Monday, May 30, 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 Book Blogger Convention

Man, how things have changed in a year. At the 2010 Book Blogger Convention, bloggers were tapdancing for publishers to get review copies. Now, the bloggers seem to be in control. This is the big takeaway: the book industry is actively courting the book blogosphere.

Other notes on the day:

1. The term "book blogger" is now unwieldy.
Genre diversity is no longer the only thing differentiating book bloggers: style, professionalism, commerce, tone, experience, technological savvy, and a score of other chacterisitics make describing what a book blogger does extremely difficult.

2. As important as book blogs are becoming, book bloggers are still pretty provincial.
The cagey organizers left plenty of time for Q & A after the various panels; this was usually the most interesting, not the the most informative, part of the sessions. For example, given the chance to query folks in charge of marketing for the big six publishers, most asked weirdly specific questions about their own little problems. You have the ear of the people most directly effecting book publicity in America and you ask about e-galley expiration dates. Seriously? This is one example of a larger trend; most bloggers aren't thinking beyond their own Wordpress dashboard.

3. Authors are becoming a bit of a pain.
This might just be my own misanthropy, but having to fuss over authors directly is a drag. Not only are we told only to shield authors from negative reviews, but we also have to screen increasing numbers of author pitches. I understand; authors, especially those from smaller presses and self-publishers, are desperate for exposure. We wish you the best of luck, but most of us are swamped with reading and writing as it is.

4. ARC obsession
The dangled carrots of the book blog world, advanced review copies (who gets them, who gives them, and when) determine the professional ethics of book blogging. It seems that if you solicit a review copy, you enter into a de facto moral contract with the publicist, publisher, and author. Even if the code is as simple as "be polite" or "review the work, not the person," your continued ability to get review copies depends upon your compliance. More and more, I am becoming  fan of JGBTFB (just go buy the fucking book). This way you can write without any concern that you will violate the covenant of book publicity.

5. Social Media Fatigue
Goodreads. Librarything. Shelfari. Amazon reviews. Facebook. Twitter. Linked In. Online forums. Not to mention your own blog. Managing all of this stuff is a major headache. A future topic of discussion would be some best/most useful practice demonstration/analysis for those of who write about books independently. What works for whom and why? What are the advanced features and behaviors that will give our ideas the widest circulation?

6. Ascending to Pay
At this point, more than a handful of people who started as amateurs are now professionals. One of the undiscussed topics was how did you do it? Should I? How much do you make? And how? Now that book blogging is no longer principally the perview of rank amateurs (most are at least comptent amateurs), the ins and outs of making your blog pay is a conversation worth having--not just because there is money to be made, but also because people should think about the costs and benefits of going pro---or pro-ish.

7. The Writing is the Thing
I think most people who read book blogs can agree that the number one reason to keep reading a blog is the writing. Whether formal, conversational, satirical, confessional, analytical, emotional, comedic, or arch, what a blog says and how they say is its central feature. So it's a bit of an omission not to talk about writing approaches at all. Staging such a discussion is probably quite difficult, but I think we could all benefit from thinking about how to do the work of writing about books better, whatever we understand better to be.

8. Tools
I was excited to see a panel on technology this year, and I think more of this needs to happen. There are so many moving parts to the web that book bloggers could stand to learn more about (my hand is raised highest here). A series of 30 minute tutorials on web design, fonts, SEO, Google Analytics, hosting, and any of the myriad topics an independent web publisher should know about would be a major help.

9. It's the People, Stupid
I know this, but I always forget it: the sessions themselves aren't the main draw to these kind of events. It's the people you know and don't yet know that matter. I should have tried to make the reception the night before or any of the satellite events, but my natural introversion and stubborness took over. Someone remind me next year that I am an idiot if I don't do this stuff.
And with that, The Reading Ape is going to step away from the big picture, meta-blogging posts and return to something like regularly programming. Thanks to my non-blogging readers for sticking out the last few weeks. You both have been very patient.


  1. Some great observations in this post, even for someone who didn't get to make it out to BEA/BBC this year. :-)

  2. Nice report. It's good to hear what went on at BBC.

  3. Very interesting. I went last year, and couldn't agree more about your observation - awesome as it was, it felt very desperate and pandering. Glad to hear that that dynamic's changed, at least, and hope I can make it next year.

  4. #7 - I read your series of posts with real interest, but this is exactly the part I thought was missing, that was overshadowing the whole thing. It must be the most difficult part to talk about clearly. If people are defensive about how or why they blog, imagine criticizing their writing!

    (most are at least comptent amateurs)

    Or so we hope. Anyone, everyone, feel free to criticize my writing. I can use the help.

  5. I have a small pile of review copies both physical and electronic to read through from when I was still accepting pitched book. This year though I decided to stick with reading books off my wishlist and getting them primarily through the library. It means I'm no longer worrying about release dates or being the first to get the next hot thing. I leaves me to concentrate on reading and writing about books I actually care about on my own terms.

  6. It was great to see you in the back of the panel, and I'm glad you asked a question. I may or may not have stalked around afterwards but didn't see you to say hi.

    I'm with you on #4 especially - I buy my books. I love coming to BEA and getting some books and getting the catalogs... and then I go online and buy what sounds good. I can't help it, it's just how I roll. Free sounds good but meh, I can't get over my love of ranting and feel it works better if I buy the book myself ;)

  7. I agree with #7. There seemed to be hushed tones about monetization but no one talked about it.

  8. Great post as usual - I loved all your BEA posts.

    ARC obsession - the problem is that most book bloggers will take an ARC they can have. A professional courtesy by book bloggers should be not to accept an ARC unless you are interested in reading it in the first place. Someone recently asked me about this subject, what if I get a free book and don't like it? I said that it rarely happens because I read the books I want to read not the books which are given to me.

