Reviewing the BEA Bloggers Conference 2014

This week I attended my first Book Expo America (BEA) and BEA Bloggers Conference! I flew down to NYC on Tuesday morning and spent the day exploring the city. My favorite parts of the day were visiting Strawberry Fields, wandering the MoMA and walking the High Line. I also got to meet up with one of my old college roommates for dinner! After eating, I met some bloggers at the White Horse Tavern, a bar where literary greats including Dylan Thomas, James Baldwin, and Hunter S. Thomspon used to drink. Then Rory of Fourth Street Review and Shannon of River City Reading and I headed back to our hotel to get some rest before the next day’s Blogger Conference.

BEA Bloggers Conference

I had heard some bad things about the conference in previous years but had high hopes for improvements based on the scheduled sessions. It seemed like the organizers were trying hard to take blogger feedback into consideration and make the event better. However, I was pretty disappointed, and I’d like to share an overview of the conference with my thoughts. Buckle up, it’s going to be a long one.

The conference started with a keynote address from YA author Maureen Johnson. She is every bit as hilarious and charming in real life as she is on Twitter, and she gave a fantastic speech. She GETS bloggers and our roles. She encouraged us to use our platforms to share our love of reading in positive ways, be genuine in ways that click-bait sites are not, write what we care about, and add to conversations about books and reading. She was the perfect speaker to open the event, and it was a lot of fun to hear her talk.

The two morning sessions were split into two groups with beginner 101 sessions and advanced 201 sessions. I attended Design 201: Taking Your Blog to the Next Level panel, which was “intended for advanced bloggers with more than 3 years’ experience who are confident with their blog design but are looking for interesting new ideas and cool features.” Instead of learning about useful tools and plugins, we were told not to clutter our sidebars, that we should have a search bar and profile picture, and how to choose a color scheme. Not exactly advanced stuff. To top it off, one of the two presenters was the CEO of BookLikes, a bookish social network that has limited blogging functions. Instead of teaching us how we can improve our own blogs, he basically just tried to sell us on using his site.

For the second session, I attended the Technology 201:  Ad Networks panel, which was “intended for advanced bloggers with more than 3 years’ experience who are looking to expand their ad networks and generate more money and/or awareness from their blog.” This was by far my favorite session of the day. Florinda of The 3 R’s Blog and Swapna of S. Krishna’s Books spoke about advertising from a blogger’s perspective, and the two speakers from LitBreaker and BlogAds were shining examples of how vendors can provide useful information without selling their product. It was a really well balanced discussion, with the panelists talking about why bloggers would and wouldn’t want advertising as well as the things we should consider when signing up with an ad network, such as ad size and placement, the terms in the fine print, content limitations, how ads will look on mobile devices, and pricing.

After lunch, I attended Beyond the Blog: Introducing Yourself to Vlogging and Podcasting. I don’t do either of these, but I thought they would be interesting to learn about — especially because Josh Christie of the Bookrageous Podcast was on the panel. Two BookTube-ers were also on the panel. I love listening to podcasts (Bookrageous is a favorite of mine), and I enjoyed hearing Josh talk about their process. Because I’m so totally unfamiliar with vlogging, it was interesting to hear about the bookish community on YouTube and what goes into making videos. However, I didn’t really learn anything that was applicable to my blog, and it would have been nice to learn how to incorporate video or audio content into a book blog vs. hearing from people who pretty much podcast/vlog exclusively.

The final panel of the day, The Publishing Process: How Bloggers Have Changed the Game, was an absolute fiasco. The moderator was a vlogger, and the panel was made up of a BookTube-er, an author she vlogs about, and the author’s editor, agent, and online marketer. No, I didn’t forget to mention a blogger. There weren’t any bloggers on this panel about bloggers’ roles in publishing. In fact, the panel wasn’t actually about bloggers at all. Instead of learning about how bloggers impact publishing, we got an earful about how vlogs are better than blogs because videos have a much higher reach than written content. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE feeling slighted at a conference I have paid to attend. I kept checking my program to make sure they hadn’t changed the name of the panel when I wasn’t looking. When someone in the audience raised her hand and asked how BLOGGERS have changed the game, the panelists got very flustered and told us that the panel was really supposed to be about vloggers, but the event organizers didn’t realize that the two mediums are different, and therefore didn’t name it correctly. I don’t know the real story behind this gaffe, but it made a LOT of people really unhappy.

When the session ended, Rory and I went to the Blogger Celebration very frustrated about the panel but slightly buoyed by the prospect of the beer promised in the event schedule. Spoiler alert: There were a lot of unappealing books up for grabs, but no beer. Feeling pretty let down about the day, we left the celebration early to attend the BEA Editor’s Buzz Panel, which I will write about in my Recapping BEA post Monday or Wednesday.

Although the Bloggers Conference had a few high points, it was generally a pretty big let-down. I didn’t like the format, it was badly organized, and I didn’t learn much. Although I’m sure the organizers tried to improve the event, it had a lot of shortcomings. The content of the advanced design session was much too basic for the bloggers who attended it, one of the panelists pushed his own agenda rather than providing useful information, and the session about bloggers’ roles in publishing was a completely different panel from what was advertised.

I recall reading about a Book Blog UnCon a few years ago, when a group of bloggers decided to create an alternative to the Bloggers Conference. It wasn’t held last year or this year, but I’m kind of interested in reviving it next year. I think a setting in which bloggers can create their own topics and learn from each other would be much more productive than the perpetually disappointing BEA Bloggers Conference. Would anyone be interested in attending or helping to organize an UnCon for 2015?

*EDIT: I’ve started a Facebook group for an UnCon in 2015. Please join if you’re interested!

