So, this year I attended Book Expo America for what will likely be my first and only time. Living across an ocean is a bit of a barrier – to put it mildly. This trip was also a big holiday for me and my mother (who found a conference of her own while I was at BEA), so it also featured plenty of Broadway, museums, trips to The Strand (which was a-ma-zing) and cocktails!
I went into the Expo expecting a lot of different things: I knew it would be overwhelming, I knew I’d meet a lot of bloggers and I knew people got a little crazy. All of that was true – and all of it was amazing. I met so many amazing bloggers, publishers and authors – (almost) all of them generous with their time and knowledge. Even the few not-quite-perfect experiences I had were quite mild. In short: my experience at BEA was wonderful and I was this close to setting up camp on the expo floor.
Now, on to the recap!
Day 1: Book Blogger Conference
Despite the criticisms I’d read about the last Book Blogger Conference, I decided to give the convention a go. I figured the organisers would have learned from the extensive feedback they’d received and – after checking to see that a bunch of bloggers would be on the panels – I knew the conference could be quite entertaining.
I was kinda nervous turning up the first day as I didn’t know anyone else in attendance. But I quickly found that a lot of people were in a similar situation. It didn’t feel clique-y at all, and I managed to chat with a lot of different bloggers – some of whom I’d heard of, some of whom I hadn’t. It was a great intro to the convention, I thought.
The keynote talk – delivered by Will Schwalbe – started off really well. As a former head of some of the Big Six publishers, I was rather touched when he credited bloggers for saving the book industry. It was an exaggeration, sure, but a nice one. But then the room got rather tense when he criticized negative reviews (which, as Thea from The Book Smugglers put it later that day, should really be called “critical reviews”). I wasn’t too pleased, but as it was such a small part of his overall talk, it didn’t affect my overall positive opinion of the keynote.
Next up: decision time. The convention separated into Adult and YA and, as someone who reads and reviews both, I was super conflicted. In the end, I decided to head to the Adult Editors Insight panel and then go over to the YA Blogger panel. But once in settled into the first room I discovered – via twitter – that they were giving out a tonne of YA galleys in the other room. In the Adult room? One galley – which I really wanted, but those copies went fast! Luckily I picked up some of the YA titles when I went to the next session but most were already gone. I was later told that quite a few people at the YA panel had grabbed 2/3 copies of the same book while other people were still waiting in line, so I wasn’t the only one who missed out.
Anyhow, I enjoyed the Adult Editors panel – but, in retrospect, I realise that the panel should have been called a “buzz panel”. The editors offered no “insight” about how they work with bloggers, or how they view bloggers within their professional arena, but they did give me a bunch of titles to add to my goodreads wishlist.
The YA Blogger panel, on the other hand, was exactly what I was hoping for. The bloggers on the panel – Cindy from Nerdy Book Club, Thea from The Book Smugglers, and Danielle from There’s A Book – gave examples of the types of posts they do; talked how much work they put into their blogs; discussed critical reviews, the pressures of blogging, ARCs and other topics that were actually relevant to bloggers. Thea made some of the best points, I thought – probably because she said out loud everything I agree with: you are under no obligation to review a book, blog because you enjoy reading, and if you hate a book write a critical review – somebody has to.
After lunch, however, things went downhill.
The afternoon started with an ethics panel, chaired by Jane (from Dear Author). I expected great things from this, as I have always found Jane’s posts about the various legal issues surrounding blogging and publishing to be extremely informative. And while Jane was very well spoken and made many good points, I was very disappointed with the panel. For starters, the speakers didn’t seem to understand book blogging at all. They didn’t understand what an ARC was and, as such, gave what I believe to be incorrect information about the legal guidelines surrounding their receipt. (The Book Smugglers cover this in their BEA recap here.)
There was some interesting discussion about copyright of book covers – at least, interesting to this LLM student – but it wasn’t even remotely useful. Telling bloggers that they could be sued when we all know they never will be sued is completely useless. Also, considering the title of the panel included the word “Ethics”, I was hoping for more discussing about the grey moral areas of book blogging. Instead, it was all about FTC disclaimers.
The panels in the afternoon were even worse. I attended “Taking Your Online Presence Offline” which – as you’ll see from my tweets – was beyond bizarre. It was basically a promo panel for independent booksellers. All well and good, but not appropriate for the convention. I left early and didn’t bother attending the “Blogging Platforms” session – mostly because Aja’s tweets about it made me think I’d explode from a mad rage if I went in.
Then came “Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online”, which would have been so much better if it hadn’t mainly featured app developers and publishers trying to push their content. I thought that Mandy from The Well-Read Wife made some interesting suggestions about which social media platforms to explore. Many of these were new to me – like Vine, for example, which lets you make/edit/publish 6 second videos and tag them like tweets. The fact that, once again, no one talked about tumblr was both bizarre and disappointing.
To wrap it all up: the infamous speech by Randi Zuckerberg. It was a train wreck – or so I’m told. As she didn’t bring along a laptop (one had to be lifted from the crowd) she started a whole 30 minutes late. I stayed for the first few minutes then slipped out because a) nothing she said was at all relevant to me, and b) I had NYC to take advantage of! The one and only good thing about her talk? Chatting with the lovely Tania from Literary Cravings while we waited. So… thanks, Randi?
Bottom line: the conference was a great chance to meet other bloggers and to hear BNF bloggers discuss how they work and what they recommend. There was, unfortunately, a lot of industry-focused talk that felt like advertising and a disturbing amount of criticism of critical reviews. I really hope newer bloggers in attendance didn’t take that to heart!
Tune in tomorrow for the rest!