First off, I should say that I had one particular factor this BEA that made me more inclined to look on the bright side: it was my first real BEA, and so I had no idea what to expect. So I'm inclined to be more positive in my assessment, than, say, The Book Smugglers were (you can read their excellent recap here). That said, with a couple days between me and New York City to think about it, I can't say either the BEA Bloggers conference or BEA itself swept me off my feet. I met more than enough lovely bloggers, publicists, and authors to make up for it (and had a great time exploring the city), but all in all, I was dismayed at how exploitative, confusing, and off-the-mark the whole thing felt.
BEA Bloggers got off on the wrong foot right away with its networking breakfast, which really didn't involve much networking at all, but rather a lot of New York people talking to other New York people, and a lot of lesser-known authors doing their darndest to promote their work (with no regard at all for the book blogging world besides what we could do for them).
Jennifer Weiner's keynote, which followed, had very little do with actual book blogging--but then again, neither did Maureen Johnson's two years ago when I last attended the Book Blogger Con, so I was happy to listen to a funny, engaging, profane, and all-around wonderful speaker do her thing. I was a little dismayed that she seemed so dead-set against negative reviews (which you all know I feel pretty strongly about), but I thought her comments on the book industry's bias against anyone who isn't a white straight guy were relevant in a room that was mostly filled with the women blogger underdogs of publishing.
The next panel, “Blogging Today: What You Need to Know and What’s Next," featured a very interesting discussion on blogger ethics, and you could definitely feel the tension in the air when Erica Barmash (who I was lucky enough to meet at 2010's Blogger Con) said that she would absolutely refuse to work with a plagiarist. This was the only reference the entire convention to an issue that was actually relevant to book bloggers--namely, the recent controversy over The Story Siren's plagiarism. This was probably the best panel of the day, but my feelings about it were still lukewarm. I'm dismayed that there weren't more actual book bloggers on the panels, but rather other professionals in the book industry who seemed more interested in putting bloggers in their place than actually helping book bloggers become better book bloggers (and isn't that supposed to be the point of a book bloggers' convention?).
The lunch went about as well as the breakfast, which is to say terribly, but as I wrote in my Day 1 update post, I did get to meet Charlotte of Charlotte's Library, and I also had a great conversation with a librarian who was interested in starting a group book blog with the regulars in the teen section who had something to say about books they loved (or hated).
Next up were the breakout sessions, which were the real disaster of the convention. I attended the monetization panel and the panel on the blogger-publisher relationship, both of which were frankly awful. The actual book bloggers on the panels--Thea of The Book Smugglers, Sarah (Poshdeluxe) of Forever Young Adult, and Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves tried valiantly to salvage what was left of this convention's relevance to other book bloggers, but the rest of the panelists (most especially the moderators) were once again more interested in self-promotion and using book bloggers as a free publicity machine than anything else. (Though the publicist from Simon & Schuster on the blogger-publisher relationship panel had some interesting things to say.)
The closing remarks by The Bloggess were funny and insightful, but like Jennifer Weiner's keynote, left me confused as to what the whole thing had to do with book blogging. (And to be fair, she seemed just as confused by her invitation to speak as we were.)
All in all? Disastrous, and I was sad to see that the energy and excitement about book blogging I'd seen my first year at the con had almost completely evaporated.
On the Floor at BEA:
Mom and I hit the BEA floor for the first time Tuesday morning, and I was frankly awed by the scale of the thing. For an industry that a lot of people say is dying, they sure throw a lot of money into promotions and gimmicks (toilet bowl keychains, lots and lots of stickers and posters, bookmarks, tote bags, fancy notebooks and folders, and more). There was a definite air of desperation on the floor, and a lot of confusion as I talked to publicists as to what, exactly, the role of book bloggers should be in this brave new world of publishing. Some wouldn't give me the time of day (though these were the minority), others were beyond friendly and wonderful and had so much awesome wisdom to pass on, and others just seemed lost and handed me another bookmark.
Based on the ARC numbers I've heard people talk about from previous years, I was also surprised at few there were that I was really excited about. I did snag a copy of Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys that I'm thrilled about, and also Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, which are my top two. (The Hachette publicist also told me she'd mail me an ARC of Crewel, which along with Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans, looks like one of the better dystopians in the glut that's still choking the market.)
I attended three events/panels at BEA: the Adult Author Breakfast, the YA Editor's Buzz, and the Meet the Apocalypsies event. I started out with the Adult Author Breakfast, which I
know might seem a little odd for a YA book blogger, but I could only
afford one of the breakfasts and as soon as I heard that Barbara
Kingsolver was speaking, I knew which one I would pick. I'm happy to say
that the panel was one of my favorite parts of the whole week, mostly
because it was just funny, awesome authors talking and no one telling me
or anyone else how to love books and how to write reviews. (I also
managed to snag an advance copy of Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, Flight Behavior--yessssss!)
The YA Editor's Buzz was a little iffier. While I walked away really excited about Colin Fischer, Crewel, and What's Left of Me, I have to say I'm a little frustrated at the prevalence of high-concept novels that can be sold with a single hook. Colin Fischer and Skinny were the exceptions to this rule, and unsurprisingly, both were contemporaries. I love sci-fi/fantasy/dystopia to death, but 90% of the truly great novels in this category are a lot more complicated than just an "in a world where..." hook. (Think Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, which I couldn't describe with a hook if I tried.) YA and the publishing industry at large seem to be trying so hard to recapture the buzz of The Hunger Games, and it's making truly extraordinary writing hard to find.
Lastly, the Meet the Apocalypsies event was a madhouse. People fought for spots and swag (though there was still lots left over) and you could barely talk to the authors, it was so crowded. Still, it was neat to put flesh-and-blood to the authors I've heard so much buzz about, and the dance cards they handed out--basically a glossy sheet with the authors' names, their books, an covers, and a spot for the author to autograph--were a great idea. While I might not be able to get signed books from any or all of these authors, I'll still have their signatures (with a few cool personalized messages) to remember them by.
In a little, ego-boosting side note, over half the authors in the Meet the Apocalypsies event recognized me and my blog, which surprised me. Holla!
Publishing is changing more and faster than it has since the invention of the printing press, and it shows. No one seems to know exactly where bloggers fit into the big picture (including, I think, bloggers themselves), or how to deal with the fact that publishing isn't all about old white guys anymore. On the floor, BEA was astoundingly, glaringly white--but I think (and hope) that that's changing. It didn't escape my notice that not a single one of the buzzed books this year featured a major character of color, or a gay protagonist, though Colin Fischer gets props for having a protagonist with Asperger's. It didn't escape my notice that the giant Immortal Rules poster in the Harlequin Teen booth featured the same white, brunette model, even though Alison Seikomoto was clearly described as Asian in the books.
I had a wonderful time meeting with Lyn Miller-Lachmann (who blogs social justice and children's literature/YA at The Pirate Tree) and Neesha Meminger (who wrote three awesome books with South Asian protags, Shine, Coconut Moon, Jazz in Love and Into the Wise Dark) and discussing the future of publishing. The future, we all hope, will be bright--democratic, diverse, and all the better for it.
All in all, I had a wonderful time meeting wonderful people. I couldn't have dreamed of a better trip. But I think a fair critique of a convention, an industry, and their flaws starts a necessary dialogue about how we want things to look next year.
Am I right? Wrong? Crazy? Please share your BEA (and industry) thoughts in the comments!