Monday, June 7, 2010

My Take on the Book Blogger Convention

I was excited at the prospect of attending the Book Blogger Convention. Getting that many book lovers together in one place to discuss everything to do with book blogging was an inspired idea. The organizers obviously put a lot of time, thought and effort in, making something so big and incredibly important come to life.

There were some really fantastic parts of the convention. There were also some parts that didn't necessarily pertain to me. This was the first year and the event went well beyond everyones expectations.

We started off with registration, which was done quickly and efficiently. We were on the early side, so it truly took seconds. Upon registration we were given our goody-bags, huge tote bags filled with books and swag. We went in for breakfast, which was amazing. Hot sandwiches, potatoes, pastries, muffins, fruit, juice, and the ever important coffee.

After breakfast we went into the meeting room where we would spend the rest of the day. After a quick welcome, with the introduction of the organizers and a thank you to the contributors, we settled in for the keynote speaker. Maureen Johnson (a YA author I hadn't read before) was hilarious. I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. My favorite quote from the speech - "bloggers are activists for books." It really is the perfect description of what we are all doing here.

Some other things Maureen said that I think every book blogger needs to know - When interviewing authors, don't ask general questions. Things like "Where do you get your ideas from?" and "Why do you write?" drive authors insane. Ask questions that show you know who the author is and have actually read their books.

After a short break, Ron Hogan spoke about professionalism and ethics in blogging. I had never heard of Ron before (Sorry, apparently he's a huge deal. I just live under a rock). I have pages and pages of notes from his hour. At the end of this talk, there were a million questions, most of which had to go unanswered due to time. Professionalism and ethics could have been at least two hours long and we still wouldn't have covered everything. This was by far the most important hour of the entire convention and I hope it is expanded upon next year.

After Ron, we broke for lunch. Trays upon trays of sandwiches and wraps, plus soda, water and chips. So very good. Lunch was a lot of fun, with bloggers and publishers sitting together talking about our one true love - books.

After lunch, we went back into the meeting room for the first panel - Writing and Building Content. I think I was expecting something different. The panel spent a lot of the time focused on writing reviews. How to do it, what to focus on, etc. I felt the panel would have better served the attendees had it focused on things other than reviews. As book bloggers, we already write reviews and each have our own format and style. It's something we adopt early on in blogging. I was hoping for a discussion about bookish content beyond reviews. A few of the panelists series were touched upon, but there was nothing about really creating something new that would appeal to our readers.

Next was Marketing. A lot of the information presented in the beginning of the panel was very valuable. Twitter, Facebook and GoodReads were mentioned. Going to where the readers are instead of expecting them to come to you seemed to be the most basic advice, but it's something a lot of us never considered and really needed to hear. Once the topic turned to stats, things went downhill.

Bloggers and publishers need to come up with some hard and fast guidelines. This was the perfect opportunity to get the dialogue going. Unfortunately, no one wants to be the bad guy. No one wanted to say that any sort of numbers - be it followers, commentors, hits, etc. - make one blogger stand out from the others as being more valuable to publishers. Something has to be decided upon and yes, some are going to be disappointed that they don't make the cut. That's life. The party-line of "as long as you try your best" isn't helpful to anyone. Publishers don't know who to work with and bloggers don't know what their goals should be. If a blogger is "trying real hard" but no one hears her, how is that helping anyone?

I honestly don't think that anyone would be really upset if guidelines were set and they didn't measure up. I wouldn't. It would give me something to strive for. The focus really needed to be what matters without worrying about excluding anyone or hurting anyone's feelings. A more hardcore look at trying to achieve a better reach, how to get more exposure, how to draw new readers while retaining the ones you have and getting ideas of where to go from the place you are could have been very helpful as well.

