They're standard complaints at fall regional booksellers association shows—publishers' reps want more booksellers to write more orders, and booksellers want more support from publishers. At the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association show, held September 13—15 in Portland, Ore., the board distributed a questionnaire to attendees as a first step toward addressing these issues.
"The board is trying to come up with a way to make trade shows attractive to all publishers, and not just about orders," said Thom Chambliss, PNBA executive director. For the past few years, attendance at PNBA has remained steady, he continued, with more than 650 booksellers from 175 stores pre-registering for the show. Even last year, when the show took place just days after September 11, the number of booksellers at the show did not decrease.
"The feedback so far is wonderful," said PNBA president Holly Myers, from Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. "We'll start with this information to build a plan for the future of the trade show and what it is going to look like." PNBA wants to strike the right balance between its educational programs, trade show exhibits and author events.
"One thing I like historically about PNBA is that they separate the educational program and the trade show," said Cynthia Frank from Cypress House, an independent publisher in California.
PNBA holds its educational sessions for booksellers on Friday, which creates less competition for booksellers' time during the trade show on Saturday and Sunday. But some exhibitors complained that author signings lured booksellers away from their booths. Still, the show's mix of top authors along with local and new writers is one of the biggest draws for booksellers to attend.
On Sunday morning, the show buzzed with talk about the variety of authors at the breakfasts and dinners. More than 80 people attended Friday night's author feast—a mass signing featuring a dozen first-time authors. More than 200 people turned out for breakfast on Saturday with Chuck Palahniuk, where many learned how to correctly pronounce his name. (The "h" is silent and just ignore the "u.") That evening, about the same number of attendees enjoyed a program with the unlikely combination of children's author and illustrator Rosemary Wells, comics artist Lynda Barry and William Gates Sr., who was promoting his book Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes (Beacon). Sunday morning featured another mixed grouping of writers: poet Nikki Giovanni, author/illustrator Mark Teague and the Sweet Potato Queen herself, Jill Conner Browne, appearing in full regalia.
Perhaps the best giveaways were the Sweet Potato Queen tiaras from Random House that dotted lucky bookseller heads on Sunday.
Many booksellers PW spoke with said that they continue to see the regional show as their best chance to look at the books. "I went to BEA in New York this year, and this is so much more accessible. I feel like I am seeing everything," observed DeDe Teeters, from Armchair Books in Port Orchard, Wash. "I see a lot of reps in my store. The big boys I get to see all the time, but I like to come here and see the little publishers and sidelines."
Something called Moonjar, a three-dimensional piggy bank of sorts that aims to teach financial literacy to children, caught a lot of attention at the trade show. Based in Seattle, Moonjar founder Eulalie Scandiuzzi told PW that this was her first book trade show, but that she sees bookstores as one of her most important markets. "That's the exact kind of thing I would not have realized if I didn't come here," added Teeters.
Comics were well represented at this year's PNBA. First-time attendee Kuo-Yu Liang from Diamond Book Distributors told PW that the most frequent comments he heard from booksellers were: "I don't read this stuff, but my kids love this thing called 'manga,' " and "I would like to start a graphic novels section because customers are asking for it, but I don't know where to begin." He called the show a success.
As PNBA assesses its trade show and aims to make improvements that reflect the changing marketplace, it is also working on its holiday catalogue, which it brought in-house last year. This was a key topic at the board meeting on Saturday afternoon.
"We're really going to—pardon my French—kick butt this year," reported Judy Ness, PNBA's holiday book guide coordinator. "Publishers need to see our holiday catalogue as a viable marketing tool. We're not looking for handouts." On this front, too, the organization is committed to collecting data from its booksellers. Chambliss said PNBA will ship more than 800,000 copies of the catalogue this year—a huge leap from last year's 200,000. "We are going to produce a catalogue that New York publishers need to be in," he said. "The key is getting in the titles that you can handsell in your stores."