Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Q&A with BookCampTO's Organizers

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(Photo credit: David Ward)

BookCampTO is back again! This year’s annual “unconference” will be held tomorrow, August 20, starting at noon in the Rogers Communication Building at Ryerson University at 80 Gould Street, followed by drinks afterward. Everyone is welcome to attend the free event which will feature conversation led by various people within the industry on several topics ranging from agenting to genre to typography. The event’s sponsors include Booknet Canada, Kobo and GelaSkins.

In anticipation of tomorrow, we spoke with the event’s key organizers individually about what makes them so passionate about BookCamp.

Open Book:

What is the most awesome part of organizing BookCamp?

Julia Horel-O'Brien:

Having so many ideas that we couldn’t fit them all in!

Nicholas Boshart:

Working with a bunch of motivated people who care about publishing.

Tan Light:

The enthusiasm it brought out in the CanBPA team. In trying to figure out what we wanted to talk about, we had a lot of great conversations about the industry, about books, and about the people we work with (or want to work with). It was a great little catalogue of all the reasons I love this industry and what I do.

Sarah Labrie:

Watching people come together and share ideas so openly is inspiring. It's clear that the publishing community is an engaged and intelligent bunch, but it's still moving to see how willing people are to get together on a Saturday afternoon, talk about the future of books, and maybe make the scary truths of our changing industry a little less scary. The good vibes are contagious.

David Ward:

Dealing and working with some of my best friends in the publishing industry. Working with your friends, who also happen to be peers and colleagues, has made this a really entertaining and terrific experience. Jokes fly; silliness ensues; work gets done. It’s been a fantastic time on that front.

Kelvin Kong:

Working with a great group of people who happen to be friends. It's always more fun when you can deal with serious organization business and then allow the email thread to degrade into a bunch of jokes.

Michelle MacAleese:

Tan's insight, David's optimism, Julia's enthusiasm, Nic's incisiveness, Sarah's encouragement and definitely Kelvin's jokes.

OB:

What is the most challenging part of organizing BookCamp?

JH:

Having so many ideas that we couldn’t fit them all in!

DW:

The balancing act–we’re all working professionals in the publishing industry, and when you’re running a volunteer-based activity and large event like BookCamp, it can be difficult to squeeze everything in during the day.

SL:

We wanted to stay as true as possible to the unconference format, but also wanted to incorporate some structure in order to ensure a full day of sessions for attendees. It was difficult to strike this balance, but by keeping topics vague and encouraging speakers to initiate discussion rather than offering formal presentations, people will be able to engage organically with the ideas being presented, even though there is some structure to the sessions.

TL:

I can be a bit of a control freak—so organizing something as casual and fluid as an unconference took some adjustment for me.

NB:

We are all super busy, and finding good times to meet and then finding the time to email people, work on the website, etc. It was a long haul, but well worth it. Oh, and also the incredibly long email chains.

KK:

Trying to fit in all the great session ideas into a limited space. Resisting to make jokes in every email.

MM:

Knowing that there may not be another BookCamp for 12 months. Some of these conversations don't get picked up during the year's calendar of social and professional meetings they way they should.

OB:

How did you become involved with BookCamp?

DW:

I lost a bet where I also lost the Millennium Falcon. Actually, the previous organizers of the event approached me, as a representative of the CanBPA (I’m the organization’s current president), about taking over the organization and planning of the event, and I asked everyone else on the executive what they thought about the idea. The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

NB:

I was president of the now-defunct Young Publishers of Canada, which merged with the Book Publishing Professionals Association into the Canadian Book Professionals Association, the CanBPA. We took it on from the previous organziers, who—surprise—were too busy to organize this year. It's a lot of work! We had more people, so it was a bit easier to take it on. Still, they left a big legacy for us to follow. There's a lot of pressure to live up the BookCampTO standard.

JH:

We were eager to try something new.

TL:

I presented at last year's BookCampTO and had a great time, so when David asked for my help, I was down like a basement.

SL:

We agreed as a group that the event was important to the industry and we wanted to see it continue.

KK:

Seeing a great opportunity to do some good work, David Ward put a gun to our heads (yes, the gun has multiple chambers, don't ask me how it works, I'm not a scientist) and here we are.

MM:

Following the CanBPA members is always a good idea! I was happy to participate.

OB:

Why do you feel an event like BookCamp is so important?

SL:

While there are many conferences already offering great information for industry professionals, events like BookCamp offer participants the opportunity to control the direction of the sessions. The event is free and open to anyone, and session topics follow the flow of the conversation in the room, not a formal presentation. All attendees are responsible for determining topics of discussion, resulting in a group dynamic that I think people really respond to.

MM:

I think it's important that BookCamp is so accessible to anyone who wants to be part of the conversation. Part of what makes BookCamp so attractive is that it's free. In that sense, there is no barrier to participation. However, we hold it indoors on a precious summertime weekend, so there's still some exchange of value.

JH:

There are lots of exciting and valuable publishing events every year, but most of them involve “experts” presenting on their topics. BookCamp allows non-”experts” and “experts” alike to engage on topics of their choice, and for connections to develop organically.

NB:

I go to a lot of conferences, and there are so many cool, important ideas floating around, but at the end of the day, that's sort of all you have. Ideas. BookCamp gives us a chance to work on these ideas and talk about issues that concern us. It's more personal and a lot more involved.

TL:

I attend a lot of conferences. BookCamp is different because it's not driven by just the big names in the industry, but by all the little guys. It's friends, colleagues and rivals all talking together for the benefit of everyone. It's sharing, and creative, and fun.

DW:

Between the publishing schools and other conferences, we’re often inundated with a number of people speaking at us rather than with us. As many know, some of the most valuable parts of any conference have to do with the conversations participants have in and around a given panel, event, or lecture. BookCamp thrives on discussion. There are scores of people within the Canadian publishing industry who are full of fresh ideas, and they want to share them. BookCamp offers that opportunity. It was also wonderful to hear how much our sponsors (BookNet, Kobo, and GelaSkins) support the event. That support, and their generosity, really reinforced how much we all appreciate the importance of an event like BookCamp.

KK:

I think I'm going to echo everyone else's answer by saying that it's a great event to germinate ideas organically, to build networks. Also, BookCamp tends to attract a wider range of attendees than usual publishing events, so the discussions can get interesting, and it's great to see what comes out of them.

OB:

What are you most looking forward to at this year's event?

DW:

I’m looking forward to a number of things: discussions in and around my own professional area (production), participating as a key speaker in some of the same discussions, and to get to participate in discussions about things that might not fall into my typical day-to-day work. This industry is changing at an alarming rate, and it’s fantastic to network with people from all areas of publishing. I’m also looking forward to what is sure to be a blast of an after-party at Pogue Mahone. I know the executive and all of the volunteers will need it!

JH:

Seeing what kinds of conversations emerge between sessions.

MM:

The Agenting panel. I want to talk about how we continue to value the work of creators and how we continue to pay for books at the till and on royalty statements.

TL:

Meeting everyone face-to-face!

SL:

The Money panel.

NB:

I am looking forward to the hallway. My favourite part is always the energy people get out of a great session, so much so that they can't let an idea go and it carries over for them into the hallway where they continue the conversation. And I can't say I'm not looking forward to the pub after!

KK:

The after party, where I plan to consume my weight in beer. (Not really)

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