As many of you know, I spent the last part of this past week in New York, attending Bookexpo America and the Book Bloggers Convention. It was an exhausting but enjoyable experience, but not necessarily one I’d want to repeat every year. I could probably write a good dozen posts on the days I spent in New York, but I know there will be tons of reports from others, so I’ll try not to share every detail. Today, I’ll just share a bit about the books that I got, the sessions I attended, and the bloggers I met. At some point, I’ll write a second post about Sleep No More, the immersive version of Macbeth/Rebecca/who knows what? that I attended with Jenny of Jenny’s Books.
This was my first year at the Bookexpo, and one of the things I seemed to hear the most about in the past was the huge number of books available. Because I’m trying to keep my book acquisition under control, I was a bit worried that there’d be people thrusting unwanted books into my hands as I walked the floor. Or worse, there’d be hordes of people rushing from table to table, snatching every book in sight and making me anxious as crowds usually do. I arrived in the middle of the day Wednesday and was surprised to find that the place wasn’t filled with books for the taking, nor was it ridiculously crowded. The only time I encountered anything like what I was fearing was on Thursday morning, when the doors opened and the crowds rushed in grabbing books from the stacks that most of the major publishers had set out.
With a little investigation, I did learn that there were plenty of books around. You just have to be lucky and a little chatty to get them. The large publishers would bring out fresh stacks of book periodically during the day, and I did happen to be nearby on a couple of occasions. In my experience, no one rushed the table when these books appeared. Those who happened to be around just came over and took a look and carried away books that looked interesting. The smaller presses tended not to put books right out front. They were usually positioned so that you’d have to talk to someone in order to get a book. Even though chatting people up does not come naturally to me, I found it easy to make conversation about books I had read or was planning to read from these presses, and frequently the press’s representative would then offer a review copy or two based on what I shared. A couple of others did not have any more copies available, but they took my address and said they would send me whatever book I had expressed interest in.
Prior to BEA I had seen several lists of books to look out for at the expo, but not all of them were available. I realized quickly was that the only way to ensure getting specific books of interest was to go to a signing, and the lines for these were long. I’d stand in a long line for only a few authors, and none of them were there. I was lucky enough to find the line for Anne Enright early enough that it was still short—and it never got very long. (The fact that Eric Larsen was signing at the same time probably had something to do with it.)
- The Arrogant Years by Lucette Lagnado. A memoir about Lagnado’s mother’s youth in Cairo and Lagnado’s own youth in Brooklyn. Coming from Ecco/HarperCollins in September.
- Everybody’s Right by Paolo Sorrentino. A story of a nightclub singer turned philosopher, translated from the Italian. Coming from Europa Editions in October.
- You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik. The first book in Europa’s new Tonga imprint of dark, literary titles. Coming in September.
- Fatale by J.P. Manchette. A translation of a French thriller/comedy. Published in May by New York Review Books.
- Glass by Sam Savage. A widow’s preface of her husband’s last novel turns into something bigger and less clear. Coming from Coffee House Press in September.
- The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch. A historical thriller set in 17th-century Bavaria. Coming from Houghton Mifflin in August.
- The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen. An agent from the future comes back in time to ensure that the future remains free of all problems. Coming in September from Mulholland Books/Hachette.
- The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri. A retired detective in Argentina looks back at a cold case. Translated from the Spanish. Coming from Other Press in October.
- Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick. An account of the adult lives of the two young women, one white and one black, in an iconic photo taken during the integration of Little Rock Central High School. Coming from Yale University Press in September.
- The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright. A woman looks back on an old affair. Coming from W.W. Norton in October.
- Spirits of Just Men by Charles D. Thompson Jr. A historical account of moonshining in 1930s Franklin County, Virginia (my hometown). Published by University of Illinois Press in April.
