggers to be “kind” when reviewing, to avoid snark and to remember that there is a person behind each book (which by the way, completely contradicts his own words to engage only “words on the page”!). There was definitely a concern there about “positiviness” and “cheerleading” that negated the importance of critical reviews and this did not seem to sit down well with most of the room.
After the keynote speech, we attended the YA Editor Insight Panel with editors from Disney-Hyperion, Candlewick and Scholastic. We had hoped that the keyword here would be “insight” and that maybe we could hear from editors how they engage with blogging, if bloggers impact their acquisitions at all or anything directly related to book blogging. Alas, this turned out to be simply a Buzz Panel in which the editors present the upcoming titles they are most excited about. Now, I love Buzz Panels and always attend them during BEA and I find it interesting to hear editors talking about what they do and how they approach acquiring books. But this panel was completely irrelevant to book blogging in the context of the conference.
My notes from this panel were and I quote directly: “Is this a YA Editor Buzz Panel? It IS a YA Buzz Panel! WHY.”
After that we went to the YA Book Blogging Pros: Successes, Struggles and Insider Secrets. Thea was a panelist along with Cindy Minnich of the Nerdy Book Club, Danielle Smith of There’s a Book, and the panel was moderated by Kristina Radke of Netgalley. This was a well-structured panel, with a series of questions asked by the moderator about blogging. Although this was definitely more of a 101 panel, I think there were good things taken from it – the audience seemed engaged and interested. Kudos to Thea for being awesome and addressing something that needed addressing: that critical reviews do not equate negative reviews. On a side note: as much as I love Netgalley and find it extremely useful, there was definitely a lot of self-promotion for Netgalley here. Just saying.
Then came the Ethics Luncheon which was by far my least favourite part of the conference because it was just so wrong. Jane Litte from Dear Author tried to do her best to moderate the panel which featured lawyer Richard Newman (Hinch Newman LLP), and Professor Geanne Rosenburg (Baruch College). The idea was for the panelists to address topics such as the FTC regulations, issues relating to conflict of interest as well as plagiarism and other ethic issues. It started with Mr Newman addressing the FTC regulations and there were some really interesting things here – for example we learned that the FTC is not concerned with critical reviews at all, they are only concerned with endorsements. That the FTC rules for bloggers are happening because there are checks/balances in place for journalism but so far none in place for book blogging, hence the need for rules.
But then they started to talk about conflict of interest and that’s when things got really confusing: basically they said that ARCs are “freebies” and therefore constitute a conflict of interest that needs to be disclosed by bloggers. They actually said point-blank that because ARCs are “freebies”, “official” news organisations like the NY Times do not accept review copies which we know not to be true. Further, we know ARCs are a tool for reviewers, they have NO monetary value therefore they ARE NOT “freebies”. One of the panelists also talked about “motives” especially “personal vendettas” then goes on to say “if you dislike an author’s book” as an example, again conflating critical reviews with author-attacking. Then panelists instead of addressing other interesting/important topics (like plagiarism!) decided it was a good idea to talk about whether using BOOK COVERS on reviews is a copyright infringement. SERIOUSLY NOW.
Our take from this panel is that although the panelists were very aware of ethic issues they were coming from their experience as lawyers rather than any experience with book blogging. This became all the more clear to me when I attended a BEA panel about the ethics of book reviews with panelists who were actually book reviewers (but more on that later).
After lunch we attended two more panels: Blogging Platforms with Rachel Rivera from Parajunkee, WordPress Consultant Stephanie Leary, Edie Seo from Bookwish and April Conant from Good Books and Good Wine. This was a useful and actually fun 101 panel about platforms, featuring a lively debate about Blogger x WordPress and ways to optimise your blog. After that we went to Book Blogging and the “Big” Niches with Kelly Jensen from Stacked, Chelsy Hall of Big Honcho Media, David Gutowski from Largehearted Boy and Sarah Dickman of Riffle. From the get-go the panelists admitted they didn’t really have any idea of what the panel should be about and that they made it their own thing with a list of 5 topics to be addressed ranging from collaboration with other bloggers, social media, etc. It was an interesting panel although in the end, it kind of veered off track when questions from the audience focused heavily on how bloggers can help the industry.
The Closing Keynote was delivered by Randi Zuckerberg, who arrived half an hour late, followed by an entourage and without the laptop she needed for her presentation. At first, we were curious to understand WHY she was chosen to do the closing session, but then when we hit our table we found out why:
Her talk was a presentation on the topics of her upcoming book with “10 exciting trends shaping how content is consumed today “. Although she was a very engaging speaker and someone, somewhere might have taken something useful about social media from it, the closing session was quite frankly a joke. We honestly thought that we were all being punk’ed. We believe she did not realise who her audience was and talked about social media to a room full of people who mostly already know this stuff really well, like for example one of the honest-to-god-we-are-not-even-kidding advice was: talk about what you love. To a room full of book lovers, attending a conference about books! She was just completely out of touch with her audience with a speech that was in no way tailored to us. Thank gods for blogging friends who were there to snark with us.
