The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Discovery Show, held September 13–15 at the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Stirling, Fla., may have been overshadowed by worries about Hurricane Florence, with many booksellers from affected areas in the eastern Carolinas opting to stay home, but the event itself remained upbeat and optimistic.
“This is the most luxurious evacuation I have ever been on,” joked Amanda Ibarra, events manager at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., prior to introducing author Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, who gave the opening keynote talk of the conference. Lee, a TED-talk star, touched on a variety of themes that might resonate with children’s booksellers, from the way in which abundant displays of colorful products promote sales to the impact adding bright, colored strips to tumble-down buildings in the city of Tirana had on the economy of Albania.
Despite the hurricane, attendance at the show was down just 2% over the previous year, with a total of 426 people attending. Approximately 80 bookstores were represented, and 124 authors participated. The programming featured a range of activities, from roundtables covering bookselling best practices, to a guided meditation and a team-building exercise in an escape room.
Children’s books and authors were well represented at the show and featured in two education sessions. “Making a Mark on the Young-Middle Grade & Picture Book Writers Twitter Together” featured authors reading short, social-media friendly answers to questions such as “What is your favorite and least favorite thing about writing?” and “Why do indie bookstores matter?” submitted to them prior to the event. Authors participating included Sherri Duskey Rinker (Construction Site on Christmas Night, Chronicle), Paul Tillery (Thundercluck, Roaring Brook), Leslie Youngblood (Love Like Sky, Disney-Hyperion), Camille Andros (The Dress and the Girl, Abrams), Pablo Cartaya (Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, Viking), and Brittney Kempink (Three Friends Limeade, Richter Publishing). All their answers are archived on Twitter under @sindies and the hashtag #Twriter.
Kempink, who lives in Tampa and teaches management at Rasmussen College, was impressed by her experience of the show overall. “It has given me insight into the book trade that I might not have ever gotten otherwise,” she told PW. “As a first-time author it is useful to learn a bit more about what booksellers are looking for from authors.”
A second event, “Making a Mark on Coming of Age: Young Adult Authors Tackle the Challenge,” included Sorboni Banerjee (Hide with Me, Razorbill), Jimmy Cajoleas (The Good Demon, Amulet), Jen Doll (Unclaimed Baggage, FSG), and Destiny Soria (Beneath the Citadel, Amulet), in a conversation moderated by Sally Bradshaw of Midtown Reader Bookstore in Tallahassee, Fla. The discussion touched on what inspired each author’s new book, and their own favorite authors. Conversation was liveliest when it turned to best practices for marketing the books in stores.
“Grouping books under a genre like Young Adult is almost detrimental,” said Banerjee, whose day job is newscaster for a Tampa television station. “I think of airport stores where the cover grabbed me while I was running by—I picked up both 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult and Twilight because they said ‘New Hot Buys,’ not because of any genre.” She added, “I would suggest that we find a way to categorize a book by its ‘feeling’ instead.”
Doll, who is a debut YA author, having previously published a memoir, Save the Date, suggested that teen readers be treated much the same way as adult readers: as individuals with varying tastes. “Just because a book has teenage characters doesn’t mean teens want to read it.” Soria, concurred, saying, “I think teenagers get sold short sometimes,” she said. “Today’s teens are more literate in politics, social issues, and are able to handle a lot more than a typical teenager [a generation ago].”
Numerous other children’s book and YA authors also participated at various book signing events, including Margaret Mincks (President of Poplar Lane, Viking), Natalie Lloyd (Over the Moon, Scholastic Press), Yoon Ha Lee (Dragon Pearl, Disney/Rick Riordan Presents), Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil #5: A Crystal of Time, HarperCollins), and Max Brallier (The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond, Viking).
Sami Thomason, a bookseller at Square Books Jr. in Oxford, Miss., said that while trying to take in everything at the show was sometimes stressful, it was ultimately worthwhile. And, she added, it was “a lot easier” than what she would have been doing had she been at home in Oxford, working the weekend of the Ole Miss vs. Alabama football game.
From the publisher side, the regional events are an opportunity to get a feel for what booksellers might be willing to hand-sell during the holiday season. “The [regional] shows are very valuable,” said Johanna Barnett Hynes, manager of field sales for Ingram Publisher Services, “and it is fun to watch booksellers shop the show as if they were customers themselves.”
Wanda Jewell, executive director of SIBA, told PW that she likes the mixture of children’s and adult literature at the show. “Often a bookseller will come looking for adult titles, but then come away with a children’s book that they are even more excited about,” she said. “It happens all the time and I am happy when it does.”