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.
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!