3

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pros and Cons and Conferences and UnCons

(Warning: Dithering follows...)

I signed up for the 2012 Book Blogger Convention so long ago it still was the “Book Blogger Convention.” According to the official records, I created my registration for Book Expo America and BBC on January 23. I’d registered earlier for 2011’s BBC and had been holding off this year in anticipation of news about BBC programming, but since I was at least 95% sure I was returning this year no matter what, I decided to go ahead and send it in.

Just days later, there was news on the BBC front--BEA had purchased the convention and was rebranding it as the “BEA Bloggers Conference", promising a “fuller integration” of the event into BEA itself. Over the following weeks, we s l o w l y learned more about what that "integration" would look like. It looks...rather like BEA, and BEA is a publishing-industry trade show. The conference agenda is still coming together and panelists continue to be added, but at this point, it’s heavy on authors (for “networking”) and none of the sessions is being led by a dedicated book blogger (although several are listed as panel speakers). I keep checking for updates, though. (I also keep checking to make sure my badge--purchased, as noted, before the change in conference ownership and a subsequent change in pricing--still gets me access to everything I originally paid for.)

Book Expo America 2011--Javits Convention Center, New York City
Last year, I was pretty clear that I was going to New York City for the Book Blogger Convention. BEA was a nice extra (and hey, there were books!), but I primarily wanted to meet and talk and confer with fellow book bloggers, not cultivate industry contacts. My feelings on that really haven’t changed, and I’m finding the more industry-focused BEA Bloggers Conference less appealing.

Although the folks organizing the Book Blog UNConference are taking pains to establish that they’re not “the anti-BBC,” the fact that this event was announced as weeks of dismayed grumbling from book bloggers about BEA’s handling of Blogger Con came to a head--and will be held the same day--does make for a bit of a perception issue. But what seems very clear is that the “UNCon” is meant to be a blogger-to-blogger gathering. It will be capped at 100 participants, open only to book bloggers, and very DIY: no swag, no sponsors, and you’ll have to buy your own lunch...but there’s no cost to attend, either.

The nature of an “unconference” is that its programming is decided on-site, the day it happens.There is a structure to it, but it limits advance planning...and I function much more comfortably with advance planning, especially if crowds are involved. Having said that, the advance planning for the UNCon does include soliciting session proposals, so there will be some ideas on that grid to start the day off.

Despite the controversy that seems to have spawned it, the UNCon has the potential to offer more of what I actually would want from a book-bloggers’ conference, and so I’ve registered to be one of those 100 participants. Some excellent discussion topics have already been suggested--review writing, finding your audience/your tribe, non-review content, etc. Since the organizers have asked for ideas, let me throw in a couple, too:
  • Blogging Outside the Box Book; or, What Do Other Bloggers Do? Discussions about topics like monetization, review ethics, disclosure, and brand relationships may be new among book bloggers, but they’re not unique to book bloggers. Other sectors of the blogosphere have also dealt with them. Why reinvent the wheel? What can we learn from bloggers who don't blog about books?
  • Fragmentation, Factions, and Other Community Issues: It may not make sense to think of a single "book-blogger community" any more (if it ever did). Sub-communities may naturally form among bloggers with similar aims and interests, and that’s probably a healthy development. But when those fragments solidify into factions--marginalizing sub-communities because of their different interests--that may not be so healthy. Can we peacefully coexist? Or does it matter? And related: who really needs a niche, anyway?
I’d also second Teresa’s suggestion of a discussion about addressing controversy within the book blogosphere--but like her, I’d rather not be the one to lead it!

I will be in New York City from June 2nd to the 7th. I hope to catch up with many great blogging friends, and get to know some new ones. I might go see that really weird play with some people. I’ll be at BEA (would you vote for me to go as an Independent Book Blogger Awards winner?), including the Adult Book & Author Breakfasts on Tuesday and Thursday, which I didn't attend last year. And I’ll be at least one blogger conference that Monday. I’m still not sure which I’ll choose, but since I do prefer advance planning, I’m pretty sure I'll decide before I get there.

Are you trying to make the same decision? Which way are you leaning?