This week has been pretty quiet since I was away for 3 days at the BEA Bloggers Conference and Book Expo America. It was a very busy time since I had a 6 AM flight Monday morning and then a 10 PM flight Wednesday night, and in that time I still managed to spend 1 day at BEA Bloggers Conference, spend 2 days at Book Expo, go to 1 author breakfast, go to the Strand, got to a breakfast event at Random House, and go to the SFF Event at the New York Public Library. Thursday I was capable of sitting on the couch and monitoring Twitter and not much else! (I tried reading at one point and failed miserably.)

BEA Bloggers

Since so many people have already covered the event and panels in addition to their thoughts, I’d rather talk about the overall experience than repeat that part of the coverage. If you want to know exactly what I did, I’d suggest reading Jessica’s post at Read React Review since we traveled to the conference together (Hooray! Fun!) and attended all the same panels (and were both part of the group that ate lunch on the floor in the hall rather than be pitched to by authors and both left the same panel). My own experience can be summed up pretty well by reading her post since we went to the same events and I had similar thoughts about what I saw.

For more detailed descriptions on what was covered during the conference, check out:

This was my third time at the book blogger conference, but this was the first one that has been held since it was bought by Book Expo America. I did not enjoy it as much as either of the previous conferences, which I was mostly glad I attended for the opportunity to meet other book bloggers. There has been very little about topics surrounding blogging that I’ve felt is new to me at any of the conferences. However, in previous years there has been enough of interest that I was glad I went, especially since I have had so much fun meeting and talking to other book bloggers. That is not the case this year and it comes down to a lot of what has already been said by the other bloggers I just linked to: bloggers were not the focus of this conference supposedly about book blogging.

This was not completely unexpected since there had been some concerns about the conference being bought by BEA this year. Confusion started early this year as for quite a while, there was no information on what this meant or what would happen at the conference (unlike past years). Some bloggers couldn’t register, or registered and then were rejected, or were told they had to pay more than was listed. Once the schedule was finally announced, it seemed strange that there were so few book bloggers on some of the panels (notably, the one about the blogger/publisher relationship only had one book blogger).

And then…there was the video. I can’t describe everything that was wrong with the video, so I’ll link to it even though it feels wrong to do so. Titled “Get Your Swag Bag On!”, it mostly consists of repeating a few of the names of authors that will be there and “Get your swag bag on.” Because free stuff is what we’re all going for. *sigh* (For the record, I didn’t take any of the free stuff this year or last simply because none of the books were ones I would read or review.)

Each year the conference has seemed to be moving a little more away from being about book bloggers and being more about bloggers working with publishers and authors, which has always concerned me a bit. I understand that this is at BEA and there is a huge industry presence, but some bloggers really aren’t interested in getting books from publishers and prefer to read books they bought themselves or borrowed from their local library. If a blogger decides to do that, I think it’s great. I completely understand the appeal of that, especially since I find myself reading fewer and fewer older books as I get more from publishers (and I don’t even get that many ARCs/review copies compared to a lot of bloggers).

But I’m always a little worried that those bloggers will feel unwelcome or left out when there is always some focus on being part of this industry. Having no relationship with publishers and publicists does NOT make one less of a book blogger. A book blogger is anyone who blogs about books, and all the talk about what bloggers “owe” to the industry we provide free publicity for is offputting (to put it mildly). Maybe this fear is unfounded since the panel that focused more on the publisher/blogger relationship was up against one on community engagement so there’s another option to go to, but I’d be really curious to see what someone who has chosen never to receive review copies thought of the event.

It is tough to have an event like this that works for everyone because all book bloggers are different. They blog for different reasons, have different goals, and are each drawn to different books. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anyone who really seemed at all happy with this event since it was more about promoting books than book blogging. I go to the conference to meet and talk to other book bloggers. I go to learn more about book blogging from the panels and the speeches. I do not go to be constantly bombarded with someone trying to get me to read their book, which is what happened here. You can read more about it at the links above, but the ratio of marketing to genuinely interesting discussion was just depressing. Even the keynotes, which were entertaining, had very little to do with book blogging and both were by someone with a book to promote. (Although I will say I did not get a vibe from Jennifer Lawson of The Bloggess that she was really aggressively trying to promote herself and her book, unlike Jennifer Weiner.)

The book blogger and book creator relationship should not be all about what we book bloggers can do for publishers. It should be mutual. Bloggers review publisher’s books when they have books we are interested in reading and providing coverage for. We get lots of email from people trying to get us interested in a book for review, and most of us have day jobs and a very limited amount of time for reading and reviewing. A lot of us have to choose the books we review very carefully, and having someone shout their book at us is not the way to get our attention. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Maybe there’s some confusion about what book bloggers do. I can’t speak for everyone since I don’t think you can or should lump all book bloggers into one category, but a couple of the reasons I blog are:

1. The book blogging community. It is a great place full of people passionate about books. It is a great place to go for recommendations or just to talk about books. There are many in this community I consider friends, some of which I have met at BEA/Book Blogger Con and some I have never met. I like to meet some of these people at Book Blogger Con and hear what they have to say on some of the panels. Unfortunately, very few actual book bloggers were on panels this year and not one was moderated by a book blogger. (Correction: There was actually a panel moderated by a book blogger as pointed out in the comments.)

2. I love supporting authors who have written books I’ve enjoyed by talking about their writing. I have no problem with authors coming to a book blogger conference if they want to chat with bloggers and listen to the panels – but not if they are constantly going to be pushing their books and starting every conversation with a spiel about their book. (I do want to note that there were some authors present who did the former so I’m certainly not saying I think all authors should be kept away.)

I do not blog for all the review copies. I’d be a liar if I said there were not certain ARCs or review copies I enjoyed getting, but regardless, I blogged for a long time without getting review copies. More often than not, the books I am offered or sent unsolicited are not ones I am even interested in reading. There is a line between telling me about a new book I may not have heard of and shoving said book down my throat. Crossing that line is only going to waste an author’s or publisher’s time and make me even less interested in reviewing the work. Particularly after I’ve spent money to travel to a conference where I want to talk about blogging as a process, not find new books – that is what BEA itself is for (among other things), not the Blogger Con. I’d much rather spend money on books that are interesting to me than have free copies of books I’ll never read tossed into my bag. Those things get heavy, you know.

In any case, I felt that this year’s blogger conference was not worth the time and money and it definitely didn’t aid my main goal for attending: meeting and learning from other book bloggers. If I hadn’t abandoned the planned lunch to sit in the hall, there would have been almost no time at all to actually talk to the bloggers I really came to talk to. While I hope they listen to the actual book bloggers who would like something different and improve next year, I am not sure I will be attending. I definitely will not be if they show no signs of improvement, especially if some bloggers choose to organize the Book Blog UNCON again next year. It sounds like they had a fantastic time.

More posts on the BEA Bloggers Conference (not already linked to above):