This year’s New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference (Sept. 28-30) held at the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Va., focused on getting noticed, and it definitely stood out as one of the strongest shows in several years. Whether it was the shift from Atlantic City to Greater Washington; the presence of so many booksellers with newly opened stores—like five-month-old Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, N.Y.—or those contemplating them—like Faye Skandalakis of The Story Nook in Astoria, N.Y., or Cathy Fiebach of The Main Point Bookstore in Wynnwood, Pa.—most booksellers and sales representatives commented on the “high energy” all weekend long. Attendance was up, according to executive director Eileen Dengler, who said that 185 booksellers and close to the same number of exhibitors and authors combined.
The weekend of workshops geared to getting your bookstore noticed, exhibits, and author breakfasts, lunches and dinners, kicked off with a behind-the-scenes tour of Washington’s iconic bookstore, Politics and Prose, with staff explaining how they do everything from receiving to operating Opus, their Espresso Book Machine. NAIBA first timer Stanley Haskell, manager/buyer at Market Block Books in Troy, N.Y., who usually attends the New England regional trade show, wasn’t alone in singling the tour out as “my favorite thing.” Overall, he said, “I had a good time. I came to NAIBA for two reasons: to be an evangelist for Dennis Mahoney’s Yellow Mortals (FS&G) and to meet new people.” This reporter has the business card for Mahoney’s first novel to prove it. First time exhibitor Angela Harwood, v-p of sales and marketing at John F. Blair Publisher in Winston-Salem, N.C., was also enthusiastic and called the show “really fun.” She was there to promote an April title, Porch Dogs by Nell Dickerson, and Losing My Sister (Oct.), which author Judy Goldman signed until copies quickly ran out.
Many booksellers were simply in good spirits after coming off a strong summer as they head into what seems likely to be an equally strong holiday selling season. “Everybody’s got a good attitude for the fall,” said Simon & Schuster sales representative Tim Hepp. At Books & Books Westhampton Beach, in the resort community of Westhampton Beach, N.Y., co-owner Jack McKeown said that sales were up 40% this summer and 30% so far this fall. Older more established stores farther from a closed Borders didn’t see quite that level of sales increase. Still, Roy Solomon, co-owner of The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, NY., who hasn’t added staff to keep up with growing sales, said, “it will be good if it doesn’t kill us.”
A number of authors and award-recipients used their talks to thank independent booksellers. At the Friday night supper, A.S. King (Ask the Passengers) spoke on, “All the bad ass ninjas hang out at planet independent bookstores. . . . I firmly believe that books and passionate booksellers can change the world, one dreamer at a time.” Independents were a major focus of the Saturday night Awards Dinner, since every NAIBA member store was a Legacy Award winner and received a certificate. They shared the honor with Macmillan CEO John Sargent for his stand on e-books, who was unable to attend. Before reading his letter to booksellers, Alison Lazarus, president of the Macmillan sales division, called him “a dream boss and a visionary in this time of transition.” But she did add, “You’ll never catch me making game-changing decision on an exercise bike in my basement at 4 a.m.,” a reference to how Sargent said he came to decide to move Macmillan to agency e-book pricing. In Sargent’s letter he wrote about his bookselling background, an aunt and uncle who started a store on Nantucket a grandfather who started a small chain. “There’s nothing like a personal bookstore,” he noted. “The years in front of us will not be easy, I’m heartened by the good year you’ve had so far.”
One presentation that will be at every regional was standing room only at NAIBA, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher’s keynote on the organization’s partnership with Kobo. An hour later at a Best Practice’s session both Kobo and author events emerged as the two main topics of concern for booksellers going into the fall. Mark LaFramboise, chief book buyer at Politics & Prose, who led the discussion said, “After hearing Oren talk about the Kobo I’m more enthusiastic. I’m still not completely sold on it. We make 84¢ on an e-book sale; we make a living on selling books.” Having a device was key for others like Emily Pullen, the new manager at WORD in Brooklyn. “[It’s] like hey, yo, we’re in the scene.” By show’s end Teicher, who met individually with booksellers and demoed two devices, told PW that he expected to exceed his original guesstimate of 400 participating stores.
The many strong adult titles for the fall, from the indie number one pick for October Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club to Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and Thomas Keller’s Boucheron Bakery, was another reason for the high level of enthusiasm at the show. And once December is past, three editors at Editors Buzz Panel made a strong pitch for booksellers to get excited about three more: George Saunders’s latest collection of stories, Tenth of December (Jan.), which Random House executive editor Andy Ward called the MacArthur “Genius” grant-winning author’s standout work; We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (May), which Little, Brown editor Laura Tisdel said would be a “bellwether” in her career; The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo, which came out this summer in hardcover but Carrie Feron, v-p and executive editor at Morrow, said will have a second life in paperback.