This past weekend in Norfolk, Va., the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance group tempted attending booksellers, authors, and vendors to “fall in love” with this year’s newly renamed “discovery” show. “Virginia is for lovers,” author Tim Federle noted of the state’s motto, while hosting Parapalooza – where 14 authors took the stage to read a paragraph from their story for attendees – for the second year in a row. “I don’t know anyone who is more passionate than booksellers.”
With a full day of programming Friday, and the showroom floor open Saturday and Sunday, spirits remained high all weekend. “The attendees struck me as quite upbeat and forward-focused this year. That’s not to say that previous conferences haven’t been, but there was something really energizing about this year’s gathering,” said Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., who told PW one of the children’s books she’s “itching to read” is Still Waters by Ash Parsons (Philomel, April 2015).
There were a number of buzzed-about children’s, MG, and YA books at the show, including Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, Schizo by Nic Sheff, Kami Garcia’s Unmarked, and Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic. The show offered a variety of panels, from “The Tower of Middle Grade Writers” to “Major Motion Pictures & Stars” to “Meet Louise, Elliot, Pout-Pout, and The Stick.”
Authors spoke candidly on subjects ranging from writing about darker subject matter for kids, to the success of Skype events with bookstores, and how film influences today’s readers. During the Middle Grade panel, Rachel Vail, Natalie Lloyd, Matt Ward, and moderator Deron Hicks each expressed gratitude for independent booksellers, while creating a dialogue about what kinds of events have worked, and why. Vail noted, “When there is a community attached to a bookstore, and booksellers help promote an event, it really helps,” while Ward added, “The best events I’ve attended have involved schools, and when a bookstore helps set those visits up.”
During the “Schizo in Deep the Walled City Quarantine” panel, authors Terra McVoy, Nic Sheff, Ryan Graudin, Lex Thomas, and moderator Jennifer Estep focused on the importance of the messages they put out to their readers. “So much of YA is at that age where you’re deciding who you’re going to be, and in different situations,” said McVoy. While the panelists’ books contain different circumstances, each focuses on survival. “As writers, we write to contrast the dark,” said Thomas, while Sheff noted, “[In Schizo], I wanted to express the hope that you can have mental illness, and still live a good life.”
This year’s SIBA keynote, James Patterson, also spoke on the importance of children reading, noting that it should be a “joyful” experience. His speech gained him a standing ovation, and left an impression on many booksellers in the audience. “Hearing James Patterson speak to the importance of sharing reading with children really touched me,” McVoy told PW. “There were so many incredible moments over the whole weekend, but this bolstered me both as an author and a bookseller.”
The focus on reading and community building combined to make this year’s show an unforgettable event. Perhaps author Kami Garcia summed it up best when she said, “The SIBA conference had all the elements of the perfect Southern party: gracious hosts – SIBA, guests with class and sass – the booksellers, homemade sweets – the books, and entertainment even your orneriest neighbor would love – the authors. The booksellers were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I left with some new friends and great book recommendations!”