We've thrown things up in the air and reconfigured," announced Cathy Langer, president of the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association, at the group's annual gathering September 19—22.
Many of the changes and streamlining of the four-day show began at last year's event, which started two days after September 11. When a little more than half of pre-registered booksellers showed up, the organization ditched its annual banquet (always lavish but money-losing) in favor of an intimate cocktail party. With booksellers' endorsement, the less formal event was repeated this year.
The Friday night cocktail party offered booksellers a chance to network over fajitas and honor winners of the annual Gordon Saull awards. St. Martin's Larry Yoder was named Sales Rep of the Year and The Tattered Cover's Margaret Maupin was honored as Bookseller of the Year. The awards include a $300 donation to the winners' charity of choice. Yoder's win benefited the MPBA's literary fund and Maupin gave her award money to ABFFE, stating, "So we can continue to sell all books to all people, no questions asked."
The cocktail party also honored the authors of MPBA's regional book awards. Three of the five authors attended and spoke at the ceremony: Michael Spooner, whose Daniel's Walk (Holt) was named Children's Chapter Book; Andrew Glass, author of Mountain Men: True Grit and Tall Tails (Doubleday Books for Children), best Children's Picture Book; and Donald Worster, whose A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell (Oxford) was named best Adult Non-Fiction. Awards were also presented to Brady Udall's The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (Norton) for Adult Fiction and John Szarkowski's Ansel Adams at 100 (Little, Brown), which won in the Arts category.
The organization's decision to fill the first two days with educational programs was enthusiastically embraced by booksellers. Margaret Shumaker, manager of Bound to Be Read, Albuquerque, N.Mex., said, "This year's educational programs were really good. It was great to sit and talk at the roundtables for veterans and newcomers where we discussed problems and exchanged information." She added that she enjoyed the motivational programs designed to encourage employees to mentor new booksellers and figure out ways for booksellers to do more with less. "Next year I plan to bring more of my staff," Shumaker told PW. "We haven't been that active in this organization, but I plan to be more so now."
"In this year of tightening budgets, most of the educational programs were handled in-house and done exceptionally well," Meg Sherman of Chinook Bookshop in Colorado Springs commented, adding that the MPBA trainees who taught Thursday's seminars on inventory management, customer service and selling "did a great job."
Although MPBA bookstores represent 10% of Book Sense's membership, not enough of them report sales for Book Sense to offer a regional bestseller list as it does for other areas. "We need more consistent reporters to our bestseller list," said ABA's marketing officer Michael Hoynes. "We need roughly 50 reporting stores from every region to have credibility." Hoynes said that currently there are 325 stores (out of 1,200 Book Sense members) reporting sales. "That should be 500 stores," said Hoynes.
"We're going to be calling stores to find out why they're not reporting sales to Book Sense," Kathy Westover, MPBA board member and owner of Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colo., said "I have BookLog and would be happy to help anyone walk through it."
When several owners voiced their belief that their sales of one and two copies of books were too inconsequential to report, Hoynes disagreed. "All sales matter," he told the full house at the Book Sense update session. "Special orders, school orders, and business orders also count. Don't take them out. They're sales publishers will want to see."
"It's critical that we get our own regional bestseller list," said Lisa Knudsen, MPBA's executive director, noting that the organization was just 14 shy of the goal of 50 reporting stores. The regional bestseller list supplied by Book Sense is sent to newspapers and publications within the region to increase visibility. The list is also useful to bookstores in tracking regional titles.
"The Book Sense bestseller list is a very useful tool for us," said Barbara Allen Bogart, Bear River Books in Evanston, Wyoming. "We look over the list every week and although we can't order them all because we're a small store, it helps us find books that have slipped past us."
