Tuesday, October 20, 2009

KidLitCon: Overview Part One

What a great weekend this was! I love meeting the people whose blogs and books I've been reading. I hung out and talked books, blogging, general geekery, and all manner of other things.

As to the conference itself, here's what we did.

The Blog Within: This was a solo presentation by MotherReader, about the 5 W's and one H of blogging. It wasn't so much a presentation as a rather Zen reflection on why we blog, who we blog for, etc. She also recommends doing this at specific times during the year to return yourself to your original intentions for your blog, and re-energize yourself.

Building a Better Blog: MotherReader and GalleySmith did this one as a team. They talked about such nitty-gritty, nuts & bolts things as the design of your blog to make it a better experience for your readers and how to comport yourself online knowing that the Internet is forever. While they gave a lot of great tips, it all boiled down to three things to keep in mind: purpose, passion, and professionalism.

At this point, we split into concurrent sessions. I went to It's All About the Book, presented by BookNut, BiblioFile, The Miss Rumphius Effect, and A Year of Reading. We talked about writing reviews, content vs. filler, and ways to participate in the larger blogging community. By the way, what do you guys think about comments? I don't often get the chance to leave comments, but there's a difference between "Cool post, yeah" and "Interesting, here's my thoughts." Greg Pincus of The Happy Accident thinks blogs should have a "Like This" button like Facebook, and I agree. It's a way to participate a little if you don't have time for more. Google Reader did recently add a "Like" option, but it only works for readers, and the blogger doesn't get notified. Hmm. Something to think about.

Then it was back to the big ballroom for Meet the Author. My inner fangirl really comes out to play at these things. I got to talk to Varian Johnson (who gave me one of the two ARCs he'd brought with him, largely because I begged shamelessly), Elizabeth Scott, Joan Holub, Jacqueline Jules, Paula Chase, Pam Bachorz, and too many other authors to count. Between this session and the ARC table in the back, I ended up mailing boxes to myself. It was either that or lug it all in my carryon luggage, and then the plane would never get off the ground.

Then it was time for the last-minute, special surprise treat of the conference: FTC Regulations for the Blogger. Okay, that's not the formal name but it was so last-minute that it didn't even have a formal name. Pam got ahold of the FTC last week and managed to get a representative to come out to us. Mary Engle, Associate Director of Advertising Practices, agreed to visit and hear our concerns, and give the answers that she could. This was probably the most useful session in a whole valuable day. There are excellent, thoughtful recaps from Galleysmith, Jennifer R. Hubbard at WriterJenn, A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, and any number of others. Here are the main points I got out of it:
  • There's a difference between an impartial reviewer and someone who's part of a specific marketing campaign. We're the former; they're looking at the latter.
  • The FTC is targeting corporations who are advertising unethically, not individuals who are the medium by which the corporations are advertising. They have no ability, or desire, to patrol the entire blogosphere and bring the hammer down on individual bloggers.
  • That scary $11k figure that was getting thrown around is a miscommunication. That fine is for the hard-and-fast rules, and the recent blogger regulations are more guidelines. Like the pirate code.
  • It's a smart idea to disclose review copies, but the FTC isn't requiring it. (That being said, the kidlitosphere has pretty well agreed that disclosing ties like free reviewer copies, Amazon Affiliate/Vine membership, etc, is the professional and ethical thing to do.)
  • However, if you do disclose, especially things like Amazon Affiliate membership, it needs to be upfront and prominent. In Engle's words, readers should not have to search for it. The best way is probably a short line right in the post. For instance, LizB at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has taken to noting her Amazon Affiliate membership at the end of every post.
  • This is all a work in progress. Engle admitted that they could have set more definitions to clarify the difference between reviewers and marketing programs. The FTC has set up an email address, endorsements@ftc.gov, for concerns. They can't answer individual questions, but it sounded like they were going to use the emails they get to write a FAQ for bloggers.
Awesome work by MotherReader getting that set up, and thanks to Mary Engle and the FTC for taking the time for us.

After that, it was lunchtime. Part Two of the day is coming your way tomorrow! By the way, if you want some more dimension than my brief comments provided, check out other roundups around the blogosphere (here are a few, in the comments of MotherReader's post) or check out the Twitter transcript that Greg Pincus posted at the Happy Accident on the evening after the conference.

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