Children’s authors and illustrators along with children’s programming were deeply woven into the fabric of the 43rd annual New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference, held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence from September 20–22. Booksellers and publishers alike gave the show high marks. Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, said, “There was really good energy, and people are looking forward to the next season.” That energy made attendance seem way up, said NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer. Overall attendance was, in fact, flat with close to 400 people.
While the number of bookseller attendees was down slightly, the number of authors rose 10% to 64, including children’s author Leo Landry (What’s Up Chuck?, Charlesbridge), a former bookseller who returned to bookselling last year at Jeff Kinney’s An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Café in Plainville, Mass. And it was a children’s author, Brendan Wenzel (They All Saw a Cat, Chronicle), who drew the largest line at the author cocktail reception. He stayed an extra 45 minutes past closing to accommodate fans and stopped signing only when his publisher ran out of books.
Booksellers and children’s authors Peter H. Reynolds and his twin brother Paul Reynolds, who co-own the Blue Bunny Books & Toys in Dedham, Mass., also energized the show with the introduction of their national campaign to celebrate “real” books, [Long Live Books!] www.longlivebooks.org The pair are offering posters and unisex T-shirts to promote physical books and to provide booksellers with a source of income. The message behind Long Live Books! has become increasingly important to New England booksellers as Amazon enters the region’s bookstore market. The e-tailer opened a pop-up store at the Natick Mall in Natick, Mass., and is prepping for an Amazon Books to open next year at Legacy Place, a mall in Dedham, Mass.
But the children’s author who won over the most booksellers was likely Andrea Beaty (Ada Twist, Scientist, Abrams). Although a number of authors used their talks to thank booksellers for what they do, she was the only one who wrote an ode for the occasion. Beaty compared booksellers’ ability to match a kid with a book to “a literary Tinder or a Match.com.... Not to get mushy, but I think it’s true. So many books would get lost without you.” In closing she said, “the best thing of all, you don’t even need drones.”
This year’s educational sessions got down to basics, from how to sell more nonfiction to how to provide better customer service and how to improve bookstore operations with data from the American Booksellers Association’s annual ABACUS survey. (For some specific tips, click here.) For many it was a welcome change from years past when the emphasis was on industry issues. “I’m glad Amazon hasn’t come up,” said Beth Wagner, book buyer at Phoenix Books in Essex Junction, Vt., and incoming co-chair of the New England Children’s Books Advisory Council. “I don’t want to talk about them. I want to talk about us.”
Part of the upbeat vibe came from the fact that most bookstores have been having a good year. “There hasn’t been a huge book in a while, which is good because people need guidance,” said Justin Ward, owner of Bridgton Books in Bridgton, Maine, who was satisfied with his summer. “I’m definitely bullish. Everybody’s coming back to print.”
Although 2015 was a standout year with many booksellers seeing double-digit increases, 2016 has been strong. As ABA CEO Oren Teicher told PW, so far in 2016 the number of books sold is up. “We’re still running at 5 1/2% units above last year,” he said. Teicher also noted that a number of new stores continue to open. Some of those owners were at the show, including Chris Abouzeid of Belmont Books in Belmont, Mass., and Josh Christie of Print in Portland, Maine, who are both planning general bookstores with large children’s sections.
The NEIBA organization is also healthy. “When people ask how we’re doing,” said NEIBA’s Fischer at the annual meeting, “I tell them they’re going as well as member stores are doing. It feels like a very healthy atmosphere out there. The whole narrative has shifted.”