Conversation and Controversy: Recapping BEA Bloggers

A week ago today, I hopped a train and made the commute into New York City alone for the first time ever. I was scared out of my wits — what if I get lost? What if I get robbed? What if I take the wrong train home? — but I told myself to suck it up and get on with it. I thought of it as a new adventure, something I’d never done before. I was doing something completely for myself, for once, in every sense of the word. My fear quickly turned to excitement and I found myself imagining all the possibilities of what could happen while I was at the Javits Center.

And then I got on the train on Wednesday morning. Alone. The second I was in my seat and looked out the window at my son (who looked very confused by the idea of not being able to come with me), I second-guessed myself again. I’d never been away from Joshua for this long a period of time before. Would he and The Hubby be okay without me all day? What if they needed my help? What if Joshua got sick or hurt? I tried holding it together but found myself quietly dissolving into a puddle of tears.

I don’t know how all of you working parents do it. I imagine it gets easier over time, but holy wow…that was painful.

I distracted myself with my NOOK and The Fault in Our Stars, occasionally swiping at my eyes to hide any wayward tears. I didn’t want to draw the attention of the man who’d been forced to sit next to me, and I knew I needed to calm myself quickly in order to appear composed and confident when the train pulled into New York Penn Station. As we left the second-to-last station on the route, I pulled up the GPS app on my iPhone and punched in the address for the Javits Center, quickly realizing that the directions were much simpler than I’d anticipated. I felt my confidence building as I made my way up to 7th Avenue, and I told myself that I’d walked this path a million times before so that my confident exterior wouldn’t wane as I closed in on the Javits.

As soon as I laid eyes on the building, I knew the architect in my husband would love it.

Once inside, it got a little confusing. The BEA exhibits, which wouldn’t be open until the following day, were already being set up and there was no signage indicating where the bloggers conference was being held. I had a bewildering conversation with one of the organizer’s press people before giving up and trying to find the conference on my own. Eventually, I did manage to find check-in and they directed me to the conference rooms in the basement, where I found myself on my own. Groups of bloggers were already sitting together and I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to network or make any new friends (I tend to shut down and keep to myself around strangers, especially when I’m not already with someone I know)…and then I saw a woman sitting alone at a table and decided it was the perfect time to say hello. Marisa from The Daily Dosage is a married mom of two from Chicago, and she’s very sweet, funny, and knowledgeable about books. I’m so happy I took the initiative and asked to sit with her! Hi, Marisa!

Apparently, Marisa had already been in contact with another blogger I’d met a week or two prior on Twitter, Shannon from River City Reading; she said that Shannon and two other bloggers would be arriving shortly and that we could all sit together. Sure enough, Shannon walked in a few minutes later with Rory from Fourth Street Review and Leah from Books Speak Volumes and Marisa introduced me. I had embarrassingly turned shy again (I’m so sorry, ladies!) and said hello, and then sat quietly while they talked.

Shortly thereafter, the conference started and Maureen Johnson took the stage for her keynote. Right at the top of her speech, she removed her jacket and drank a little coffee, saying that when we left we’d just remember that she “came in, took her clothes off, talked about coffee, and left!” She talked about an article she read on the New Republic website that essentially trashes 50 Shades of Grey and the entire romance/erotica genre and its readers and refers to the Twilight novels as — and I quote — “crimes against language.” Yikes. Maureen felt that the article “was written by someone who got a thesaurus for his birthday and was upset about it,” and that he seemed to hate readers and wanted nothing more than to make them stop reading. She really “got” us as bloggers, telling us that our job is to make people want to read, and not to shame them or drive them away as this writer had tried to do. I may or may not have developed a girl crush on her…

From there, we broke into sessions labeled “101” for less experienced bloggers and “201” for advanced bloggers. They were all about blog design, and I decided to attend the 101 session entitled Design 101: Creating a Picture Perfect Blog. I’m happy I did, because I came away with a lot of very important information regarding use of images, blog organization, and creating a review policy. From what I’ve read on other blogs, the 201 session covered a lot of the same things instead of the more advanced concepts they were expecting (and that the session title, Design 201: Taking your Blog to the Next Level, advertised). I’m happy with my choice on that one. For the second session, I chose Technology 201: Ad Networks, and I was a little less happy with that decision. The information we got about getting into advertising was good, and I’d really like to start earning money from advertising, but I was quickly greeted with two big problems. First, my numbers from Google Analytics are very low, which means my readership is small, which means there are fewer people likely to click on ads, which means ad agencies are less likely to be interested in working with me. (The fact that there wasn’t much discussion throughout the day about how to increase readership didn’t help matters.) Second, one of the panelists mentioned that ad agencies prefer working with “niche” bloggers, meaning they would rather work with someone who writes consistently about one genres of books (whether that’s women’s fiction, YA, romance, or whatever). I like that I don’t fit into a box but apparently it hurts my chances of establishing a relationship with advertisers, so I’m a little sad about that. Am I going to change who I am and what I read and review because of this panel? Absolutely not. I am who I am and I read what I read — take me or leave me.

After these sessions, we broke for lunch; Marisa and I grabbed sandwiches from the Centerplate food court (which were delicious, by the way) and returned to the main conference room to listen in on a conversation between Kaethe Fine of Mediander and Stacy Morrison from BlogHer. I was too hungry to simultaneously eat and take notes, but I decided that I would spend more time looking at both Mediander and BlogHer after BEA was over. They shared a few really good ideas for building a following, and I brainstormed a few of my own, so I was happy with that. (Thank you, ladies!)

We moved into the afternoon breakout sessions after the interview, where one of the last panels apparently bred some controversy. My first afternoon session was called Beyond the Blog: Introduce Yourself to Vlogging and Podcasting. Admittedly, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of introducing vlog posts into my site for a while now, but there are a few things holding me back: I don’t have the proper equipment for it; Joshua would probably be making frequent guest appearances (is vlogbombing a thing yet? If it’s not, he could change that); and I usually consider myself lucky to change from pajamas to a t-shirt and yoga pants every day, so I don’t know how much luck I’d have actually “getting dressed” to film a vlog…and let’s not even talk about editing one. But that’s beside the point! After hearing about controversy in the days following the conference, I thought this panel was the one everyone was referring to — after it ended, I spoke with a few bloggers in the hallway about how the panelists discussed the greatness of vlogging but never talked about how a blogger could actually introduce themselves to vlogging, or how to incorporate a vlog into a blog. The fact that none of the featured vloggers had a traditional blog just made the whole purpose of the panel even harder to comprehend.

Little did I know that it was the last session of the day that actually caused outrage among my fellow attendees. I sat in on the Engaging Your Readers Take Your Writing to the Next Level panel, from which I came away with a list of really good tips for writing interesting new posts. It was the other panel running parallel to that one, called The Publishing Process: How Bloggers Have Changed the Game, that had people actually getting up and walking out. I wasn’t there so I can’t speak from personal experience, but from what I’ve heard it was a vlogger, not a blogger, who participated in the panel, and that all that was talked about was how vlogging has changed the game. Bloggers were left with the impression that they didn’t matter, and that vloggers were more valuable. You can read two takes on the controversy from bloggers who attended the session here and here.

Once the sessions ended, we were invited back to the main room to listen to a performance by the band Tiger Beat, have a drink, do some networking, and pick up some galleys. I filled a tote bag with galleys and headed back to the train station, knowing that BEA itself would be open in the morning and that I’d have to be in the city by 7am to secure tickets for autographing authors. Walking back the five blocks to Penn Station, I had no idea that the bag of books I was carrying would feel like carrying marshmallows compared with the coming days, but more on that in another post! As I walked and then rode the train, I thought about all I had picked up on that day: some big concepts, some great ideas, a little bit of confusion. All in all, a mixed bag.

Am I happy I went? Absolutely.
Would I go back next year? Definitely.
Do I hope next year’s conference is better-organized? You bet!

Full recap of the two BEA days and BookCon coming soon!

  • Great review of the day Erin! You took much better notes than I did. Glad we were able to meet and experience the day together! And try out Litbreaker. I am really happy with them. I have VERY few followers and my Analytics are low but I believe that comes with time. I get a very small amount every month…enough to buy a cup of coffee or pay for part of the site. You can also try being an affiliate with different book companies. In Illinois we are banned from Amazon but I use Book Depository and IndieBound and it makes me feel good that I am supporting the Independent bookstore. See….lots to share…we needed more networking time! 🙂

  • readathomemama

    I’m definitely going to look into Litbreaker! I have Amazon and Barnes and Noble too, but I’m mad at Amazon over their treatment of Hachette so I have a self-imposed ban on ordering anything from them. I need to hook up with IndieBound too, and I haven’t heard of Book Depository so I’ll check them out, too. I think I’m going to be staying away from Blogads and the like for now though, at least until I can get my numbers up. It’ll happen when it happens, and I can’t force it. I’m okay with that. The big thing, though, is that I really hope they make some changes to next year’s BEA Bloggers…if not, I think we might have to look into this UnCon thing I keep hearing about!

  • Thanks for the link love! I’m so glad you had a good time at the blogging conference. It was great to hear your perspective.

  • Wow, you were a busy little bee! Your blog is amazing, I absolutely love it and I’m sure that it will rocket in popularity. Hope your sessions gave you some fuel to get you moving forward.

  • readathomemama

    Thanks! I hope so too!

  • readathomemama

    You’re welcome! I enjoyed reading your perspective! I just kind of wish I’d been in that session — I was curious to hear for myself what was said. But you and several other bloggers painted a pretty clear picture of what happened. It’s such a shame that the session was advertised to us as “for bloggers” and then you got there and it’s all about vlogging.

  • rivercityreading

    It was great to meet you! I’d second Marisa’s suggestion to contact LitBreaker – even though I’m not “niche”, I’ve had a great experience with them. Like she said, I don’t make a ton of money, but it’s been enough to pay for hosting and design fees for my blog.

  • readathomemama

    I’ll definitely do that! Before BEA Bloggers I hadn’t even heard of LitBreaker so that’s one good thing I got from the day. There’s only one thing I missed that I was really hoping to at least get more information about — would you happen to know if galleys of The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton, were given out? I saw it on NetGalley a while ago but the publisher preferred British applicants to read it. I really want to read it!

  • Great comments! I was on the taking your writing to the next level panel and appreciate you saying you went away with some advice that works for you. I am so glad, it is hard to know what to say when people are at different places stages of their blogging experience 😉

  • readathomemama

    Hi, Sheila! I don’t know what a more experienced blogger could pull from the panel you were on — I just don’t have that amount of experience yet — but I really enjoyed it and took a lot of notes. It was, frankly, the panel I was most interested in attending and the only one I knew for sure that I would be going to upon arriving at the Javits. I hope to meet you in person next year, if you’re planning on returning to BEA Bloggers! 🙂