*This post comes a bit after BEA, but the article was originally written for the June edition of Review Direct, which came out this week. It marks the start of a new posting theme- Weekend Musings. There is always so much going on in the world of books beyond books themselves, so these posts will be thoughts on current issues, trends, or even quirky happenings.
Power to the People
by Amy Shamroe
“A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.” – James Madison
BookExpo America, the largest book show in North America, was held June 5-7 this year. Many in publishing, libraries, book sales, and other aspects of the industry speak of BEA with either joy or derision. Personally, I found this year’s BEA among the most boring I have attended. But, I found the events of Monday, June 4, to be the most interesting of the week. It was not about a major author signing, a shakeup in the industry, or a great presentation – it was all about bloggers.
There was a schism, of sorts, among bloggers this year. In one corner there was BEA Blogger Conference, held at Jacob Javits Center as a supplement to BEA itself. Uptown just a few blocks was Book Blog UNCON held at The Center for Fiction at The New School.
There was no Sharks vs. Jets faceoff, except in my mind (which, incidentally, had a great soundtrack). Instead, you had two events that I think speak volumes about where book blogging is going and how publishers deal with bloggers. One held more flash, the other more substance.
I attended BEA Blogger Conference, in part because I didn’t know better. That is not to say it was not a valuable experience. It most certainly was. I wore two hats to the conference- one as a blogger, the other as a recruiter looking for new reviewers to feature at Independent Publisher. I met many other bloggers whose blogs cover every genre imaginable.
At breakfast and lunch, three authors (a total of six at both meals) rotated to different tables in sections to answer questions and discuss books in general. At my table several up and coming authors stopped by, like Larry Correia, the independently published sensation who recently signed a major publishing deal. Well known authors Kitty Kelly and Anthony Swofford were in our rotation as well. Everyone was regaled by Jennifer Weiner and her funny, sometimes slightly vulgar, keynote speech. There was also a panel discussion. I am vague about the discussion because I am really not sure what the purpose was. Beth, from Beth Fish Reads, offered some insight and good commentary, but the rest of the panel fell flat. In the end, it was a great event for meeting other bloggers and being fawned over by Penguin and a couple of the major publishing companies.
As I was at BEA Blogger Con, I could not also be at UNCON. That was not too much of an issue- since it was all about bloggers, there is a great deal of information out there, including from Jenn, a.k.a. The Picky Girl, whose blog I read and whom I have now personally met.
Since the UNCON was an “unconference”, there was not a set schedule, no timetable for authors’ appearances. Instead, it was a meeting of bloggers to discuss issues and topics that were of interest to them. It was an organic experience whose direction was determined by the discussion both in large and small groups. Topics like Close Reading, Building Community (with readers), Social Media, and Book Reviewing were put on the agenda. Several bloggers in attendance mentioned the discussion of Book Reviewing really delved into whether a blogger should submit DNF (Did Not Finish) posts. From all reports, the flexibility of UNCON and the peer lead groups made this an ideal event for experienced bloggers.
Neither gathering was right or wrong in how they conducted their respective blogger events, just different. BEA Blogger Con did a great job of getting bloggers and authors together, face to face. UNCON was a groundbreaking alternative that speaks volumes to how far blogging has come in the past few years. Those who attended did not feel the need to be where the publishers were and chose to focus on what makes them unique in the world of reviewers.
Either way, bloggers are a vital part of the publishing world and even book marketing, and June 4, 2012 really exemplified that in several ways.