Bogart also said she was pledging to only use Book Sense gift certificates after hearing that they now can accommodate individual store logos. Many stores have been slow to stop using their own gift certificates and support the Book Sense certificates (which can be redeemed in the selling store or 1,200 other locations.) The ABA's CEO Avin Domnitz reported that 9,100 Book Sense gift certificates have been redeemed since November 2001. "That's $300,000 in book sales that chains would have captured if we weren't able to offer gift certificates that are redeemable in other locations," said Domnitz. "And that's not including gift certificates sold and redeemed in the same store."
The Trade Show
Enthusiasm for the show was shared by both booksellers and exhibitors. (There were 123 exhibitors, about the same as last year, and 500 booksellers pre-registered, up from 2001.) "There was a lot of activity at our booth," said Randy Hickernell of AOL-Time Warner Book Group. "We've taken some orders and handed out catalogues, but the big excitement was over the galleys we were handing out. The fastest moving galleys were Michael Chabon's Summerland [Miramax] and Michael Connelly's Chasing the Dime [Little, Brown]." Hickernell said that booksellers were also paying attention to Cheech Marin's Chicano Vision: American Painters on the Verge (Bulfinch), featuring paintings by 30 Mexican-American artists. The paintings will be exhibited at the Smithsonian and tour the country with the comedic actor.
Pocket Books promoted the launch of its new female-centric imprint, Downtown Press, which will publish trade paperback originals for "smart, savvy readers." The debut title, Irish Girls About Town: An Anthology of Short Stories (Feb.) features Maeve Binchy. In May, Zane follows up The Sex Chronicles with The Heat Seekers, but aside from those two titles, the focus of this line is commercial fiction by first-time authors. Lisa Tucker, author of The Song Reader (May), said she enjoyed mingling with booksellers. "This is my first regional—in fact it's my first anything in connection with my novel," she told PW. "It's a thrill to see so many independent booksellers in one place who all want to see, read and sell books."
Some other titles generating bookseller enthusiasm were: John Feinstein's The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever (Little, Brown, Nov.); the reissue of Jincy Willett's Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories (Thomas Dunne), which has an introduction by David Sedaris; Jill Conner Browne's The Sweet Potato Queen's Big Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner (Three Rivers, Jan.); and the new $65 gift book 100 Years of Harley-Davidson (Bulfinch Press) by Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the founders.
Ruby Ann Boxcar, author of Ruby Ann's Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook (Kensington), was a crowd-pleaser: she autographed and then kissed each book for booksellers. "My mark of the beast," she told PW, reapplying her lipstick. "Everybody's friendly here. I'm having fun, but people are a lot shyer here than at the BEA. Sort of like a Baptist in a bar."
Many MPBA stores went through changes over the last year, and the association added new members. Two Colorado bookstores got new owners: Willow Creek Books in Centennial City is now owned by Tom and Cynthia Fabrizio, and Buckskin Booksellers in Ouray was purchased by Caroline and Robert Stoufer. The association added 12 bookstores last year. Five were in Colorado: Liz Ebel-Louth and Jill Peterson's Journeys in Creede; Susan Crutchfield's Daisy Bookstore and Utne Theater in Saguache; Don Colburg's Don Colburg Bookseller in Greenwood Village; Shelly Dragan's Children's Mercantile in Ft. Collins; and Cary Hardin's newly opened Hamlet Bookshoppe in Breckenridge. The other new members were: Debra Telsing's Silvertip Bookstore in Gardiner, Mont.; Zulabel and David Erickson's Book Adventure in Gilbert, Ariz.; Shanna Tobin's Wisebird Bookery in Ogden, Utah; Michael Eich's The Worm Book & Music Store in Sedona, Ariz.; Phil and Beth Black's The Bookworm in Omaha, Neb.; Karen Spengler's I Love a Mystery in Mission, Kansas; and Jan Borrstelmann's Leapfrog Books & Toys in Driggs, Idaho. The MPBA lost two members this year with the closing of two Colorado bookstores: the 27-year-old Book Place of Applewood in Wheat Ridge and the 19-year-old McKinzey-White Booksellers in Colorado Springs.