Superstar authors, a busy and festive trade show floor, and a traditional English tea all added to the favorable bookseller response to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show’s move from Oakland to the South San Francisco Conference Center for its annual meeting, held October 11–12.
With 400 exhibitors and an equal number of bookseller registrants in a space 20% smaller than that in Oakland, where NCIBA had held its show for 25 years, this year’s event was easier to navigate and cozier than in the past. “I thought it was great,” said Ann Seaton of Hicklebee’s in San Jose. “We had the whole space to ourselves instead of having to share with other conferences like we did at the Marriott in Oakland. The show floor wasn’t cramped at all, and it was wonderful to see everyone again.” The show was shorter by one day this year, with Thursday designated for educational events, the Author Buzz Lunch and the Children’s Author Tea; the exhibit space was open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Friday the show was open all day, with the Adult Author Breakfast in the morning and the NCIBA Author Reception in the evening.
At the membership meeting on Thursday, NCIBA executive director Hut Landon mentioned the significance of his organization’s recent merger with the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Association, which was greeted by applause from those in the packed room. “This will free up time for the NCCBA board members and others to concentrate on the events and fundraisers they do so well,” he said, “while NCIBA handles operations for them.”
The Author Tea was a sold-out affair for 140 people that began with a buffet offering of scones, clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches, and lemon bars. Hicklebee’s Valerie Lewis was the emcee for the event, which featured Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys), Ally Condie (Reached), Jon Klassen (This Is Not My Hat), and Daniel Handler, standing in for Lemony Snicket (“Who Could That Be at This Hour?”).
Stiefvater addressed the question she is most often asked by her fans: Why do you write fantasy? For the author – whose favorite book as a child was the Encyclopedia of Faeries by Catherine Grayson, the answer was simple. “Why not? Why now do we think stories have to happen in the world we know?” She was emphatic when she observed “no reader reading fiction is reading reality,” and reminded the audience members that “there is nothing new about fantasies.” In fact, sometimes fantasies come true; Stiefvater said she will not be attending BEA in New York next year because she now owns a racecar and will be racing it in an event far from the Javits Center.
The booksellers and librarians murmured with appreciation when Klassen announced his pairing with Daniel Handler on The Dark, a picture book that Little, Brown will publish next April. A slide show of images from Klassen’s new book, This Is Not My Hat, gave him the opportunity to share his cinematic perspective on illustration and art with the audience. He noted that Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski were two of his greatest inspirations while writing This Is Not My Hat, a tale that generates a fair amount of dread in the reader as the pages are turned.
Condie, who grew up in the Utah wilderness, was raised by an artist mother who encouraged her daughter’s creativity. When Condie was in the ninth grade her grandfather gave her a copy of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, a book that inspired her to be a writer. Reached is the final title in Condie’s dystopian Matched trilogy.
With the enthusiasm of a child, Handler bounded onstage to give the final speech. “It’s incredible to me that indie booksellers will passionately sell a book that doesn’t exist,” said Handler, praising the ability of the staff at any bookstore to generate enthusiasm for titles that have yet to be released, including his own “Who Can That Be at This Hour?”, to be published on October 23. Handler then read from a letter posted on his Web site by a fan. “The last line was, ‘I am always curious when something happens,’ and it was signed ‘Brandi’ with an i,” Handler said, eliciting laughs from the audience. A similar inquisitiveness on the part of the author inspired his new book, which he first conceived of 25 years ago: in it, young Snicket is apprenticed to a shadowy organization and begins asking questions he shouldn’t.
In addition to Handler’s insights, his antics delighted the audience: when someone’s cell phone went off, Handler danced to the music emanating from it. When a jet plane passed over the building, he stopped to announce that fact to the audience, causing laughter to build more and more. Energetic to the end, Handler concluded his talk by jumping off the stage onto the floor, landing on his feet like an overgrown Olympic gymnast.
Over the course of the show, every children’s bookseller PW spoke with expressed great confidence in the upcoming holiday season, which many believe will be their strongest in years. A few of the big books mentioned for winter and spring were Jangled by David Shannon; Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger; Nightsong by Ari Beck, illustrated by Loren Long; and Michael Hearst’s Unusual Creatures. Whereas last year the common refrain was, “We’re cautiously optimistic,” this time around the NCIBA booksellers seemed to throw caution to the wind, predicting that the consistent upward sales trend this year will continue. “We’ve had a really good year,” Seaton told PW, “and I expect nothing but the same for Christmas.”