[Note: If you aren't a book blogger, feel free to skip this post. It's long and probably only interesting to a certain group of people who read my blog]
I have been an attendee at the Book Blogger Convention since the very first one in 2010. My posts on these can be found under the “book blogger convention” tag, otherwise look at:
Usually I’ve enjoyed the Book Blogger Convention (BBC). It’s been an event surrounding book blogging and I’ve meet a lot of bloggers there and had a chance to listen in on panels where different book bloggers discussed a particular topic. Sometimes I don’t agree with something a panelist says, but that’s to be expected. I still felt like I came away with a better understanding of how others blogged about books and felt more rejuvenated about book blogging. It was also a fantastic deal: $90 for the first book blogger con, $120 the next. This included a pass to the BEA floor for the rest of BEA. The first year registration was with Paypal and the organizers set it up so BEA issued me a pass, the second year I was instructed to sign up directly through the BEA website, where I was identified as Non Editorial/Media when I signed up with the Book Blogger Convention.
This year, I didn’t have the same positive experience.
I think my discontent started early, with registration. At the end of January, it was announced that Reed Exhibitions had bought the Book Blogger Convention. This was a surprise to many, and bloggers wondered what it meant to the BBC. I didn’t have any expectations one way or another, but I was soon feeling the repercussions of the buyout. I was on twitter right after the announcement, and another blogger was complaining about issues with understanding how to register. Thinking I’d be helpful, I tried to register myself. I went through the BEA website, through the regular registration, as I had last year. I selected Book Bloggers Convention, and the form said the early bird rate (before May 17th) would be $72 and “This does INCLUDE a BEA pass”. I also said I was Non Editorial Media, which I assumed I should, like last year, on another page during the registration process. Here’s a screenshot I made for part of that:
I was shocked when I got to the payment part of the process and it said I owed $65 for the BBC, and another $159.00 on top of that for being non-editorial/media, for a grand total of $224.00, which is almost twice how much it cost last year. On top of that, why did I have to pay the $159, when the BBC is supposed to include BEA? Other bloggers on twitter informed me they only paid $65 for their registration, but they had registered before the announcement that the BBC was bought. I thought that there had to be a mistake.
So then I located the number for customer service and called them. I explained my issues and wondered why I had to pay for being non-editorial/media on top of the BBC cost, when it said BEA was included. I asked if I should have gone through the press registration (which was on a different part of the website), because apparently that would have been $0 on top of the BBC cost. The woman I spoke to wanted to know how big my blog was – how much traffic did I get? I told her it shouldn’t matter because I was still a book blogger and last year, my traffic wasn’t an issue to getting into a conference about book blogging access to the floor was included in the price. I also told her: book bloggers are people who post their opinions on the Internet. They will not be happy if BEA was saying a big blogger got to pay less for an event and a small blogger had to pay more. She said she would talk to someone, took my number and promised to call back before the end of the day. She never called. This was Friday, and customer service was only available during working hours, so I got to stew all weekend before I could contact another representative. I also loved how I had to call while I was at work myself.
Also notable: I had to point out another huge error in their registration pages – the BEA website said the Children’s Breakfast was on Wednesday, the registration had it listed on Thursday. They fixed this quickly, but as for my registration? It took me almost 2 weeks and several phone calls and emails to Reed. As I said, this was during my work hours, and it did impact my mood and productivity to be calling BEA or waiting for them to call me back. In the end, there was so much confusion that they had to make an announcement on their BEA news blog. The price would be $135 for book bloggers, and this would cover the BEA pass. But since when I had tried to register the price was wrong, and that since I saw the price as $72, that’s what they would charge me. I had to jump through an extra hoop, filling out a form and faxing it to them (I ended up emailing them a PDF because who has a fax?) in order to get this price. I know I could have argued for $65 since I saw that too, but I was tired. I honestly debated just paying the $135 everyone else seemed to be, but after all the grief I had gone through and images of my mother smacking me for not knowing the value of money, I took the discount. At this point, I considered writing up a post on how to register for the BBC (at that point rebranded as “BEA Bloggers Conference”), but I thought BEA had fixed most of their issues and I didn’t want to revisit the whole thing because it just annoyed me thinking about it. I had people tell me that they saw the issues I was going through (I was ranting on twitter for some of it) and it made them wait till Reed had their registration straightened out.
STRANGE PHONE CALLS, ASKING FOR STATS, and the UNCON
On March 20th I got a voicemail message on my home phone. It was from a PR representative asking me to blog about a religious/spiritual book. I was shocked that anyone had my home phone number to market a book. The only place I could think of that I gave my number to in relation to book blogging was BEA, but in the past I’ve only gotten junk email because of signing up. I wasn’t sure it was BEA who passed along my phone number, and when I asked on twitter if anyone else had this experience, no one replied that they had. I was half-tempted to call the PR firm back to ask where they got my number, but didn’t. I saw a post somewhere where BEA denied they gave out bloggers numbers, so I didn’t pursue it. Last month I heard more that more bloggers were getting calls, and they were told the PR firm got their number from BEA. I went to look for the post I thought I saw, I couldn’t find it. I pointed a fellow book blogger at an opt-out I saw on the BEA form I filled out. I still don’t know what to think about the phone call I got and if BEA really handed out book bloggers contact information to PR firms.
