Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Panel at the Book Festival (finally!)

I know, I know! I hyped up my panel at the Baltimore Book Festival for weeks, then I wait for over a week to tell you how it went ... shame on me. But I'm finally getting caught up so here goes!

Oh, just one more thing. My wonderful hubby volunteered to come along and video for me. This was an amazing thing for him to since he usually finds these types of events painfully boring and will avoid them at all costs. I have to be honest though - he's not a great videographer. He recorded the entire session on our video camera by sitting it on a chair for the duration. He also used our digital camera to record a few clips for me to post on my blog. Those clips are a bit ... um ... bumpy.... Hopefully none of you come away with a headache!


The panel was titled Read Street: The Changing Landscape of Book Reviews and Coverage of the Literary Arts. The three panelists were Dave Rosenthal and Nancy Johnston, The Baltimore Sun’s “Read Street” Bloggers, and myself. We were introduced by Gregg Wilhelm, executive director of The CityLit Project (you can read more about this great organization here).

Video 1 begins with Gregg finishing his intro and continues with Dave discussing The Sun's new blog, Read Street. I'm on the far left, Nancy is in the center.

Poor Nancy, her microphone wouldn't stay up. The video ends just as Dave begins explaining the decline of advertising money available to newspapers today. In our Q&A time at the end one audience member brought this subject up again. He wanted to know why publishers weren't pushing for more coverage of their books by purchasing advertising space. Dave's response was (basically) that advertisers go where the return-on-investment is, and they just aren't seeing it in printed media.

The second video begins with Dave introducing me and continues with me speaking about my blog. There is quite a bit of noise in several parts because delivery trucks (aka golf carts) were passing by our tent. The video ends just as Nancy begins to talk - sorry Nancy!

In our Q&A later one man mentioned that he was "not comfortable with all this personal opinion" that blogs seem to be all about; he preferred reading the professional reviews because he feels they are not personally biased. I responded that of course he has that option, it's all a matter of preference. I further explained that as a consistent blog reader I get a feel for each blogger's taste in books and who I can rely on to recommend books that I like. Dave came back to this topic later, saying that getting reviews from blogs is a lot like getting book recommendations from your neighbors - some you just shrug off because they really don't know your taste and others you trust to recommend really great books.

Here's one more video for you - it's me talking about the amazing blogging community and the variety of people who read my blog (you!). I got myself a bit confused though, and I'm going to correct that error here. I mention that I have a reader in South Korea but she does NOT get most of her books from family members. That's another blogger, and I can't for the life of me remember who of you it is ... oops. [Update: Thanks to her comment I now remember that this is the blogger whose family brings her books!]

Again it cuts off just as Nancy starts to talk. You can tell hubby was focused only on what I had to say! The point Nancy was making is that Read Street is all about the community; she and Dave want input from their readers regarding the topics they should be blogging about.

One the whole the panel went very well. There were just two things that I wasn't happy with.

First, the turnout was low and not widely varied. Honestly, I expected a small group simply because the weather was crazy all weekend - most people didn't want to risk the rain (it ended up being a gorgeous morning though). But I had hoped that some more "tech-savvy" people would be there. In my opinion, the title of the panel drew a specific group of people. The majority of the audience were there to hear about the newspaper itself and were unfamiliar with blogging. That made it difficult to connect with them in my opinion. For those of you who have blogs, you know how it is trying to explain what you do to non-bloggers! Although is seemed that most people were open to learning about blogging, I can't tell if they "got it" or not.

Second, there was one audience member who dominated the Q&A with some rather angry remarks. He was adamantly against a newspaper allowing comments on a blog without verifying the identity of those commenting first. Basically he was questioning the integrity of The Baltimore Sun for even allowing comments on their blog. I respect the right of each person to his/her own opinion, but I would have preferred if this particular person had shown some of that respect to the other panelists as well. Another audience member did try to engage this guy in a conversation by making an opposing point, but the helpful guy was basically slammed by the angry guy. Yeah, there will always be ONE person who messes it up for everyone. I thought that Dave and Nancy handled the situation in the best way possible.


A few other things to note ...
  • Throughout the weekend I gave my card (with my blog name) to each of the authors I met, letting them know that I'd be posting video from their talk on my blog. They were all grateful for the extra publicity.

  • After giving my card to one author, I was approached by the woman in charge of that particular tent. She wanted a card as well and wanted to talk further about my blog. She's the head of a literary organization here in Maryland and may want me to speak at her tent at next year's festival; the panel topic would be new ways for authors to promote their work. We'll see if she contacts me.
  • After our panel, Dave met someone from the Baltimore Chapter of the Maryland Writers Alliance who asked the three of us (Dave, Nancy, and I) to speak at their meeting later this month. Nancy's job at the newspaper is an evening thing so she can't make it, but Dave and I will be there. It's set for Oct. 27th and the topic is basically the same as at the book festival - declining in-print reviews and the growth of blogging.
I had such a great time doing this panel. A big THANK YOU to Dave for asking me to be a part of it, to Gregg at CityLit for telling Dave about my book club a few months back, and for my book club gal Carrie for telling her friend Gregg about the amazing book club we're in together. That's how I ended up on this panel ... go figure!


