An air of excited confidence infused this year’s Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show at the South San Francisco Conference Center from October 3 – 4, 2013, where a record number of booksellers, authors, and publishers were greeted by beautiful Bay Area weather.
If the brevity of the NCIBA membership meeting was any indication, the association continues to do well. Treasurer Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books gave a one-minute financial report that he ended by saying, “Everything’s good.” Executive director Hut Landon noted that several new stores have opened in the last year, and those that were up for sale have been purchased. “Bookselling is a viable business again,” said Landon, “and the new owners know what they’re doing.”
California Bookstore Day (CBD), on May 3, 2014, continues to build momentum. Samantha Schoech reported that publishers have come through with special, one-of-a-kind items to be sold in stores that day. “They’re happy to do this,” she said. Simon & Schuster is making a stencil with a quote from author Don DeLillo’s Underworld. Other items include a fine-art lithograph from Brian Selznick’s Hugo and a limited edition, signed version of George Saunder’s graduation speech with drawings by the author. “The goal is to get your customers to come into your stores,” said Schoech. “These items can’t be sold online on your Web sites, so it’s up to you to market CBD to your customers.”
Academic rep picks drew a big crowd. Patricia Nelson of Yale University Press pitched Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Jonathan Cott. “Sontag was a marvelous speaker, and this is an incredible extended conversation,” Nelson said. The Library by James W. Campbell was described by University of Chicago rep Gary Hart as “book porn! It has beautiful photos of libraries all over the world that are like cathedrals to books.”
The trade show floor was crowded, with nearly 60 exhibitors on hand to meet with booksellers. Carla Meister and Brad Jones of BookSmart in Morgan Hill, Calif., said the store's customers are already buying holiday gifts. “We’ll be up from last year,” Meister said.
The Author Buzz Lunch was sold out. Brian Payton discussed The Wind is Not a River, a novel about a little-known military event during World War II in the Aleutian Islands. He was followed by novelist Carol Cassella, a physician turned author who described her novel Gemini as “a medical mystery, a love story that describes the complexities of our DNA and our families.” Carla Buckley’s The Deepest Secret grapples with the character of an ill child who can never be in sunlight. On a different note, Arlo Crawford brought laughter to the audience as he talked about his memoir A Farm Dies Once a Year. Crawford was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania by parents who thought nothing of gardening in the nude and hauling produce to nearby farmer’s markets. The novel Kids These Days by Drew Perry was written both before and after the birth of his first child. “My friends urged me to finish the book before my son was born,” said Perry, “ or I’d never get back to it, because I was going to fall in love. But I did.”
When author Ishmael Beah reached the podium the audience greeted the former child soldier warmly. “It’s so important to give back to the world,” he told the booksellers. “Call me anytime, and I’ll be at your store.” Beah’s novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, takes place in a devastated Sierra Leone, where the main character returns after the war. “It’s about a grandmother who goes back home to clean and rebuild,” said Beah. The lunch concluded with a talk by Armistad Maupin, beloved in Northern California for his Tales of the City series. Maupin said that The Days of Anna Madrigal is the final book in the series. “Anna is 92 now,” said Maupin.
Booksellers were lined up against the wall for lack of enough chairs at the large house rep picks session. HarperCollins’s Jim Hankey won the audience over with Shake by Carli Davidson, a high-speed photography book of dogs caught in mid-shake. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones will get a boost when the author appears on The Daily Show on October 10, said Wade Lucas of Random House. But it was Hachette’s Tom McIntyre who brought the house down when pitching The Married Kama Sutra: The World’s Least Erotic Sex Manual by Farley Katz and Simon Rich. “This is for longtime married couples,” said McIntyre, “and it includes several unique positions to experiment with. The Dishwasher Position is . . . “ but his time expired before he could finish.
Many people at the show said this year’s Author Brunch was the best in recent memory. Ivan Doig spoke lovingly about Butte, Montana in the 1920s as he described his new novel Sweet Thunder. Science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson set his new book Shaman in the Ice Age of the past rather than in the future. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is the story of the last person to be executed in Iceland and takes place in 1829. Wally Lamb concluded the brunch and talked about his novel We Are Water.
Good news from booksellers was plentiful at the show. For Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books the upward sales pattern of the last two years is holding, and he’s hopeful of a “great” holiday season. Even the thought of six fewer days than last year in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas doesn’t dissuade him. “We’ll do the same amount of business, just squeezed into fewer days,” he said. “We’re also geared up for Small Business Saturday. We finally became an American Express retailer and can really participate this year.” Among Mulvihill’s favorite titles for the holidays are Manresa by chef David Kinch and Rebecca Solnit’s Unfathomable. Ken White, manager of Books Inc. on Market Street, said this summer brought a strong tourist season. “We’ve also been doing a lot of successful off-site events for non-profits and others. Christmas could be great, depending on what happens with the government shutdown,” he said. “It pisses me off. As a retailer, I need my customers to feel confident.”
Landon was pleased with the trade show, for which his staff registered 700 people over last year’s 600. “ Customer service is so important here, and all the logistics were covered,” he said. “Last year we had a problem getting people here from the BART station, so this time we hired a shuttle to bring people back and forth all day long. Partners West and BEA sponsored this.” As for the move from Oakland to South San Francisco a year ago, he already has a tentative contract set for 2014. “The new hotel works, and this conference center is fantastic,” he said. “Everyone I’ve talked to seems to be happy.”