Around the same time this was going on, there was a little brouhaha because bloggers who had registered for the BEA Blogger Con got an email asking them to fill out a form for the attendees list, which also asked about their stats. I think Jessica of Read, React, Review gives a great overview of the reaction to that and the general discontent. Again, I thought there was a post in response to this issue from BEA (it may be the same one that mentions the phone calls), but I can’t find it. If anyone can confirm this, please let me know.
From the comments on twitter in March and April I saw a lot of people were having issues with registering. People who had registered as press were being rejected 2 months after they had applied. These included big name blogs. The very first BEA I went to in 2009, I went as press and had no problems whatsoever. I wasn’t asked about stats and got into BEA for free. Of course I have no problem paying for BEA and the Book Blogger Con, and I have for the past 2 years — as long as I was paying a reasonable price. I don’t like the idea of different prices for different people just because you were lucky enough to register before the announcement that the BBC was bought, or that you have a blog with some number of hits that the organizers thought was an acceptable number.
Because of my experience, I was considering the Book Blog UnCon when I found out about it. An “uncon” to my understanding is a convention where there is a free-flowing structure and attendees create the panels. This appealed to me, but after all the trouble getting registered for the BEA Blogger Con, the thought of calling Reed’s customer service again to cancel my registration made me recoil. I decided to try to forget what I’d been through and just see how the official BEA Blogger Convention was.
THE BEA BLOGGER CON ITSELF
Arrival and Breakfast
I arrived a couple minutes after 8:45am because I went to the wrong wing at first. When I arrived there were goodie bags and some books for the taking. I believe the books in the bag were by the authors who were at the author networking breakfast and lunch. This is what I got:
The breakfast was continental (muffins and bagels and some fruit). I looked at the networking list for breakfast and saw no authors from the genres I usually blog about. The closest thing was Dystopian, but I felt that YA bloggers would rather have those tables than me. They didn’t distribute the authors very well either. Few tables had 4 authors (see table 9), some had 3, and these were grabbed early. Many tables had just 2. When I got there, I realized that there were probably over 30 tables and there were only 24 tables in the list, so many tables didn’t have authors at all. Thankfully, I was enthusiastic about meeting William Joyce because I had watched and loved his short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and it just won the Oscar for Short Film (animated) this year, so I ended up sitting at a table that he would be visiting and thoroughly enjoyed meeting him, despite the short visit. I also liked the other author who stopped by, Lee Woodruff. Even though her book sounded like it is a heart-wrencher, I appreciated hearing her thoughts about why she herself enjoys reading that type of story, even during hard times.
Also thankfully: I did manage to sit with bloggers I know (Angie and Holly), and their company saved a lot of the day for me. Holly is a blogger I talk to a lot online, but never met, I also was able to meet Jane from Dear Author, Jessica from Read, React, Review, and Elizabeth from Gossamer Obsessions for the first time, and I saw Ana and Thea from the Book Smugglers, Charlotte from Charlotte’s Library, Kate from Babbling about Books, and More, and Kristen from Fantasy Cafe. I met a few other new faces at our tables and would have liked more time just meeting other book bloggers, but this was difficult to do during the author networking.
I think the best thing would be to have the video of Jennifer Weiner’s keynote and her Q&A here:
The text of Jennifer Weiner’s speech can be found here.
Blogging Today: What you need to know and what’s next
This was a panel moderated by Zoë Triska, Associate Books Editor of the Huffington Post. Speakers were: Erica Barmash, Senior Marketing Manager at Harper Perennial and Harper paperbacks, Patrick Brown, Community Manager of Goodreads, Jen Lancaster, author/blogger of jennsylvania.com, and Candace Levy of Beth Fish Reads.
Only one of these speakers (Candace Levy) is a book blogger, which I thought was odd. This proved to be a foreshadowing of things to come. Here’s a good set of notes about the questions and the main points taken from the answers the panel gave. My overall impression of this panel was that it didn’t feel very specific. “What you need to know” is subjective. Overall it felt like a meandering discussion that sort of had to do with what other people who weren’t necessarily book bloggers, but have blogs, thought of book blogging. I tensed a little when one of the panelists called review copies “free books” — please, can we stop calling them FREE? The moment of the conference was when one of the panelist said that she would not want to work with a known plagiarist. I came away from this one most impressed by Patrick Brown of Goodreads, who had some of the most interesting comments (for example – advice to book bloggers to not alienate readers of their blog who aren’t book bloggers, his experience with Facebook is that people there love infographics, and Goodreads’ policy is not to allow reviews that have been paid for).
