This post was adapted from an e-mail I sent to the planners of the BEA Bloggers Conference in response to their request for feedback on the 2014 event and considerations in planning for 2015. I wanted to share it here so we could talk about what you think, too.
Another place you can share what you think about book-blogger gatherings–and help to plan one!–is the Facebook group Book Blog UnCon 2015, which was recently formed to work on producing such an event for next year. The group is an open one–if you’re a book blogger on Facebook who’s interested in being part of this, you’re welcome to join us there.
I was pleased that there were two tiers of programming at the BEA Bloggers Conference this year, serving beginners and more advanced bloggers. As a seven-year blogging veteran, I didn’t go to any of the 101-level sessions, but I’ve heard good things about a couple of them (and pretty bad things about “The Publishing Process: How Bloggers Have Changed the Game,” which by many accounts greatly missed the mark.) I did not hear such favorable opinions about some of the 201-level sessions, unfortunately. It may be that it’s harder to develop programming suited to more advanced bloggers, but I’m not sure that’s really the problem.
I attended a couple of sessions that looked good on paper, but weren’t executed well. The Design 201 session was essentially two side-by-side presentations by designers, with one presenter trying to recruit users to his own social-media/blogging platform (BookLikes), and with neither presenter truly offering “advanced” design advice. The “Blogging and the Law” panel offered some interesting information about plagiarism and copyright protection, but didn’t address legal concerns specific to book bloggers.
The session that I moderated, “Technology 201: Ad Networks,” seemed to be fairly well-received, and I think the content and presentation were appropriate to its target audience. The panel was balanced, and we structured it as a discussion/Q&A with no formal presentations, which I think may have been more engaging for the audience. I know–because I was told directly–that people appreciated not getting sales pitches from the two vendors who were on the panel.
I feel that one issue with BEA Bloggers as a whole is that it’s not entirely clear on who the “bloggers” are. As keynoter Maureen Johnson noted in response to an audience question, a “book blog” and an “author blog” are different things. Because of BEA Bloggers’ beginnings in the grass-roots Book Blogger Convention (2010-2011), book bloggers look to this event to be our conference, and while my impression is that most of the Bloggers Conference attendees still identify as book bloggers–we read and blog about books written by others–some are authors who blog primarily about their own books, and others are publishing-industry insiders who blog about various aspects of the business.
Book bloggers, author bloggers, and industry bloggers may not want the same things from BEA Bloggers, and I realize that BEA Bloggers may not be in a position to diversify its content to address the needs of all groups, particularly if it also wants to offer programming to address differing experience levels among bloggers. With that said, I do have some thoughts about where the conference can go from here to serve the interests of book bloggers, based on conversations with my peers.
When I talk about the Bloggers Conference with other book bloggers, one point that comes up repeatedly is that we want this to be an opportunity to interact with and learn from each other. We would like more book bloggers on panels in general, and especially as moderators. We’d also like sessions structured as workshops, and/or allowing for small-group discussions, mixed in with more traditional panels and presentations. The more experienced bloggers I’ve talked with are especially interested in this.
All sessions, regardless of how they’re structured, could be better if the panelists have more time to prepare. Barring emergencies, I think panel members should be invited and confirmed no less than a month before the conference. (Personally, I was invited to moderate my session barely two weeks before BEA. I live on the West Coast, and if I hadn’t already been registered and made my travel plans, I couldn’t have accepted the invitation with so little lead time.) The planning team might also consider offering more guidance and direction in structuring sessions, particularly to panelists without much conference and/or speaking experience.
I think it’s vitally important for the Bloggers Conference to have bloggers involved in an Advisory Board capacity and applaud that it’s put such a group in place, but I wonder if it may be time to make some changes to its membership.
(UPDATED 6/18/2014): A current member of the Advisory Committee commented on the link to this post on Facebook, stating that she is stepping down this year because of some of the issues mentioned in this post. Her impression is that BEA doesn’t take the conference seriously enough to devote the time, staff, and funding resources necessary to build it into something valuable. This is sad, but honestly not surprising.
I recognize that as part of Book Expo America, the Bloggers Conference needs to address publishing-industry interests as well as those of bloggers. While those interests often align, there are also differences to consider. BEA Bloggers seems to be giving more weight to bloggers’ interests each year, but there’s still room to do more…if it wants to.