    Social Media Fatigue - best advice I got about social media was from the Sunday evening Twitter #blogchat, only do 2-3 sites and monitor only those

  9. Great insights. It's interesting; some of the points you're bringing up about book bloggers are the same things that other blogging sectors have confronted as they grow. I've lurked on the fringes of the mom-blog sphere for awhile, and the debates over monetization and attracting the attention of "brands" (publishers and authors, in our case) are STILL going on over there.

    And yes, books aren't everything - it IS about the people.

  10. I was also shocked at the specificity and arrogance of some of the questions that were asked of the publishers. Furthermore, I found it extremely bizarre that the second hour, with the "independent" publishers, seemed to elicit disdain and flippancy from the crowd. I don't know if it's representative of most book bloggers, but indeed, some of those questions could not have been more close-minded.

  11. Good observations. Totally agree with you on #1 and #2. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with statements about what "most book bloggers" do. The book blogging world is far too large and diverse for such statements to be accurate. "Most bloggers I know" would be better. And that holds true even within the genre communities. I doubt anyone can say anymore that they know what most bloggers do.

    Regarding ARCs. I actually came away from BBC with a much more laid back attitude than I had before. I accept few ARCs and mostly use Netgalley these days, but I still feel a sense of obligation about them in a timely manner. But what after listening to the panels--especially the grey areas one--I'm letting that go. I think a lot of the "de facto" contract you mention is in the minds of bloggers. And if there is such a contract in pubs' minds, what are the consequences of breaking it? No more free books? Fine. I'll JGBTFB (or JG check TFB out of the library).

  12. Amateur Reader-
    It is as much a format problem as it is an ethical one. How do you go about talking about the writing about book blogs without singling people out? That doesn't seem fair. Maybe go the opposite way: highlight exceptional writing on book blogs.

    That sounds wildly sane to me.

    Damn, sorry to have missed you. I didn't do a very good job of putting faces with online names and introducing myself. A definite goal for next year. I do wonder if the ARC acquisition process leads people to read things they don't really want to read, or at least not as much as things you have to buy for yourself.

    I don't even think there were hushed tones; more like deafening silence. For example, the gray areas of book blogging panel featured several people who do this for a living, or a related think. Sarah Wendell, the keynote speaker, went from amateur to author. Seems like something people would be pretty interested in hearing more about.

    Man of la Book-
    I do think some more careful curation of what people ask for would help, but I guess what I am thinking about now is that the moment you ask for an ARC, something shifts in your attitude toward your blogging. I don't know if it's good or bad, just different.

    That's very interesting to hear, though it makes a lot of sense. The structural difference between the hobbyist and the pro is real. When the line between them is so blurry with book blogs, it makes it that much more difficult to have a conversation about "ethics" and "professionalism."

    I don't know why the questions were so weirdly self-interested, except that these are people (of which I am one), spend most of their blog-related time just thinking about their own blog in a very specific way. So when it comes time to ask questions about blogging, the only mode of entry they have into that discussion is to talk about some gripe. A waste in this kind of setting.

    Spot on. Maybe the way to have the conversation then is to talk in detail about specific practices rather than groups. Probably this would require more, but smaller, sessions for something like the book blogger convention (I would welcome this)

    And that sounds like a healthy development. I agree that much of the de facto contract is in the minds of the blogger, especially those seeking to cultivate relationships with publishers, but there was some suggestion of what one should and shouldn't do (what a review is, what one should do with that review, what one should do with an ARC if you don't want it, etc).

  13. @Florinda, I'm mostly a "mommy" blogger and we talk a lot about monetization. I understand that blogging is a hobby for many people and they plan to keep it that way. I do think there are plenty of us who are interested in earning an income from blogging. It takes a lot of time and love to do what we do.

    @theApe I'm glad it wasn't just me. As primarily a mommy blogger we talk about this a lot. I think if the dialogue was opened we could talk about best practices, etc as well.

  14. I am a particular fan of JGBTFB. Once it is a little older, you can even JGB(orrow)TFB.

  15. Those are some useful observations. I went in 2010 and was a bit eh about it, didn't sign up this year, and had the distinct thought that maybe by the third year it might really kick some butt. And I think #1 is a big old root issue. There is no one Book Blogger Community -- there are a lot of microcommunities, and I don't think a certain amount of fragmentation is bad at all.

    I remember having a discussion at the 2010 event that really drove that point home for me: I was talking at lunch to a woman who was complaining about a publicist being too aggressive for her liking, querying her about her review schedule etc., and I suggested that the publicist was just treating her like a professional. And she said, "But I don't want to be treated like that. I'm not a professional. I just do this because I really enjoy it." Which was... good to hear. I forget. I tend to "hang out" with bloggers who are like me, and it's good to remember just how diverse the various communities are. That said, there needs to be some way of addressing the whole range of them. Maybe breaking off into smaller splinter groups within topics? That could get unwieldy, I guess, but it could also be really effective.

  16. I'm with you on #1 -- there's such a variety of people who write about books, it's hard to describe as just "book blogger." I also think it's now hard to talk about the "book blogging community" since it's now so expansive. Maybe you never really could, that's hard to say.

    I'd like to see a panel next year on monetization -- how you do it, if it's worth it, and thinking about whether it fits into the goals of you blog. It seems like there are a lot of semi-professional places for book bloggers to do reviews too; it'd be nice to talk about that a bit.

  17. Re: #8 - I use WordPress rather than Blogspot because it provides so much support for many of the tools that you mention. Not promoting WP- just saying. I started w/ Blogspot long ago, but felt I needed more support. WP has worked well for me.
    Thanks for the post about BBC - being here on the Left Coast, it's tough to get there, so I can live vicariously through your experience.