After that, the only thing left to do was:
And for the record, this is what we would like to see next year: maybe workshops and/or longer sessions with hands-on stuff like coding, SEO, plugins etc. both for newbies and for the more experienced bloggers; a better ethics panel with panelists who are book reviewers; better keynote speakers who are – and that’s an idea – BLOGGERS?
We just wanted to finish this recap on a high note and with a few words of encouragement. This year’s was actually MUCH better than last year’s con. We feel that although there was a certain (inevitable, it seems) thread of what “bloggers can do for the industry” this was nowhere near as a heavy a focus as in previous years. There were also fewer authors stalking us to try to sell their books.
We also know that the advisory board was consulted and their opinions were heard and that there was an attempt at true engagement with what bloggers might want. Which brings us to a last point.
We have been thinking that a Blogger Con that would reach every single blogger is an impossible dream. Book blogging is not made out of a block of identical bloggers who all want the same things: there are those who blog for fun, those who blog aiming to become professionals, those who blog for fun AND who also want more, those who do want to create a relationship with authors and publishers, others who prefer to connect exclusively with readers and other bloggers, those who write critical reviews, those who just want to talk about the books they love. And that’s fine because we are a thriving, eclectic community. So even though the Book Blogger Con is not perfect as it is and there is ample scope for growth and for attempting to reach to everybody, it is still definitely a great place to connect with other like-minded people, to meet friends, and to get a small glimpse of the varied ways that people blog and talk about books. We will definitely be back next year.
For other BBC recaps check out:
This year BEA changed things a bit and ran from Thursday to Saturday which, in our not-so-modest opinion, was a HUGE mistake as we reached Thursday already tired as hell.
And we Smugglers also changed things a bit this year. Whilst Thea was engaged in work meetings through most of the convention, I – Ana – decided to hit a lot of the panels in order to experience a different side of BEA. This means I only got to walk the floor briefly through the duration of the convention, attended ONE book signing (Rita Williams-Garcia’s PS Be Eleven), got fewer galleys than previous years and met fewer of my blogging friends. The latter was the worst part but I was ok with swapping the way I experience BEA. I enjoyed most of the panels I attended and wanted to talk about my favourite panel:
All’s Fair?: Book Reviews & The Missing Code Of Ethics
The drive for this panel was: Should book reviewers be required to follow a code of ethics, the way many other journalists do? The Society of Professional Journalists, for example, publishes a set of guidelines that are widely accepted in the newspaper industry, but book reviewers have no comparable code. Should there be one? If so, what should its rules be? How would it affect bloggers and moonlighting critics-novelists asked to write about fellow novelists, say, or experts asked to assess competitors in their field? Would such a code do anything to restrain the back-scratching and score-settling that can taint current reviews? The panelists will tackle these questions and others as part of an ongoing survey that the NBCC is conducting into ethics in 2013.
Moderated by Marcela Valdes and with panelists: Maureen Corrigan (National Public Radio), Carlin Romano (Chronicle of Higher Education), Parul Sehgal (New York Times Book Review), Eric Simonoff (William Morris Endeavor), Lorin Stein (Paris Review). They addressed the questions above and more and the my takes from this panel were:
-There is really no way of telling if it is really possible to have a code of ethics for book reviewing. Most panelists disagreed with each other on most things
-They did stress the importance of disclosure of your biases. Because it is not only impossible to leave biases at the door but also because reviews are better when engaging with those biases and are better when personal. One of the panelists said that criticism feels very profound especially when engaging with conscious biases
-Different publications have different pacts with their readers and as such, for example, bigger newspapers reviews are almost expected to have a mythical quasi-objectivity
-Two of the greatest things I heard: critical reviews that rip the book apart can be awesome and reviews of books that the reviewer has not finished can be as useful because there is an interesting conversation to be had about WHY a reviewer did not finish a book
If you are interested you can actually watch the whole panel on Youtube.
Finally, PHEW, our last points about BEA 2013:
-Although there were tons of Dystopian galleys, the feel is that the Dystopian YA phase is dying out. SciFi YA is on the rise and I heard from a couple of people that Historical YA might be a Big Thing after the success of Code Name Verity, YAY!
-WOW: Hachette’s booth doubled its size this year.
-We are always disappointed with Macmillan’s booth especially with the lack of any Tor presence.
-As usual, there’s very little adult SciFi and Fantasy over at BEA. We always feel this is such a wasted opportunity from publishers to connect with librarians and bloggers.
-There is still a lot of backwards, ill-feeling toward e-publishing which is why we relished when we came across this tote bag:
We are probably forgetting tons of things but we will leave it at that: Smugglers over and out.