Picture book author and illustrator David Shannon (Jangles, Scholastic) had an interesting take on the focus of this year’s New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference (Sept. 28-30) held at the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Va.: Get Noticed. “I thought that was pretty funny,” he said at Saturday morning’s author breakfast. “That’s not my problem. I was an expert on it in grade school.”

But for many booksellers, tips on how to get noticed by publishers are no laughing matter – and proved a big draw. Whether it was the show’s tight focus or the shift from Atlantic City to Greater Washington, attendance this year was up. According to executive director Eileen Dengler, 185 booksellers from northern Virginia to upstate New York and close to the same number of exhibitors and authors combined were at the show. The presence of a number of new faces from recently opened stores like five-month-old Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe in Warwick, N.Y., as well as those contemplating a permanent location, like Faye Skandalakis of the Story Nook, who has a pop-up bookstore in the babyNOIR boutique in Astoria, N.Y., added to what many attendees described as a “high energy show.”

No doubt strong summer sales moving into what seems likely to be an equally good holiday selling season helped make this year’s NAIBA particularly upbeat. Even before the show officially got underway, booksellers were treated to a peek under the hood at Washington’s iconic bookstore Politics and Prose, with staff explaining how they do everything from selling kids’ books to operating Opus, the store’s Espresso Book Machine. NAIBA first-timer Stanley Hadsell, manager/buyer at Market Block Books in Troy, N.Y., who usually attends the New England regional trade show, singled out the tour as “my favorite thing.” The show also drew first-time exhibitors like Patrick Nelson, who heads Mrs. Nelson’s Library Services, an outgrowth of Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop in La Verne, Calif. He visited many fall regionals to reach out to independents on how to increase their library business.

A Show of Gratitude

A number of writers and award-recipients used their presentations to thank independent booksellers. At the Friday night supper, teen author A.S. King (Ask the Passengers) led the way when she said, “All the badass ninjas hang out at planet independent bookstores.... I firmly believe that books and passionate booksellers can change the world, one dreamer at a time.” The thank-yous kept coming at Saturday breakfast when David Ezra Stein (Because Amelia Smiled, Candlewick) added his own praise of bookstores. “Each of you provides a place for conversation about books. To my mind, that’s a priceless relationship.” He went on to single out Books of Wonder in New York City. “Hanging out [there],” he said “is better than a college education.”

At the Saturday morning breakfast with David Shannon, children’s author Annie Barrows (Ivy and Bean Make the Rules, Chronicle) had a different message for booksellers. “Thank you,” she said. “You guys are singlehandedly preserving the freedom of one of the oppressed groups – kids who want to read something funny.” Rather than talk about her books, she used her time to make an impassioned speech against today’s trend of parents wanting “improving” literature tied to Lexile level for their kids. “I don’t want to improve children,” said Barrows. “Basically, I think they’re fine the way they are. I want them to walk away with the idea that a book is a good time.”

Booksellers remained a primary 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, who was recognized for his stand on e-books. Sargent was unable to attend, so Alison Lazarus, president of the Macmillan sales division, accepted on his behalf. Before reading his letter to booksellers, Lazarus called him “a dream boss and a visionary in this time of transition.” But, she added, “You’ll never catch me making game-changing decision on an exercise bike in my basement at 4 a.m.” Then she turned to Sargent’s letter, in which he struck a cautiously optimistic note: “The years in front of us will not be easy. I’m heartened by the good year you’ve had so far.”

E-Books and the Bottom Line

Many booksellers were eager to learn more about the American Booksellers Association’s recently announced relationship with Kobo – so eager that ABA CEO Oren Teicher’s keynote on the partnership was standing room only. An hour later at a Best Practices session, both Kobo and author events emerged as the two main topics of concern for booksellers heading into the fall. Mark LaFramboise, chief book buyer at Politics and 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.”

Other popular educational sessions were geared toward the nuts and bolts of running a bookstore. The hotel’s conference theater filled to capacity for a Publicist Tell-All with Jason Wells, executive director of publicity and marketing for Abrams Books for Young Readers; Liz Keenan, director of publicity at Plume and Hudson Street; and Lara Phan, senior manager of account marketing at Random House. Wells encouraged booksellers to ask for authors, but not always for in-store events. To mark the 5th anniversary of Animalia, author-illustrator Graeme Base will tour via Skype. To make sure that the bookseller and publisher are on the same page about the details of the event, Jenn Northington, event manager at Word, recommended sending a confirmation e-mail that states specifically what the bookstore will do and what the publisher will handle. In addition, Margot Sage-EL, co-owner of Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., suggested sending an information sheet to the author about what types of presentations work best at the store. All three publicists stressed the importance of letting them know how an event went: book sales, attendance, and any other details that contributed to the event’s success.

At the panel that followed, Get Noticed by Schools, Random House children’s rep Nicole Dufort, the 2012 NAIBA Sales Rep of the Year, joined Kathleen Skoog, owner of Monkey See, Monkey Do... Children’s Bookstore in Clarence, N.Y., winner of a 2012 Pannell Award, and moderator Shelly Plumb, owner of Harleysville Books in Harleysville, Pa. For Skoog, who spent 20 years in sales before opening the bookstore in 2009, “it’s all about building relationships.” Monkey See, Monkey Do runs afterschool literacy programs in area schools and hires teachers to run school book clubs. It also holds story times in elementary schools for free.

Plumb suggested that bookstores mine their e-mail lists and use their Web sites to contact customers when they have an author to place. She began testing the concept after seeing a notice on Mrs. Nelson’s Web site that they had just three slots left for their book fair season. The store sweetened the offer by posting that the first school they hear back from will get a free box of books.

As part of the discussion on booking authors, Alan Mendelsohn, director of field sales for Random House Children’s Books, clarified that book sales don’t cover the cost of a tour. Publishers are looking at residual sales. “Bookstores tend to adopt an author afterward,” he said. “We’re looking at creating a fan base.”

Other strong educational sessions covered using social media, making money through partnerships, and staffing with New England Independent Booksellers Association president Annie Philbrick, owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Ct. As presented by NAIBA, getting noticed turns out to be smart business, rather than funny business, after all.