A swarm of book bloggers converged on Javits Center in their first convention last Friday, which drew 250 people to a day-long lineup of speakers and panels following Book Expo America. The presence of online marketing specialists from most of the major houses -- and sponsorships by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and the Crown Publishing Group, as well as smaller publishers like Peachtree and Unbridled Books -- showed the industry’s embrace of the bloggers, most of whom are unpaid enthusiasts who revel in spreading the word about books they love. “The best people in the industry are getting to know the best bloggers,” declared Ron Hogan, former director of online marketing strategy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
After an energetic keynote by young adult author Maureen Johnson punctuated by much laughter and applause, five panels stimulated impassioned discussion of ethics and professionalism in book reviewing, using blogs to advance social and political causes, and success stories about writing and marketing blogs. The gathering offered no definitive answers for perennial questions as to whether bloggers can fill the gap left by shrinking print publications that review books. But several bloggers observed that their cause was advanced by having been admitted to BookExpo with a media pass equivalent to that for print media.
The issue of publishers downplaying or obscuring African-American and lesbian and gay content in their books drew some outrage and calls to action, but otherwise there was little disagreement or controversy. Primarily, the atmosphere was one of intense excitement at the chance for bloggers to meet face to face, often for the first time after several years of reading and posting to each other’s blogs or communicating via Twitter. In fact, that was the original inspiration and overriding mission of the conference, according to Natasha Maw (Maw Books Blog), who organized the event with fellow bloggers Trish Collins (Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?), Amy Reads (My Friend Amy), and Rebecca Schinsky (The Book Lady’s Blog). “Our idea was to start small, with a social event, but there was so much excitement, it just kept growing,” she said.