I'm not a book blogger myself, but I love to read book bloggers' blogs. And while I didn't get to go to the Book Blogger Convention held in conjunction with BEA last week, my new friend Selene Castrovilla from Long Island Children's Writers and Illustrators (LICWI) did! She graciously agreed to give us a full report of her experience, and I'm delighted to present it here for all of us armchair (no pun intended) attendees as well as those who were able to go in person.
International Reading Association (IRA) Notable Book Winner. She has also published two teen novels, SAVED BY THE MUSIC and the recently released THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the story of a teen who discovers love after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
You can read reviews of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR here and here.
Please welcome Selene!
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So says my publicist Julie Schoerke (rhymes with perky), and I believe her.
There are less and less print review sources, and the newspapers that still do reviews are on the verge of folding. As for radio -- well, if you somehow land on NPR, you're golden. Other than that, who knows how many people are listening? And TV? To get on any of the big shows you have to be famous (and generally not as a writer), or have committed or exposed some heinous act and written about it. Merely being a good writer is not enough -- in fact, it can even work against you if you write well enough that people have to think about what you're saying rather than have it laid simply out like an Archie comic book. Today's public wants their books like their food -- fast and artificial.
That leaves book bloggers.
So when my publicist found out I live on Long Island, she urged me to attend the Book Blogger Convention at the Javits Center in Manhattan.
It was held on Friday, May 28, following BEA. As a matter of fact, a complimentary BEA badge was given with registration -- a real plus for any fan of books, because BEA is like a candy store for book lovers and the goodies are FREE!!! The opening reception for the Book Blogger Convention was held on Thursday afternoon, while BEA was winding down, and so everyone was on their sugar high. I entered the packed room (on the lower level of Javits, past the deserted food court and REALLY hard to find) with trepidation. It was like high school again. Everyone was in little clusters, chatting like they knew each other. Then there was me. The new kid. Ouch. Then, like nerds sensing each other, two other writers came up on either side of me and we commiserated. I scanned the room for Julie. But I'd never met her -- I'd only seen her tiny Facebook picture. Judging by that, half these people could be her. Drat!
My fellow writers and I decided to take the plunge and mingle. Yikes. Sociability is not my strong suit. It practically makes me throw up to introduce myself to people. And then what? Was I supposed to shove my novel in their faces? Pitch it? Yeesh, I hate that word -- pitch. I'm not a pitcher. I'm a writer. Why isn't that enough?
But when I approached people, a funny thing happened. They were really pleased to meet me. They wanted to know about my book. They even wanted to read it. Imagine that. Book bloggers really like to read. They don't complain about it, or whine that it's taking too much of their time. In fact, they complain that life takes too much time away from reading!
So after about eight times of introducing myself, I got used to it. And I didn't take it personally if someone didn't want a copy of my book. It wasn't that they didn't like me -- it was just that they didn't read YA realistic fiction. Simple as that.
Just when I got really comfortable, it ended. I got together with Julie (yes, I did find her), her assistant Marissa and two of Julie's other clients, and we went to eat at a diner near Penn Station. Four bloggers joined us: Care of Care's Book Club, Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Sheila of Book Journey, and Esme of Chocolate and Croissants. Sheila won her trip to the convention from an author -- generous, huh? I had beer and pumpkin pancakes -- this is what I like about diners. Sorry I didn't take any pictures -- I'm not very savvy that way. Anyway, we all got to know each other a bit, and of course books were the big topic of discussion. These gals are so into reading -- it's astounding! They read way more than I do. I think they read more than I was forced to read during my M.F.A. program! Now, that's dedication!!!
The conference was run so efficiently, it was hard to believe it was their first time.
An amazing breakfast was provided, with all sorts of yummy things. Way better than most conferences, which tend to provide bagels and pastries. The only complaint I had is that the coffee cups were miniscule (almost Dixie sized!) There was a mouthwatering fruit platter as well.
More importantly, there was more time to network at breakfast. I chatted with Thea and Ana of The Book Smugglers.