Myrthe said...

Sounds like you had a blast both on the panel and at the festival in general! I really think it is so great that you got to do this!

As for the guy who "preferred reading the professional reviews because he feels they are not personally biased.": that comment made me splutter my coffee over my keyboard. You bet professional reviewers are just as biased as "us bloggers" are. Of course they have their preferences and dislikes for books and people just like everyone.

A for the blogger getting his/her books from family: Could that be me? When they come and visit me in Armenia, my parents tend to bring me loads of books, because finding good English books is a bit haphazard in this country and Amazon delivery doesn't work as it should. Which, I should emphasize is more likely the fault of the Armenian postal services than of Amazon itself. The books my parents bring are all books I asked them to get me, it's not a random selection.

Lezlie said...

Very cool! You go, Girl! And I agree with Myrthe. Professional reviewers are absolutely as baised as bloggers, if not more so due to their "professional" status. I much prefer blog reviews for the reasons you stated. You get to know who has tastes similar to yours, and who has opinions you trust. Also, the different styles of blogger reviews can sometimes trigger an interest in a book that I normally would not have paid any attention to.


Ti said...

You must be so proud! It's nice to be able to hear you and to put a voice to your face. LOL.

I don't think people fully appreciate the value of a book blog until they give it a try. I was always open to them, but had no idea how many different books are discussed. I figured they would all discuss pretty much the top 10 and leave it at that. I am so glad that is not the case!

I bring such good suggestions now when my book club meets.

Plays with Needles said...

I wish I had made it that day. I would have loved to stand up in the crowd and say how I read your blog regularly and both my life and my reading list has been enhanced by the result. You are doing it Heather! Great job and I too liked putting your words to your voice and face. Now I know I would recognize you if I ran into you on the street.

Lenore said...

Too bad there wasn't more turnout - but still - what a cool experience!

Sometimes I go to panels based on the title and it's something completely different than what I expected...

Nit said...

Wow! What an awesome experience!! Sounds like you had a good time (despite the low turnout) and got some good networking in!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Finally the post I've been waiting for! I couldn't figure out why you hadn't blogged about it yet. What an awesome experience for you and it sounds like you represented the community of bloggers well!

Lisa said...

Yay! I can't wait to get home and watch the videos (no YouTube at the office). And isn't there always that one guy who screws everything up? How annoying!

I really enjoy ReadStreet and I'm glad you got to put the word out there for bloggers. I'm also glad to hear that I am not the only one with business cards for my blog!

Suey said...

How much fun to see you talking about book blogging! So cool! I got a kick out of the part where you say, "and my blog... it's all about books!" Hey! The name of my blog!! :) Now you know why I picked that title off the top of my head! I even said it myself the other day when I was talking to someone about blogging... I said, "I have a blog too... it's all about books." IT was only afterwards that I realized I'd just told her the name of my blog without even thinking. Funny.

Anyway, great job! It looks like it was a blast.

Literary Feline said...

I was so afraid I missed your post about how it went and am glad that wasn't the case. How exciting! It does sound like it went well overall, despite the one troublemaker. As I read about the audience make-up, I caught myself nodding in agreement. So often the people I interact with in my offline life have no idea what a blog is. They do know I read a lot and that I write reviews, but that's about it.

Thank you for sharing!

Nan said...

Because my internet comes through a satellite, and I can't use too much video during a month, I watched just the first one, but it was so great to see "our" Heather! Funny, he talks about the "young" and I'm way older than even he is, and I greatly prefer the internet for news. I hate newspapers and always have. I hate to have to turn five pages to continue an article. I don't like the physical act of holding them. And as for "professional" reviewers - well, I have never found them to be very professional. Way back in the seventies when we read the NY Times Book Review faithfully, I was so bored with hearing about me, me, me in a review. The writer so often seemed to want to talk about himself. And then my biggest peeve of all time is the way reviewers would so often tell the whole book so I'd finish a review and say, why should I bother to buy and read that book. Personally, I think they've killed themselves. The world of readers was just waiting for blog writers; across the fence sort of talkers who tell the reader enough to pique the interest but not so much that I don't need to read the book. This used to happen most often in nonfiction reviews. The reviewers would go on and on about the subject, and the life during the time of the subject so that really and truly there wasn't any reason to read the book. I think blog writers have done more for reading and book buying than any reviewer who ever wrote for newspapers. Oh, and I'm a Mac girl, too!

Dawn said...

Fantastic! I, too, kept checking back, thinking that I had somehow missed your post about the panel.

Kudos to you for stating your (and our!) case so clearly. Kudos to your hubby for recording it all (I've read the other posts, I know there was something in it for him, too :) )

What a great experience for you, and, yes, the networking will continue and lead to ... who knows what!?

Anna said...

I was looking for this post!! Thanks for representing us book bloggers. Glad you had such a great time!


trish said...

Heather, it sounds like you did a great job, especially with what you had to work with! I certainly hope that you're contacted to be on more panels...that would be so cool! :D

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