“Attendance was up; the mood was way up,” said New England Independent Booksellers Association executive director Steve Fischer, describing the group’s 41st annual fall gathering at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence (Sept. 30–Oct. 2). In part the mood was good because of strong sales over the summer. “We had a great summer,” said Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Ct., who will add a second store in Westerly, R.I., in the spring. “Every month was up, even September.”
Wendy Hudson, who also had a good summer, will renovate Nantucket BookWorks in Nantucket, Mass., after the holidays. While she plans to preserve the store’s footprint and keeping the front of the store much the same, the redo will enable the store to hold more people for events. Hudson will also add an apartment above the store to bring in rental income and a basement for storage. Other good news included the announcement of the impending opening of a new store in Boston, Papercuts JP, which is slated to be ready in time for Thanksgiving.
This was also the first NEIBA conference to celebrate bookseller retirements, including that of New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council cofounder Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., which will change hands on January 1. Although she is not retiring, Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, is leaving the board of NECBA after three years as co-chair. Robin Sung, a children’s bookseller at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., will take on that role with Hannah Moushabeck, children’s director at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., who has served as co-chair for the past year.
While overall attendance was up 5% at the conference, the number of authors stayed at just over 60. But it seemed as if a preponderance were children’s authors. That’s because in addition to a special breakfast with Alice Hoffman (Nightbird, Random/Wendy Lamb, March 2015), Gregory Maguire (Egg & Spoon, Candlewick), and Andrea Davis Pinkney (The Red Pencil, Little, Brown), NEIBA included Mary Pope Osborne and her sister, Natalie Pope Boyce, authors of Magic Tree House Survival Guide (Random House), at a second breakfast intended to showcase “adult” writers.
Children’s authors and illustrators were also an integral part of the author reception, which included Barbara McClintock, illustrator of My Grandfather’s Coat (Scholastic Press), and Wendy Bass and Michael Brawer, authors of Space Taxi: Water Planet Rescue (Little, Brown). And children’s writer Sy Montgomery (Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World, HMH) received this year’s President’s Award for a body of work from NEIBA president Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y.
NECBA hosted two panels at the conference: one on working with schools, the other on events. Both were filled with tips for booksellers to take back to their stores. PW blogger Josie Leavitt, co-owner of Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vt., and Karen Rosenthal, children and young adult events coordinator at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Ct., led in the first panel at which Leavitt reminded booksellers that getting an in-store book fair or getting into schools and doing book talks is “a long-distance race, not a sprint.” She advised “patience, being calm, and talking like an expert about Amazon.” She also noted the importance of finding the right person to work with at the school or PTO to get schools to break the Amazon habit.
Rosenthal spoke about teacher nights. Her store does two, in winter and fall, which they position to teachers as “we’re pampering you.” That means lots of freebies gathered from publishers, including tote bags and galleys, raffles throughout the evening, 20% discount on everything bought that evening, and, of course, wine and cheese. After a few false starts, Rosenthal’s found that the 5–7 p.m. time slot works best. Teachers will make an evening of it, and sales for the night are “significant,” she said.
Last spring’s teacher night at R.J. Julia, which featured three sales reps talking about Common Core, was especially well attended. Random House sales rep Kate Sullivan, who participated, told booksellers that she needs to know about teacher nights four to six months in advance in order to rejigger her schedule to make it work and/or to get booksellers the materials they need.
Leavitt also spoke about bringing authors to the schools. Once the bookseller picks the school, she recommended making a simple order form that shows the price plus tax and providing a list of nearby hotels and media to the publicist. She reminded booksellers that the author will need to have lunch and take breaks. She shared a tip that she learned from another bookseller: leave a box of signed books with blank order forms in the library for a week after the event so that kids who wished they had bought the book can do so. Another suggestion was to have a child rather than an adult introduce the author.
At the events programming session, with Odyssey Bookshop’s Moushabeck began by telling booksellers, “Nobody feels confident when planning events. There’s always the risk that no one will come.” Together she and copanelists Sara Hines, publicity and programs manager at Eight Cousins, and Random House’s Sullivan, created a worksheet for booksellers to fill out before they book an event. The questions include: the purpose of the event and incentives for doing it, along with practical concerns such as budgeting, location, ticketing, and staffing.
After the introduction, the panelists divided booksellers into groups and gave them an event assignment that they were to plan using the worksheet. As booksellers discussed what kind of event to hold, it became clear how much of event planning resembles cooking pasta: throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks.
The panelists then shared the top 10 tips that they had derived from studying successful events. They include making use of social media and planning an event that’s more than just a reading. Sullivan recommended creating a space in the store for photo ops. “Something I’ve learned is that it’s all about the selfie,” she said.
To ensure that there’s a crowd, get groups like the Girl Scouts, a day care center, or a book group to attend. Moushabeck suggested getting crafty about the event name, like Horns and Heels for the Odyssey’s launch party for Gavin Grant and Kelly Link’s Monstrous Affections anthology from Candlewick.
At the annual NEIBA meeting that followed, Fischer promised that “education is going to remain central to everything we do.” Next up is a Careers in Bookselling Day for frontline booksellers to be held at Beacon Press in Boston’s Innovation District on November 5.