Neither the heavy winds and downpour brought on by a Nor’easter, nor the threat of Hurricane Joaquin, which caused New Jersey’s governor to declare a state of emergency, dampened the spirits of the booksellers, authors, publishers, and exhibitors at the 2015 New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Discovery Conference. More than 415 attendees, including over 165 booksellers, attended this year’s gathering from October 2–4 in Somerset, N.J.
The programming deliberately combined children’s and adult authors at mealtimes, so that booksellers, many of whose stores continue to do well with children’s, had a chance to meet both and try to book them for their stores. The across-ages talks began at the opening night preview supper featuring Winfred Conkling, author of Radioactive! (Algonquin) and Jon Scieszka, author of Frank Einstein and the BrainTurbo (Abrams/Amulet) alongside adult writers like Academy Award-nominated actor and playwright Jessie Eisenberg (Bream Gives Me Hiccups). Children’s was front and center at the NAIBA awards banquet, where Dav Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series, served as emcee. “Reading gives you superpowers,” he told booksellers. “And today I’m so pleased to be in a room with superheroes.”
To give children’s books even more prominence than in years past, NAIBA added a children’s buzz panel with editors from Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Balzer + Bray, Arthur A. Levine, and Philomel. The children’s booksellers’ pick-of-the-lists, which had previously taken place at the same time as the adult buzz panel, was turned into a children’s tour of the show floor. Sam Droke-Dickinson, co-owner of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa.; Stephanie Steinly, owner of Harleysville Books in Harleysville, Pa.; and Alicia Michielli, assistant manager of Talking Leaves...Books in Buffalo, N.Y., served as docents.
Children’s programming continued to be prominent with two separate sessions on the conference’s day of education. Heather Hebert, co-owner of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa., and Marisela Santiago, children’s book buyer at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., discussed how to reinvent bookstore relationships with schools and libraries in a panel on “School Is Not Out.” Author Ellen Hopkins (Traffick, S&S, Nov.) flew in from Nevada to join Mary Alice Garber, buyer, children and teens department at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., and Banna Rubinow, children’s book specialist at the River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., for a panel on “The Hot Potato,” about dealing with sensitive issues in teen books.
As to whether childhood innocence exists, Hopkins replied, “Every child’s experience is individual. I’m in high schools and middle schools; I’m fielding over 200 e-mails and Instagrams a day. I’ve heard from kids whose parents pimped them out at 10 years old, whose parents turned them on to drugs. Every one of those kids wants to love and be loved.” Hopkins also called for the need for kids to have a voice in literature. “[Kids] need characters that speak to them and for them. One in three or four young women will be raped or molested in their lifetime. The average age a young woman is trafficked is 12.”
Fortunately not all the sessions dealt with such dark material, and there was plenty of time built into the schedule for first-timers – including Emmanuelle Morgen, co-owner of Little City Books, which opened in Hoboken, N.J., in May; Rachel Wood, who is planning her first bookstore, Scrawl Books, to open in Reston, Va., soon; and Chris Scott, manager of Midtown Scholar Bookstore & Cafe in Harrisburg, Pa., a used store that has begun to add new titles – to mingle with booksellers who have been attending NAIBA for years.
Not only was attendance at the show up slightly, but membership in NAIBA grew 19% last year with the addition of 25 new bookstore members, according to president Mark LaFramboise of Politics & Prose. “Happily, [NAIBA is] very much in sync with other regions,” said Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer at the American Booksellers Association, referring to NAIBA’s “strong sense of engagement, vitality, and growth.”
It’s not just new stores opening, but older stores expanding. Three-year-old Ye Olde Warwick Bookshoppe in Warwick, N.Y., will hold the grand opening for its second store in nearby Greenwood Lake later this month. Owner Thomas Roberts said that he is already looking to open a third store in which he would recreate a Victorian atmosphere in the next few years. And those that have been open for a while are seeing significant growth. “Knock on wood,” said Children’s Book World’s Hebert, “[business] is great.”
Next year’s NAIBA show will be held in Baltimore, Md., from October 15–17.