Next was Blogging with Social Responsibility. I though social responsibility was defined as owning our words and taking responsibility for what we put out there. Maybe even a talk about how taking a stand that goes against the majority doesn't have to be a nerve-wracking experience as long as it's done in a professional and intelligent manner. That excited me as I think there's a lot of fear, especially for new bloggers, over saying anything negative for fear of angering or hurting people. Alas, I misunderstood and the focus was something completely different. This panel was dedicated to blogging for a cause, be it people of color, glbt, or even just trying to raise more awareness for a certain charity. I can't imagine this pertained to the majority of us. Most of us blog about our love of books, without an additional goal in mind. While this may have been very important to some, most were, well, bored. I saw people who fell asleep. The guy behind me was reading a book. Had the conference had different tracks that we could choose from, this would have been wonderful for those who chose it. Having all of us sit through it when the information didn't matter to us was kind of a waste of the limited time we had.

The last panel of the day was the Impact of the Relationship between Author and Blogger. I don't have any notes from this since I was so burnt out from the last panel. I remember thinking that we should be focusing on the potential pitfalls of the the relationship as opposed to an all out lovefest, but I may have been in a punchy mood. The basic gist was that authors love bloggers. Bloggers love authors. Becoming friends with an author may make you a bit biased and you should disclose this information if you review their book.

Finally, there were some closing remarks and we all headed into the hall to say our goodbyes. I met some amazing people. I learned a great deal. I kept my mouth shut because I figured my comments were going to be seen as combative, rather than constructive. They usually are. I'm not good with the public speaking. Words don't come out the way I mean them too. That's why blogging - with the ever important backspace key - is the appropriate forum for my opinions. Perhaps I should have spoken up. Maybe I made the right decision by not bringing up topics that went against the comments from panels. We'll see how things go next year. Yup, I'm going. The conference, for all my bitching here, was truly well done. For the very first convention, it was an amazing experience and while I didn't love every moment, I think the experience was valuable and next year is sure to be twice as good.

If you went, what did you think of Book Blogger Con? What did you love? What didn't you like? If you didn't go, will you go next year? What topics would you like to see covered?


  1. Wow, sounds awesome.
    Especially the panels about marketing and professionalism & ethics sounds interesting.

  2. Thanks for your post! It's almost as if I were there. I'm very likely to ever attend, as I live in Europe.

    We hope to set something up like this in Europe next year. It sounds like a really great way to meet other bloggers and publishers.

  3. Did you like it enough that you will go next year? Or do you feel it needs to evolve and grow a little bit for you to consider reattending?

  4. Hi Jen! I haven't written a post on the Con yet, but I absolutely agree 100% with your thoughts, esp. on the social responsibility one. It was not what I was expecting at all. I loved Ron Hogan's discussion and I feel that we could have had an entire conference just on that!!

    I also am not good at expressing myself verbally and felt a bit uncomfortable expressing my thoughts among a large group of bloggers!!

    I would have liked more interaction and more ideas and sharing of information, but it still was an awesome first conference and am looking forward to the next one!!

  5. I appreciate your honest commentary about the Con! Hopefully next year it will be bigger than it was this year and they will split things off into different "tracks" so you can attend panels that you find interesting. Based on what I've heard I would attend next year's Con, it sounds like this year's was pretty great, which is impressive considering it was the first one.

  6. Fantastic post. I went to BEA but not blogger con. There are a lot of issues to discuss now that blogging is more popular and I find most people email me privately with their "real" thoughts but won't agree with me publicly when I vent on my blog :-) so as not to offend authors and potentially miss out on those coveted ARC's!

  7. I have to agree with you on the panel about Blogging with Social Responsibility. It seemed like the wrong place to have that discussion. Most of us blog about books, book-related content and occasionally our personal lives. I took no notes during this panel because while they have a point what they were saying didn't pertain to me.

  8. Um, I was going to post about how I totally agree, especially about the blogging w/responsibility thing... but then I saw Jennifer posted the exact same thing, lol!! That's very like us. But yeah, she and I had talked about how we felt the same way. I agree it was still good overall though and plan on going next year. Did you put your thoughts in the survey we did?

  9. LOL Jenny!!

    Jen - I hope you don't mind. Since you basically captured my entire feelings on the Con, I just linked to your post from my recent BEA post. You said it much better than I ever could and I totally agree with your thoughts on it!!

