NOTE: This is the fourth (and final, I promise!) post on BEA 2012. Unlike my last three posts (here, here, and here), this doesn’t re-cap the expo’s last day. Instead, I’ll try to collate my thoughts and offer concrete, workable suggestions for how to improve the BEA Blogger Conference and BEA programs for next year. And after this, we’ll back to our regularly scheduled weekly programming, I promise!
Thinking back on BEA 2012, I realize how ultimately disappointing the event was for me. Sure, it was great to see old friends and meet new ones. While that’s the most important part of such events, it isn’t enough to make up for programming that falls flat. Especially, when it didn’t have to: both the BEA Book Blogger Conference and the expo itself could easily have been amazing, insightful, informative experiences. But sour grapes don’t help anyone, and so what I’m going to do is make some concrete, practical, and workable suggestions for how Reed Exhibitions can improve their program for next year.
These suggestions come in two parts: the BEA Book Blogger Conference, and Genre Programming at BEA.
BEA Book Blogger Conference: Get an Advisory Panel of Real Book Bloggers
The biggest complaint I have heard about the BEA Book Blogger Conference is that it evidenced blatant ignorance and disinterest in book blogger needs. Considering that the conference is supposedly aimed right at us, that’s a damning criticism. And while I know that Reed Exhibitions tried to collect insights through both a survey and a focus group before the conference (full disclosure: I participated in that focus group), the fact that they missed the mark so widely suggests that something more concrete is needed.
So here’s my suggestion: Reed Exhibitions should put together a Book Blogger Advisory Panel. A small group of book bloggers, no more than six or seven, who would be able to weigh in and help construct the program for the event. Essentially, let the most qualified and interested people create the program. If such a panel were given actual teeth, if it had real power to affect programming and were more than a rubber-stamp body there to give Reed’s poor programming a measure of legitimacy, it would go a long way to both improving the quality of the BEA Book Blogger Conference and its brand amongst book bloggers.
It is not difficult to identify experienced, knowledgeable book bloggers. Coordinating communication is a snap: they are all very well connected through their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In fact, they are right now using those (public) platforms to loudly criticize the Book Blogger Conference. To set up conference calls, an e-mail group, etc. is the work of several minutes. And even though I can’t speak for everyone, I suspect that many book bloggers would – given real influence – be happy to take part in such an advisory panel in exchange for a free pass to BEA and perhaps a nice dinner in NYC during the event itself. Essentially negligible cost.
Such a panel would also have an added advantage for Reed Exhibitions: it would give them the opportunity to make their programming decisions transparent. The most significant and dangerous criticism I’ve seen (and offered myself, actually) is that Reed Exhibitions puts the interests of their exhibitors above those of their paying conference attendees. By getting an advisory panel and giving it real influence, Reed can better communicate to the community the practical constraints within which the Book Blogger Conference operates. That kind of transparency mitigates the long-term threat of such criticism, and would earn a far greater degree of trust and respect within the community.
If you think this kind of Advisory Panel is a decent idea, then here’s what I suggest: let Reed Exhibitions know. Reach out to them:
|Community/BlogWorld & BEA Bloggers Conference||Joe Vella
Community Manager/BlogWorld and BEA Bloggers Conference
|Event Management||Steve Rosato
BEA Conference/Education Programming: Add a Genre Track
For the BEA programming itself, my major suggestion is to add a genre track, with programming profiled around the particular issues of different categories of fiction. Speculative fiction wasn’t the only genre poorly represented on the program: mystery, romance, basically anything that wasn’t YA got ignored. So my suggestion would be to take a look at the least popular (least attended) parts of the program, and replace them next year with a track modeled on this year’s graphic novel programming.
Offering 3 – 4 sessions focusing on each genre over the course of a three day trade show is perfectly manageable. Every year, speculative fiction puts on several multi-day professional (i.e. without fan features such as cosplay and the like) conferences devoted exclusively to the genre. I think BEA can manage something interesting, particularly in that it attracts a large audience that most genre cons don’t: booksellers and librarians. There are many topics that can be addressed and which would be of practical interest to booksellers and librarians, and which would definitely appeal to Reed’s exhibitors. Consider these off-the-cuff suggestions:
|The Hottest Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2013||Modeled on Graphic Novel Reporter’s excellent graphic novel panel, I see no reason why this format couldn’t be extended to other genres. This one would appeal to booksellers and librarians because it gives them compact insight into what to stock and what to focus on in their handselling. And it would appeal to publishers for the exact same reason.|
|Not Just for Boys: Women and Science Fiction||This one could be a panel discussion by booksellers, librarians, and authors devoted to the subject of how to get women into science fiction. Apart from doing some good (i.e. promoting women in speculative fiction, and speculative fiction to women), it’d also be useful to booksellers and librarians because it gives insight into how to actually sell speculative fiction to their statistically largest audience. What’s not to like about that?|
|Engaging Fandom: Getting Science Fiction/Fantasy Buyers to Come in the Door||This one could be a panel discussion devoted to in-store events designed around bringing speculative fiction fans into the bookstore/library. Whether it’s “gaming nights” or signing practices, or any other type of event, there are lots of interesting techniques that people are using to attract this audience of frequent buyers (who, BTW, also tend to be heavy Amazon users). Since it again would offer practical advice to booksellers/librarians, I think it would be very valuable.|
|Small Is Beautiful: Exciting Books in Science Fiction/Fantasy Small Press||I understand why BEA is not traditionally a good event for small press (it costs too much), but it would be great to give small press publishers a chance to talk about what they are doing with booksellers and librarians. And if BEA were to put together a panel of small press publishers talking about what they’re doing, and how booksellers and librarians can get value out of it, it would not only be interesting, but might net Reed Exhibitions at least one or two new exhibitors.|
Smarter people than me can come up with many more topics like these (this year’s Tor panel was good, for example). From a practical standpoint, they offer value to BEA’s attendee audience (booksellers, librarians, the press, etc.) and they support the primary goal of BEA’s publisher exhibitors: selling more books. Over the past several years I have seen the genre exhibitors gradually dwindle at BEA, and when I ask people why, they tell me that “BEA is no longer really relevant”. This might be a method for Reed to rebuild that relevance.
If this is the kind of programming you’d like to see at BEA, what I suggest is that you reach out to BEA to let them know:
|Conference/Education Programming||Sally Dedecker
Director of Education
|Event Management||Steve Rosato
Hopefully, the programming of both events will improve next year. In the meantime, that concludes my BEA reporting. It’s been a busy week, and I’m off to get a desperately needed cup of coffee.