The Book Blogger Convention is a one-day meeting affiliated with the annual Book Expo America conference/trade show, organized by a team of book bloggers led by Trish Collins (Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?), Michelle Franz (Galleysmith), and Rebecca Joines Schinsky (The Book Lady’s Blog). The 2011 edition was held on Friday, May 27, at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. In only its second year of existence, BBC offered a full day of double-tracked programming to book bloggers and those interested in connecting with them (publishing industry folks, publicists, and authors). For those who arrived in New York City early, BBC registration included access to the exhibit floor and general sessions at BEA, which took place from May 24 through May 26.
BBC’s Opening Reception was held on Thursday, May 26, immediately after BEA closed.
The conference itself started on Friday morning with breakfast and a “Build Your Own Swag Bag” opportunity What sort of swag would you expect at a book-blogging convention?
Participants at BBC were able to choose from a variety of books contributed by publishers and authors - both finished publications and Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of not-yet-published books - according to their personal reading and reviewing interests. Many of the authors were available to sign their books at either the swag tables or during the Author Speed Dating session that afternoon. Reading accessories, publisher catalogs, and tote bags to carry everything were also available. There was no pressure to accept any swag at all, but attendees were discouraged from taking more than one of any item.
The “build-your-own-swag bag” approach was well-received, as attendees only accepted swag items they actually wanted. Despite the fact that many attendees had been at BEA for at least part of the week preceding BBC, few of the books in the BBC swag selection were duplicates of those that had been available at BEA, and their appetite for free books was still healthy.
Participants got a second swag-bag-building opportunity at lunch as additional swag items arrived.
Programming began immediately after breakfast with a keynote address by blogger/author Sarah Wendell, founder of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Wendell was both funny and insightful in her talk and Q&A session. Among other observations, she noted that taking a blog to “the next level” means something different to every blogger; that a blogger’s currency is “authenticity, generosity, and consistency;” and that readers - the ones who talk about their reading on their blogs, at least - are increasingly affecting what publishing does by speaking up about what they want. The presence of publicists, editors, and authors at BBC seems to indicate that publishing is listening.
The remainder of the day was occupied by six two-hour sessions (two in each block) on two tracks. The blogging-focused track featured the sessions Practical Challenges of Blogging, Navigating the Gray Areas of Book Blogging, and Blogging for a Niche Market; the alternate track programming was Ask the Publisher or Publicist, Author Speed Dating, and Technology for Blogging. Each session included a sizable Q&A component; two sessions - Niche Market and Technology - featured breakouts allowing the panelists to be more specific in conversation with small groups of attendees. There was no final keynote or closing ceremony.
Who was there:
The BBC website includes a page of attendees who consented to be listed publicly at the time of registration. That list included approximately 150 book bloggers across a variety of book-genre and audience niches - general fiction, nonfiction, genre fiction (romance, mystery/crime, sci-fi/fantasy), kidlit, young adult, librarians, audiobooks, and more. Some of those bloggers are authors themselves or work in the publishing industry, but chose to wear their blogger hats to the convention. They were joined by about 30 publishing-industry professionals, primarily editors and publicists, and more than two dozen authors. Many of the authors, who included self-published writers as well as those associated with both small presses and major publishing houses, were there to participate in the Author Speed Dating session, but they took the opportunity to interact with both bloggers and publishing pros outside the sessions as well.
Why I went:
As a two-time BlogHer Conference veteran I have discovered, to my chagrin, that book bloggers don’t really come to more general blogging conferences like BlogHer. But until 2010, they didn’t have a conference of their own, either. I missed the first Book Blogger Convention in 2010 due to other commitments, but I decided late last year that if there was a second one in 2011, I wanted to go. When I was invited to moderate the “Blogging for a Niche Market” panel, that sealed the deal. (I was chosen in part because my book blog does not occupy a particular niche.)
BBC panelists were not paid, but their conference registration fees were comped. However, as I said, I would have gone anyway.
My takeaway from the event:
Much of the blogging content at BBC seemed most beneficial to the less-experienced blogger - not the total newbie, but someone who’s been at it for somewhere under two years. Having said that, I attended all of the blogging-track sessions, and as a four-year blogging veteran, I still found something worthwhile in each of them. Bloggers who wanted to develop or improve their relationships with publisher reps and authors had opportunities to do that, and attendees were free to move between sessions on both tracks. The sessions were a little long at two hours apiece, and I’d have liked a closing ceremony of some sort to cap the day, but despite that lack, I felt the day was well-planned and executed.
This was my first specialized blogging conference, and I came away with a new appreciation of why these smaller, more targeted events seem to be taking off. It was much easier to make connections and have conversations in the more contained, intimate setting, and the more limited programming contributed to building community by keeping participants together. My main interest in attending BBC was meeting and getting better acquainted with other book bloggers - those were the relationships I was there to nurture - and my goals in that area were satisfied. I have high hopes of returning to New York for Book Blogger Con 2012!
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