- The Taker by Alma Katsu. A supernatural and historical novel about a woman who can mysteriously heal herself. Coming from Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster in September. (Book Blogger Convention swag)
- Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter. An average man finds himself suspected of murder. An audiobook original from BBC Audio. (Book Blogger Convention swag)
- Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon. A man whose sister went missing years ago is suddenly haunted by strange memories. New paperback edition. (Swag from Harper Perennial blogger party)
- The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus. A description of one man’s efforts to keep the honeybee population going. New paperback edition. (Swag from Harper Perennial blogger party)
- Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym. A beautiful edition that Rachel of Book Snob made me buy when we found it at a used bookstore/antique shop near Times Square.
- Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. Another find at the used bookstore where I found the Pym. A novel about women in World War II that has not yet been published in the U.S.
So, those are the books. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to read the first chapter or two of these and keep the ones that look like they might suit me.
If you’re curious about the white mask (which I now realize looks like something out of Eyes Wide Shut—yikes!), all the audience members at Sleep No More were required to wear these during the show. (More on that on another day.)
Of course, BEA and the Book Blogger Con aren’t just about getting free books. There were also sessions to attend. The only one that I attended at BEA was the Wednesday afternoon session on “Book Reviews Online.” I must admit this session was a big disappointment. The panelists all came from major media outlets (The New York Times, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, Publishers Weekly), and their focus was basically on how they’re putting more reviews online and using social media more. This allows them to publish more reviews and share them with even more readers. All of this is great, but none of them seemed to be doing anything particularly inventive, and I was surprised that a session titled “Book Reviews Online” said nothing about Amazon reviews and very little about blogging.
One panelist remarked that there’s not been much excitement in the blog world in recent years. Of course, in comparison to major media outlets, individual blogs are only going to generate so much excitement (whatever he meant by “excitement”), and it’s possible that we bloggers sometimes have a heightened sense of our own importance. However, the explosion in the number of blogs and the fact that the Book Blogger Convention not only exists but has been folded into BEA certainly constitute something exciting. I found the remark utterly mind-boggling and can only presume that he just isn’t in touch with the blogging world. Personally, I love print media and traditional reviews, but I definitely came away from this panel feeling that these panelists only pay attention to others like them and aren’t paying much attention to what’s going on in nontraditional media. I’m not after their attention, to be sure, but there’s some good criticism happening on independent blogs, and even if there weren’t, the whole democratization of book reviewing certainly seems like something that should at least get a little attention in a session on online book reviews.
The Book Blogger Convention on Friday brought a whole day of sessions focused on book blogs. In general, I thought the sessions were good, if a little long at two hours each. Having been blogging for close to three years now, I’ve already given a lot of thought to the issues discussed, but I think the sessions would be invaluable to newbie bloggers who are thinking about review copies, voice and review style, and so on for the first time.
The keynote address by Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books was funny and offered some smart insights, the main one being that only you can define your success. This is so important. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about numbers and influence and whatnot, but there are so many ways to define success. For me, it’s more important to have good discussion and thoughtful comments than to have tons of followers, for example.
The “Ask a Publicist” session was in two parts. The first featured panelists from the big publishers (Harper Teen, Penguin, Hachette, Simon and Schuster, Macmillan). At first, they focused on “creative promotions” they’ve done with mostly young adult bloggers. (Giving bloggers bits of a first chapter of a highly anticipated book to post was one example.) This is not my thing at all. In fact, I have some reservations about this kind of thing, but it’s up to each blogger to decide where to draw the line between reporting on/reviewing new and upcoming books and promoting said books.
Once the focus shifted to reviews, I was more interested. Mostly, they said they were happy to send review copies to bloggers if they’re available, but they’d rather bloggers not ask for everything. Be reasonable in your requests. One publisher pointed out that galley copies are more expensive than finished copies, which was new and surprising information to several people there. (It has to do with economies of scale. Larger print runs are cheaper.) Negative, but respectful reviews are fine (good thing, because I’m writing them anyway), and publishers do appreciate it when bloggers send them links via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Also, it’s okay to pass along advance copies—just don’t sell them.