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38 thoughts on “Reviewing the BEA Bloggers Conference 2014

  1. I’m really interested in the Uncon format, and I’ve even talked to a few bloggers about holding regional uncons during the event for those who can’t attend. If you’re interested in something like this, I saw we pull together and do it!

    • I love the idea of regional UnCon. Let’s do it! It just seems like an event run by bloggers, without a corporate backing, will be more beneficial to us than some huge thing planned by people who don’t understand what we do and what we want from a conference. Learning from each other seems like the way to go!

      • The whole time we were sitting through all of these sessions I was thinking about all of the veteran bloggers who had so much more I could learn from in a small 50 minute face-to-face session instead of listening to someone else talk. I’m 100% into this and think it’s totally worth it. We have ANDI behind us – even if she ended up not being able to make it, she could Skype in and tell us more from her 9 years of blogging than we learned all day.

  2. I attended the Uncon two years ago and enjoyed it very much. It was a small group, but we had some good discussion. I think the BEA blogger event ends up leaning more toward people who want to link up with the industry or professionalize their blogs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as someone who mostly just wants to talk about books, the topics don’t appeal much to me. I did enjoy talking with other bloggers at the Blogger Con three years ago, and I enjoyed some of the sessions. But I’m not that interested in going and listening to people talk. I prefer more back and forth. I’d go to another Uncon.

    That said, it seems like BEA could do better with providing something for experienced bloggers. I’ve attended one professional conference that combined the traditional format with an unconference format. It wasn’t a pure unconference because the session topics were worked out in advance, but basically they just provided rooms and knowledgeable moderators to be in those rooms at particular times to lead conversations on particular topics. I didn’t attend any of those sessions, but it seemed like a good way to offer something for people with more experience in the field. Another conference did something similar with breakfast round tables. Each table was about a topic and you chose your breakfast table on the basis of the topic you wanted to talk about. So there are ways to get around the traditional format of a few “experts” in front of a room.

    • That’s great! I’m the same way; I’d rather talk to a group of bloggers, each of whom has his/her own experience, than be lectured at. There’s so much we can learn from each other.

      Those both sounds like really great formats! I like the idea of round tables with a discussion leader to guide the conversation. And the different topics at different tables is great, too! That way people can choose the topics they’re interested in.

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  4. First off, thanks for your generous remarks about the ad-networks panel, Leah! I feel like we worked hard on that one, and it seems to have been well-received.

    Secondly, I had to jump into this discussion on the idea of an UnCon or some type of blogger-driven conference, in the spirit of the original Book Bloggers Convention, and I LOVE that Andi is into it–as a veteran book-blogging community builder, she’d add to its credibility. And at an operational level, I really like the idea of what Teresa describes.

    My BEA roommate Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) and I talked about this idea a lot during this past week too. I’d love to help make a new conference happen.

    • Your hard work showed! It was definitely my favorite, most informative panel of the day.

      We’re just starting to talk about an UnCon, but I’m really excited about it! It will be great if a bunch of us can work together to plan a conference that we want to attend. And Andi’s expertise will be invaluable!

      • count me in as well – I’ve been working with the organizers of a large book festival in Atlanta to coordinate an event just like what you’re talking about! It would be for bloggers by bloggers. would love to be part of this discussion as well

  5. I am so sorry Leah but this sounds almost exactly like what I experienced last year. And I’m pretty sure the 201 panel was the same thing with the same content- include a profile photo? Seriously? Either they need to get this figured out or let it go. I know the next time I go to BEA I’ll skip the Blogger Con.

  6. Ugh the parts that sounded like a let-down sounded like a MAJOR let-down. I’m sorry, but “advanced bloggers” implies that you already know the very basic things about design (come on, sidebar, profile pic, etc.? REALLY?!), and you’re probably even comfy tinkering around with code. The vlogging thing… wow. I’m glad there were *some* high points, at least. 😦

  7. I wonder why that Booklikes guy thinks that advanced bloggers would jump ship just like that to his rather basic platform?

    It sounds like whole let-down, and just not relevant to book bloggers, and that vlogging/blogging panel sounds downright insulting.

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  9. I’m trying to figure out if I want to put “go to BEA” on my list of goals for the next 5 years or not. It would be a huge endeavour for me, financially and logistically, so had I gone this year, I would have been super pissed.

    Will you review the regular BEA stuff you attended as well? I’m trying to figure out if it’s worthwhile for someone who is “just” a blogger, by that I mean, does not work in publishing, isn’t working on a novel. Not sure if you fall into that group or not, but if you do, would love to hear your thoughts.

    Great post and loved your live tweets!

    • I’ll get a BEA recap post up today or tomorrow. I loved it and thought it was really worthwhile, as a blogger. It was nice to meet publicity contacts for some of the publishers, and to meet other bloggers. And I brought home SO many books!

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  11. Thanks for an insightful recap of the conference. I was a moderator at the Book Blogger Convention in 2010? 2011? and can see how much it’s changed over the years. I wasn’t able to attend BEA this year, so I appreciated your thoughts! Sorry to hear about the negatives — hope it improves moving forward.

  12. Could not agree with you more! The vlogging session in particular was just a huge mess. How did a panel of bloggers who helped plan the content of the con not realize vlogging and blogging are different? Something definitely was miscommunicated, and we the paying attendees were the ones who suffered. Ugh.

  13. I enjoyed Florinda’s group as well. I had to take off right after the last panel but – no beer at the party? I thought they said there would be.

  14. I have heard some awful things about the bloggers conference. How unorganized it was and how a lot of bloggers felt insulted because of some of the comments made by the panel. I am glad you had a good time meeting up with friend, though! It is such a shame it was such a let down considering how much money it costs for tickets. I have heard even worse things about Bookcon! I feel ever so sorry for those who attended!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Alex @ The Shelf Diaries

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