    (maybe I'm just being lazy?!?) LOL

  10. I didn't go this year and I'm very much considering going next year just for the networking opportunities. But in all honesty, I don't really want to sit for a panel that's going to "teach" me how to review. I already know how to review. Thanks. Next topic. Everyone has different styles and trying to make the community to form to certain styles is just going to make it break.

    I'm also not in agreement with making community guidelines, either. I'm all for each individual publisher making their own guidelines. Who they give ARCs to is their prerogative as it's their money but again, "community" standards isn't going to work. I didn't create a book blog to have to adhere to any perceived standards. I do what I do. If you like it, fine. If you don't, fine. Move on.

    As for stats, I think the number of followers and hits to a site are enormously superficial and aren't the best way to determine a site's popularity and "eligibility" for receiving ARCs. A lot of bloggers have contests that require being a follower, or give bonus points for being a follower, thus padding their numbers. Yeah, I can beef up my numbers too my requiring everyone who enters my Clockwork Angel contest be a follower (because that'll make the numbers explode) but I'm not going to. I'd like to keep my stats as genuine as possible, meaning people who follow are following because they're reading my content, not because they have a better chance at winning something.

    I'm also the antithesis of promotion. I promote my blog very little. I'm in the YA Book Blogger directory, TeenBlips, BookBlips and that's pretty much it. I comment on other people's blogs when I find something to comment on but I am the very product of people coming to me, not me going to them. Nearly pure word of mouth has made my blog what it is. Then again I like being the Liz Phair of the book blogging world. I have no desire to twit, twat or tweet or any of that. I just don't have the time. I think I'm doing quite well as it is. :)

    So yeah, I'm really unsure about the contest of the convention as I'm very much a "function in a bubble" type of person. Hey, it works for me!

  11. I just hopped over from Jen at Crazy for Books and you do sum it up pretty well. I enjoyed the day and just went with it. I didn't know what to expect and didn't really expect anything out of it but to see how the first year went.
    You nailed a few things. I'm excited to see what they do next year. I'm sorry I didn't meet you!

  12. Loved your post! As I read it I chided myself for opting only for the reception and passing on the convention itself.

    That's not a mistake I'll be repeating next year.

    I felt I missed a lot by not being there but picked up a lot thanks to your succinct breakdown of the event.

  13. I didn't go (Im from Australia) but it does sound amazing. I am not sure that I would enjoy listening to people telling me how to blog, if they were telling me exactly how to write the review. But it would be useful (for me at least) to have a section about things to think about when you are writing your review... like: information about different types of genres, think about style of writing, plot, characterisation etc. Those sort of tips are helpful as long as thye don't tell you how to put it all together if you know what I mean

  14. I didn't go this year so I am glad to see another opinion besides 'it was great!'. Thanks for giving another side. Obviously not all things can work for everyone and hopefully they will have tracks next year.

  15. Thanks for this post. I loved your notes and opinion on each of the speeches. I would have loved to attend some of these sessions but I am so glad I got a first person account. Thanks much!

  16. This was a very informative post. I liked your honest summaries on the different panels. Thank you for sharing!

  17. I'm new to this whole blogging biz by some standards (about a year) and I'm not a prolific blogger by any means - but the idea of book blogger con is a great one!

    I found your post from an author's link about Blog Hop to Jen's blog post about this event (and her link here). Glad I found you - you've got a great voice and terrific style in relaying information. I'll be following your blog for book reviews now and I wish you the very best success with your endeavors!

  18. Hi Jen,
    Thanks so much for posting this information. A friend and I are thinking about starting a book blog but we want to do it properly. I had heard about the Book Blogger's convention but no one has really talked about the event in details. Sounds fantastic and looks like there is lots to learn from the panel. Thank you so much for sharing!

  19. I have really enjoyed following your blog and reading what you have to say. Thank you for doing such a great job!

    I have an award for you if you are interested: