As I strolled in to the Javitz Center for the first day of a bookish week at Book Expo America, I felt a bit like Alice tumbling into her surreal alternate existence. Without any mood altering substances, I headed straight for the Starbucks smartly placed in an accessible spot. Then I peered upstairs at the exhibit areas. There were shelves being erected on the trade floor, and a few booths open as a preview for the mayhem that would begin on Tuesday. Ahh, the calm before the storm.
After a Continental Networking Breakfast, I picked up my Blogger’s Swag Bag; one of the awesome perks of starting a day early with the BEA Bloggers Conference. Ensconced inside the little black beauty with an orange backed penguin were books including Then Came You by Opening Keynote Speaker Jennifer Weiner, Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa who was one of the friendly authors working the room, and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Closing Keynote Speaker, Jenny Lawson. To say that the perks are good is an understatement. It’s also just the beginning.
I was quite impressed with Weiner’s laid back style of connecting to the audience and found myself laughing out loud several times as she made all of us bloggers feel at ease. As blogging awards were presented for the first time, Weiner drew the room in to what felt like a tight knit, hushed, huddle before the big game. The following Q&A gave me a chance to ask a question burning in my brain for so long.
KE: What advice do you have for indie authors?
JW: To be honest, it’s important to know that it is just as hard to succeed as it is with a publisher. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If you build a platform and use all your energy to promote the book, you can do it.
After the Q&A I continued speaking with tons of fabulous bloggers from all over the world. They were mostly book bloggers, but also quite a few authors and bloggers who write about life as they see it; just like I do. What a wonderful experience! I felt like I was sitting on a giant mushroom with a hookah puffing caterpillar telling me I’ve found my new universe. It was freakin great.
After a panel of bloggers from Huffington Post, Harper Perennial, Good Reads, Beth Fish Reads and Jen Lancaster of jennsylvania.com provided an awesome insight to what people look for in today’s blogs and what works and what doesn’t, we ate our complimentary boxed lunches and discussed amongst ourselves. As we ate, various authors visited tables and networked with us all. Most memorable for me: YA author Julie Kagawa. Personable and friendly, Kagawa spoke eloquently about deadlines and how they seem far off as you spend years getting your first book ideas together, resulting in a hefty first three chapters, and then all of a sudden you have a few months to finish an entire book. Most of us agreed that it shocks the shit out of you when it happens for real.
Following lunch, I attended an info session entitled Critical Reviews: Fine Tuning Your Craft. I was disappointed that most of the session was spoken in legal jargon, and one of the panelists surprised the room (and almost cleared it) by saying that although she does review books, she sends back most of them and rejects any and all galleys that she receives. Talk about discouraging authors! Maybe not the best idea at Book Expo America… just saying! Attempting to convey the idea that book reviewers need to set guidelines, the speaker managed to disillusion many bloggers and inspire snarky remarks aplenty for the remainder of the day.
Moving on, some interesting things I noted throughout these parts of the day was that the conversations I had with fellow bloggers were largely about social media and how to build your following. The morning panel agreed that there are select options that work and many that don’t. “Google Plus has failed—Facebook is the medium” declared panelist Zoë Triska of the Huff Post as many of us nodded in agreement. This was huge. Cheshire Cat grin huge. Hearing from the bloggers who have already been at the top and remain there was the best part. Reassuring and gently correcting our misconceptions, this was the panel I enjoyed the most.
Next was a session called Creating Community & Driving Engagement which focused on social media and content of blogs. Continuing the topic I was pleased to see speakers focused on earlier, we heard from two bloggers, a publicist and the Director of Digital Services at a public library, who also is a blogger. The best part: these were down to earth, real people who spoke from experience. Again, this is the most valuable thing for bloggers since anything goes in the blog-o-sphere but not everything works.
The crown jewel of the Bloggers Conference was the moment that made Alice (I mean me) think about eating an extra piece of the make me bigger stuff so I didn’t have to leave. The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson was simply amazing. As she talked about how she writes, how she debuted at the tippy top of the New York Times Best Seller List with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and remained there for six weeks, I kept thinking, “Damn she’s so effin real.” This is the most valuable trait for me when I look at an author and see who they really are—especially when that is visible from the get-go.
Lawson spoke about her anxiety, depression, and experiences with the media calling her “a mommy blogger” i.e. CNN telling her she couldn’t say vagina on the air…so she happily said lady garden instead. I LOVE THIS WOMAN! As Lawson spoke about her successes, and related to bloggers as a seasoned pro who is still realistic and no-bullshit allowed in her writing, I actually got misty at one point. Having gone through severe anxiety myself, I know where she was speaking from—the heart, but the effort to do so is immense and I wanted give her the biggest hit from the caterpillar hookah for doing so.
The Bloggess answered Q&A on every aspect of her book, stayed to speak to the masses and signed books galore. Knowing I had just gotten advice on blogging from someone who is the authority and has been a huge success despite all the shit life threw at her, I was happy to end the day reveling in books, new blogging techniques, and a zillion business cards bursting from my little orange pouch. The coolest part—this was only Monday!