Lunch was another networking affair, and unfortunately we were unable to get any of the tables we wanted to sit at (here’s the list of options). The table we ended up with was one with 2 authors coming by, and one didn’t show. One was a non-fiction author (WordPress for Dummies was the book) and one was a fantasy/genre fiction author (Larry Correia) I appreciated the latter because at least he writes in a genre I read, and he actually showed up, but the rest of the lunch was awkward wait until his arrival. There was a strange mix at the table and I didn’t relate to the people there to learn about wordpress that weren’t book bloggers. I wondered if people had wandered in from the Blogworld conference because it was in the same area as the BEA Bloggers Conference.
At this point we finally moved out of the room we were in and had the choice of 2 panels from 1:45 to 2:45, and then again from 3:00pm to 4:00pm
From 1:45 to 2:45 I had the choice of Critical Reviews or So You Want to Make Money? — Other than being an affiliate, I have no plans to monetize my blog, but I was curious about the money panel, so I went to that one. The moderator was Scott Fox of ClickMillionares.com, and speakers were Rita Arens, senior editor of BlogHer, Ron Hogan of Beatrice.com, Thea James, co-founder of The Book Smugglers, and Sara Pitre, blogger at Forever Young Adult. Again, the moderator was not a book blogger, and took the opportunity to promote his book (questions would be rewarded with a copy). They started off with why they monetized their blogs. Rita Arens made a good point about wanting to see more people in book blogging think about being paid for their time. Most of the panelists use Blogads, no one used Google Adsense. This had to do with being able to customize the advertising on their blogs. Thea told people to sweat the small stuff: investigate what was out there, look at your blog and choose a theme that has room for standard ads, consider the number of ads you want . I sort of got the impression that it is difficult to make a lot more than “ramen money” (covers just the cost of running the website with a little bit more for ramen) with book blogging. When question time came by, the first to the come up was a website owner, and non-book blogger which made me again wonder if we had BlogWorld attendees wandering in. The second was another author who took a moment to self promote. I forget what her question was.
From 3:00 to 4:00 the choices were Creating Community & Driving Engagement, and Demystifying the Book Blogger & Publisher Relationship. I chose the latter. The moderator was Derek Stordahl, Global Publishing Expert and Blogger, Jenn Lawrence, blogger at Jennsbookshelves.com, Lucille Rettino, Vice President, Director of Marketing at Simon & Schuster, and Lindsey Rudnickas of NetGalley. I don’t know whether it was the length of the day or if it was because there was a panel like this in previous years, but I found myself not really paying much attention to this panel, so I sort of missed it when a panelist said that a “mature” blogger had to do more than review – they had to do other promotion on top of that, like covers and Q&As. But I did catch it on twitter since my tweetstream sort of came alive for a minute there. I did get the impression, like The Book Smugglers commented in their write up, that this panel was a what can book bloggers do for publishing — and maybe this was because there was just ONE book blogger on the panel to represent the group.
I skipped the closing keynote. I just didn’t want to hear another promotion.
My mood shifted throughout the day. It went from cautious optimism to general disappointment.
I was OK with the author breakfast even though only 2 authors came by, and it was them promoting their book because they only had so much time with us. I was OK with Jennifer Weiner’s speech, even though she did seem to be self-promoting a lot in it. By lunch I began to feel a bit more awkward because there was more promotion. At the breakout panels, when the moderators promoted their to-be-released book and there were at most 2 bloggers in a 4 person panel (and the usual number was 1 blogger per panel), I started to get tired. When people would go up to ask “questions” and then hijacked the conversation to promote their book, it grated on my nerves.
I thought this was a book blogger conference, but there was a shocking number of people who weren’t book bloggers or who weren’t in the book industry at all. Maybe BlogWorld being nearby caused a mixup and we had people from that conference waltzing into ours, or maybe Reed thought “book blogging” and “blogging” could be mixed without issue, but I didn’t go to a Book Blogger Convention to meet someone with a blog about the environment. There didn’t seem to be a cap on the number of non-book bloggers present, which I feel affected the conference. I am very curious how many people there that day were book bloggers, how many were authors, and how many were publicists.
Hearing perspectives from other parts of the industry is one thing, but I didn’t go there to be marketed to and to be told how to be a better cheerleader for publishing. In previous years, there were complaints about things said at panels, but at least there were panels full of book bloggers.
There is talk amongst the book bloggers about sending Reed constructive ideas for making the event better next year. I am always optimistic, and this is Reed’s first try, so I hope the event will improve. But next time, I am waiting a bit before I register. I’m going to have to see what they have planned before I come back to this conference.
Next I’ll post about BEA itself, which I had a much more positive reaction to.