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Writer Wednesday: The Pros & Cons of Virtual Events

Hello writers and welcome to another edition of Writer Wednesday! We have made it to the middle of another week in 2020 and December brings us into the home stretch of the year. Now, if you happen to follow publishing news and events, a lot has happened this year. Between the sale of Simon and Schuster, the shift of the J. Patterson imprint to printing just Patterson’s books, and the near daily unfoldings on Publishing Twitter, it might have been easy to miss the somewhat foreseen but still heartbreaking decision by Reed Pop to indefinitely cancel Book Expo and Bookcon.

Reed Pop and many of the organizations it worked with hope to continue the annual event in some form, through a mix of virtual and in person events, but the days of the massive convention center may be gone for some time in our pandemic reeling world. The entertainment and hospitality industry both took massive hits over the past year, and Reed Pop was no exception, taking a 70% hit in revenue down from the previous year.

Many author events have already made the switch to virtual and as we are looking at more virtual author events going forward, today we are going to look at a few of the pros and cons of Going Virtual.

Virtual Cons

Difficult to Replicate the ‘Wow’ Factor

Having been fortunate enough to attend a couple of Bookcons in the past few years, there is a definite Wow factor to walking into the Javits Center and seeing the massive banners for that year’s upcoming headliners and buzz worthy releases. The rows and rows of booths selling bookish swag, the stacks of arcs that you had to wait in long lines in the hopes of snagging one, the numerous panels you had to pick and choose, it was all part of the weekend hype. The cons could be an overload of visuals and information and that is feeling is somewhat impossible to replicate. This also translates to indie authors, who have even more difficulty replicating the hype and draw of con panels via virtual events.

Loss of Face to Face Networking

There were a lot of networking opportunities at these events. There were booths devoted to chatting editors. There was a chance to catch the ear of various publishers who had a presence at the con, and to connect with authors who already had a foot in the door. You could also connect with invaluable writing partners, authors still working their way up. There were after hours opportunities, diner and drinks that led to new writing communities.

Harder to Hold Attendee Attention

The beauty of convention panels, in those cramped conference rooms with a lack of comfortable seating, the authors on the panels had the rapt attention of the audience. And while the authors participating in virtual panels are providing the same rich experiences and knowledge, they are now competing for their audience’s attention against everything else in the home. They have to compete with family, background noise, other obligations the attendee couldn’t take time off from for the weekend.

Virtual Pros

Wider Availability

Bookcon and Bookexpo were a huge draw, but travel arrangements could be outrageously expensive depending where you were coming from. Not to mention staying for a night in New York limited attendees through their wallets, unless you managed to secure a room with friends. A weekend could run into the hundreds of dollars for even the more frugal attendees. The massive benefit to a virtual event is now the panels are open to anyone, anywhere in the world, giving more exposure to the authors speaking, a boon for up and comers.

A potential side benefit of these virtual panels could also be the opening of doors for indie authors, where panels could see a mix of traditional and indie authors moving forward as Indie Publishers gain a deeper foothold with the sale of Simon & Schuster.

Gotta Catch Em All

One of the downsides to those in person panels? Having to pick and choose between multiple panels with no chance to catch what was missed. Due to conflicting schedules and the necessity of flexibility, many panels are now recorded and made available for a set amount of time in order to give attendees who missed out the opportunity to catch what they missed and gain the bang for their buck.

Affordable, Cost Effective, & Bonus Analytics

As stated earlier, attending Bookcon and Bookexpo could get expensive, and so could hosting and participating in it. Renting a booth could run well over a grand, which presented another barrier for indie houses. The switch to virtual has already wedged open the door for indie publishers at several big name events such as the Buchmesse Frankfurt book fair. The budget deflation extends to event organizers as well, giving them the space to breathe and experiment in the virtual sphere to see what works and what doesn’t. That wiggle room could produce some interesting results as organizers will have a truckload of analytic data to work with to make virtual events more appealing, more accessible, and recapturing the WOW factor.

How is this data working in our favor? If you check out the Buchmesse website, you can see some of the interesting facts there were collecting, notably the 1,500,00 clicks on the Bookfest digital site, in over 124 countries. That is an incredible reach and this is the first year they went virtual. Imagine what sort of numbers they can pull next year?

Look to the Future, Ever Changing

The publishing landscape is ever changing, sometimes for better or worse, but each change will bring downsides and opportunities to learn and grow from. While the loss of the iconic Bookcon and Bookexpo will be felt throughout the book community, expanding into virtual space and hybrid events has limitless potential for the wider community, both traditional and indie publishing spaces.

Resources & Further Reading

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