The keynote speaker was Maureen Johnson -- YA novelist and blogger. A very appropriate choice, and also wildly amusing. She spoke about the fact that criminal procedural TV shows portray the Internet as evil -- basically implying that if you post your picture you'll be murdered. She said the Internet is the perfect subject for these shows, because it's large and confusing. She linked this concept of a vast and nebulous Internet to publishers having a hard time understanding book bloggers. Publishers' representatives in the audience concurred. It was general sentiment that publishers, authors and book bloggers are in the midst of forming a relationship, and while it's still being sorted out, it's going to be awesome. Maureen also spoke about her Catholic school education (complete with PowerPoint) and the life lessons she learned there, as well as her on-going difficulties finding time to blog among her many duties. My favorite comment she had was about "establishing a web presence" -- how publishers instruct their authors to go out there and do it -- just like that.
Next came Ron Hogan, who works in publishing and also runs a very popular blog called Beatrice.com. He spoke about Professionalism and Ethics in Blogging. [NOTE: Ron Hogan's presentation can be seen in its entirety here.] A popular topic here was the recent ruling of disclosure from the government about where book bloggers get their books from.
The Story Siren, Erica of Cafe Saturday, and Erica of The Book Cellar.
After lunch came a bevy of panels of bloggers. They spoke about: writing and building content, marketing, blogging with social responsibility, and the impact of the relationship between author and blogger. Again, I must comment on how impressed I was by the efficiency of these panels --they cranked out the discussion in a most interesting way! You can check out the official convention site for more about how the conference was organized. I would highly recommend attending next year. It was rewarding on many levels.
So here's what I learned about book bloggers (some of which I knew, but really this convention hammered it all home):
Book bloggers are great because they're passionate. They're most likely doing this for free, on top of whatever day job and responsibilities they have. They're getting up early and staying up late, perched in bed with their book light shining onto the pages so they don't disturb their spouses. This reminds me of writers, who also work for nothing -- at least until they sell something -- and also must squeeze in this effort amidst the rest of life. We're all dedicated to the written word. We're all on the same page.
And book bloggers are different, like many writers are. They don't quite fit in with society's norms. I met one -- Care of Care's Book Club -- who carries her pet stuffed lobster Copley around with her. I love that. I have a giant stuffed Peep on my bed, and a purple kitty Beanie Baby named Periwinkle propped in my car as my travel companion. Need I say more? I've also been inspired by Care to give out little plastic rubber chickens with the sentiment "Love thy chicken as thyself" attached.
Like many writers, book bloggers are dorky, and they embrace it. The blog Sophisticated Dorkiness is a perfect example. There are no "airs" in this community -- they're real.
Here's the kicker: Book bloggers write reviews you actually want to read, not some hypersensitive critique evaluating the different layers of meaning; the metaphors; the symbolism...yada, yada, yada. We writers don't sit around thinking, "Gee, what symbolism can I employ here?" We just want to tell a good story, and the rest comes organically, because life is a metaphor and everything is symbolic. This is, in my opinion, how a book should be read and reviewed. Did this book touch my soul? Yes or no. That's how bloggers write, bless them: They write from their hearts. (I know I complained earlier of readers wanting fast and artificial writing, but on the other side of the spectrum are literary critics, who really go overboard in their analyses. Novels are like paintings, and all art. They're open for interpretation, but dissecting them ruins the mysterious beauty of the words, which, one would hope, is the intrinsic part of the book.)
I bought a greeting card to perch in my windowsill the other day. It quotes this Chinese proverb: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song." This is why writers write, this is why book bloggers blog...This is why I love book bloggers: Because they're singing in tune with me.
Here are some of the other book bloggers I met:
Marie at The Boston Bibliophile
Terry at The Reading Tub
Meaghan at A Book Worm's Haven
Kate at I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read
Gail at Ticket to Anywhere
Amanda at The zen Leaf
Betsy at A Fuse #8 Production
Ann at Books on the Night Stand
Wendy at Caribou's Mom
Yen at The Book Publicity Blog
Bethanne at The Book Studio
Amy at My Friend Amy's Blog
Nicole at Linus's Blanket
Check them out!
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And I will! And I'll also plan to go next year. As a token of thanks for your heartfelt write-up, Selene, I give you a Chicken Cloud. Cluck cluck!
If you liked this report -- and you'd like to see more like this at The WA -- please leave me a comment below. (If you are having trouble leaving comments, it may be because you don't have a Google account. You can set that up easily.)
Next up at The Writer's Armchair is an interview with a very special author and poet who I've known for many years, Orel Protopopescu, who has just won a major poetry award. Please bookmark this site and tune in on Monday, June 7th, to hear Orel speak about her life and work. I know you'll enjoy it.