Book Expo Dispatch: Targeting Litblogs

May 21, 2006 | 4 3 min read

NB: I wrote the following post a few hours ago, and I’ve been letting it simmer a bit. I’ve since visited the blogs of several other folks who were at BEA, and it made me want to point out that despite what I’ve written below, BEA was a very fun event and that it was possible to get a lot more out of it than I did – for proof check out Mark, Written Nerd, and Pinky to name a few.

As previously noted, it wasn’t really possible to do the sort of quick hit blogging that I wanted to do at BEA, but I’ve had the chance to cobble together my scattered thoughts on my overall impressions of the event in a post that will hopefully be better than a bunch of smaller ones would have been.

First, I don’t think I’ll ever go again. The event obviously serves a purpose as the yearly trade show for the publishing industry, and BEA embraces the promotional atmosphere that is integral to such shows. Along with the hundreds (thousands?) of booths there are also dozens of panels and talks that address many aspects of the industry and allow for people to stay up to date on various topics. Some of the topics have a literary feel – there was an emerging voices panel, a panel on the short story, and the now infamous Sam Tanenhaus best books of the last 25 years panel – but many more were about salesmanship and other commerce-related topics (as there probably should be.) There was also the well-done, but poorly titled talk that Sarah of GalleyCat gave. It was called Syndicating LitBlog Book Reviews (Sarah didn’t come up with the title), in which Sarah gave a nice little overview of the LitBlog culture. The unfortunate part was that there were only about 25 people there, half bloggers and half people trying to get bloggers to notice the books they were trying to promote. The question and answer period evolved into an off the cuff conversation where, essentially, we told these people how they could get at us. It hearkened back in a way to the pre-BEA topic that came up on several litblogs, the awkward relationship between litblogs and publicists (scroll down to the bottom of that post for links to what other bloggers were saying.) By the end of BEA I came to realize that the relationship between litblogs and the publishing industry as whole is ill-defined.

At the heart of it, both sides want something. The publishers see blogs as a venue of growing importance, and, while perhaps overstating our influence, many are starting to see mentions on litblogs as a crucial aspect of bringing a successful book to market. Meanwhile, and forgive me for painting with a very broad brush, litbloggers want some grouping of the following things: we want free books; we want (often in a fanboyish way) access to authors and important publishing industry personalities; we want to be noticed and widely read, we want to feel that our devotion to book culture is filling the void left by the shrinking book review sections in newspapers and magazines; and finally – I’ll admit it – some of us want to make a little coin (if litblogging isn’t a dream job, I don’t know what is).

At mainstream publications, the rules of engagement are well-defined. Journalists are forbidden to accept freebies beyond just review copies. Popular reviews and interviews bring prestige to the publication for which the reviewers write as much as they do to the reviewers themselves. But we bloggers don’t have ethics committees, and when we write something that becomes popular, all prestige (and a flood of readers) flow to the name on the blog. Publishers seem to know this, and the sense I got at BEA is that they see us as easy targets, venues for publicity that can be bought by playing to the vanity that anyone who blogs seriously must necessarily have. In the end, I’m not calling for a code of ethics for litbloggers or anything like that, it’s just that being there in the center of the publishing industry’s profit-driven heart, where books are flogged loudly and in a mind-bending number of silly and obnoxious ways, I realized that I should put a little more thought into my relationship with the publishing industry.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.