The second half of the session featured representatives of two small presses (Europa and Unbridled Books) and two independent publicists. I thought this part was less helpful, only because the panelists were so different from each other.
After lunch was “Grey Areas in Book Blogging.” There was some discussion of the relationship between authors and bloggers, and here the big point was that it’s best to make sure our readers know if we have a relationship with an author whose book we’re reviewing.
There was some discussion of objectivity in book reviewing, and I continue to wonder what people mean when they say reviews are to be objective. Even among the panelists, the definition seemed to vary, as did the importance of it. I find that sometimes objectivity/subjectivity and voice/style get confused. (Personally, I think the subject would be worth a whole session next year.) I did like Bethanne Patrick’s suggestion that it means we should meet each book where it is and assess whether that book met its purpose. I’ve also been thinking about her firm statement that you cannot call a post on a book you didn’t finish a review because a review takes a book as a whole. She did say that posts on unfinished books can be great, but that they just aren’t reviews. That is something that has occurred to me in the past, but I’ve not always been deliberate about how I describe my abandoned book posts.
The best thing to come out of this panel, especially in light of the earlier panel with publicists, is that we need not feel obligated to review every book we receive, even every book we request. Of course, it’s best not to request more books than you’ll ever have time to read, but it’s okay to decide something isn’t for you after you get it. There was some stress among bloggers during the Q&A at the publicists’ panel about getting reviews up “on time,” and there’s no need for such stress!
The final panel that I attended was on “Blogging for a Niche Market.” Now I don’t consider Shelf Love a niche blog at all, but I am too lazy to tinker around with the technology behind the scenes, and the other session that afternoon was on technology. I thought the panel here was a little too large, but I did find some of the questions interesting, particularly the one on whether niche bloggers are focusing on devotees of their genre or on drawing newbies to the genre. The session ended with breakouts in which we were able to chat with others in our niche. I joined the classics/nonfiction/historical fiction table and enjoyed the discussion. I’m in favor of more breakouts in the future, only because we like hearing from each other, and the panelists aren’t the only ones with good ideas and wisdom to share.
The absolute highlight of the trip was getting to spend time with other bloggers. I was somewhat nervous about whether I’d find people to talk to, but I exchanged a few e-mails with blogging friends ahead of time and ended up finding friends for dinners and lunches and just walking around. I won’t recount every meal because that would be dull, dull, dull for you readers who’ve made it this far. Over the course of the four days I was in New York, I enjoyed meals with Rebecca of Rebecca Reads, Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Teddy Rose of So Many Precious Books, So Little Time, Karen of Sassy Monkey Reads, Jenn of Picky Girl, Ash of English Major’s Junk Food, Memory of Stella Matutina, Heather of Age 30+, Anastasia of Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, Megan of Leafing Through Life, Colleen of Books in the City, Melissa of The Betty and Boo Chronicles, Jill of Rhapsody in Books, Florinda of 3Rs, Jenny of Jenny’s Books, and Rachel of Book Snob. I also have to mention how funny it was that Swapna of S Krishna’s Books—the book blogger who probably lives geographically closest to me (we’re talking maybe three miles)—also happened to end up on the same floor as me in the Hampton Inn on 39th. How weird is that?
It was especially great to spend Saturday morning walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with Florinda and Jill and then wandering the High Line and the Strand in the afternoon with Jill and Jenny. And the show that Jenny and I saw was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera out to the various dinners, and the few photos I took with my camera phone are dreadful, but you can take a look at my Flickr album of my Saturday in New York if you’re interested.
Edited to add: When going through the various papers in my bag after writing this post, I came across an offer from Lightwedge, a company that sells book lights, e-reader covers, and other reading accessories. They’re giving blog readers a 20 percent discount on their merchandise until June 30. Just use the promotion code BLOGRDR11 when checking out. I make no claims about the quality of their merchandise, although my brother-in-law owns one of their light wedges, and he loves it.