So many booksellers attended the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association 2014 Spring Forum meeting on March 27 that Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in Redondo Beach, which hosted the event, was filled to capacity and its café had to scramble to make more sandwiches when the food ran out during lunch. Nobody seemed to mind waiting, though.
Eagerly looking forward to the inaugural California Bookstore Day on May 3, the gathering of SCIBA members, about 60 in all, was particularly enthusiastic and positive when the meeting began. So significant is CBD to the booksellers that Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, flew in from San Francisco to attend and was the first speaker at the meeting. “We have 93 stores signed up for California Bookstore Day,” he said, “which to us means 93 parties – and that many cash mobs.” The press release that CBD issued recently is in circulation and getting attention from the media. Landon announced that 75,000 bookmarks have been printed and going out to stores, and also reminded members that NCIBA is distributing five of the 13 special items because Ingram, the designated distributor, isn’t equipped to ship flat objects such as posters.
SCIBA president Maureen Palacios of Once Upon a Time Bookstore introduced Oren Teicher, CEO of ABA, who led the rest of the meeting. Acknowledging the many new faces in the group, he set the positive tone of the forum by saying, “The net number of indies is creeping up again. Yes, we hear of bookstores closing, but the new indies opening up are beginning to exceed the number that we’ve lost.” The theme of the meeting, “Conversations That Work,” made for a lively discussion that engaged all of the booksellers. Addressing the challenge of how to deal with customers who say they’ll order a book online if the store is out of it, SCIBA members were quick to provide solutions. The consensus said they tell those customers, “we’ll get it faster [than Amazon], and won’t charge you for shipping.” Another suggestion was offering to phone other indies in the area to see which one might have it. Diesel Books co-owner John Evans stressed the importance of responding quickly to the customer in that situation and being matter of fact. “Otherwise, you run the risk of sending them further away.”
Another topic of interest was how to deal with customers that are offended by certain books a store carries – or doesn’t carry. This challenge seems to be an opportunity both to engage the customer in a larger conversation about the diversity of the stores’ community, as well as recommend different books. “We’ll thank the customer for the suggestion that we stock a particular title,” said Margot Farris of Pages Bookstore. “Sometimes it turns out we can sell a book that normally we wouldn’t carry for various reasons.”
The discussion turned to what to do when a self-published author asks a bookseller to read their manuscript and help get it published. The group took divergent tacks here. Jack Gingold of Newsstand Books said that on occasion he helps such authors for free, while Catherine Linka of Flintridge Books disclosed that she charges $50 for a 30-minute consultation. In regards to homeless people that frequent bookstores and are of concern to customers, Teicher first recommends to treat this group with dignity and respect and then let customers know the store “has rules in place” for these situations.
When Skylight Books manager Steve Salardino asked Teicher if ABA was planning to organize a National Bookstore Day, Teicher said, “We’re looking carefully at what happens in May with California Bookstore Day before making a decision. We’ll evaluate the results with Hut and Andrea (Vuleta, SCIBA’s executive director) and let you know.”
Among the authors on hand to sign books after the meeting were Dwayne Alexander Smith (Forty Acres, Atria, July), Theresa Wahl (Auntie Em’s Cookbook, Prospect Park Books), and Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Algonquin), clearly the crowd favorite. “We’re thrilled to have Gabrielle here,” Vuleta said. “When I put out the call for authors for the spring forum, Algonquin was first to respond. Everyone is excited about A.J. Fikry.”