Despite travel woes caused by weather elsewhere in the country, more than 700 indie booksellers have descended this week upon Albuquerque, N.M., for Winter Institute 14. The annual gathering kicked off on Tuesday morning with a day of education and an IndieCommerce Institute, and continues through Friday evening, with a full slate each day of panels, presentations, and networking opportunities for booksellers, as well as chances to connect with publishers and authors.

The mood definitely has been celebratory thus far in the Albuquerque Convention Center: there is a constant happy buzz in rooms and along corridors at all hours, with booksellers and publishers talking shop.

While some booksellers PW spoke with expressed ambivalence that Winter Institute continues to grow beyond the cap of 500 booksellers initially set 14 years ago at WI1 in Long Beach, Calif., and is taking place for the second year in a row inside a convention center instead of at a hotel, all agreed that it is well worth the time and expense, due to the energy created by the mix of veteran and young booksellers. Of this year’s 700+ attendees, 200 are first-timers, including Megan Wells, who opened The Willow Bookstore in Perham, Minn., in November, and was being escorted at the opening night reception Tuesday evening by her mentor, Jeannie Costello, a 12-year veteran bookseller at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo.

“Winter Institute used to be white-haired ladies,” Costello said. “All these young people.... There’s more diversity here than ever before. It’s bigger, so it’s overwhelming—but it’s great, because of the diversity and all the young booksellers.”

“There’s a lot of energy, but it also seems more mellow than previous Winter Institutes I’ve been to,” Ellen Richmond, the owner of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, said.

“It never gets less exciting and it never gets less intimidating,” said Emily Hall, owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., who has been attending Winter Institute since 2015, after buying the store from Vicki Erwin five years ago. “[Erwin] told me it was the most important industry event for me to go to.”

While there were several panels appealing to booksellers interested in children’s books, such as an ABC Group panel on selling direct to schools, children’s books and bookselling were included in many more general presentations. For instance, during a Wednesday morning panel on international bookselling, Stefani Beddingfield, owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fla., recounted her experience at the 2018 Guadalajara International Book Fair. She came away inspired to sell more foreign children’s books and host more children’s story times in foreign languages. “We decided to host some bilingual story times in Spanish and English, which were a hit. Then two graduate students from a local university asked if they could do story time in German and French. At first, I thought to myself ‘why?’ then I thought ‘why not?’ Kids don’t care what language story time is in, they just enjoy being read to, and they might even learn a few words.”

Several children’s booksellers commented on the industry trends and analytics panel, also on Wednesday morning, during which NPD Book marketing analyst Alison Risbridger presented overall trends in the book market, as reflected in Bookscan and PubTrack figures, as well as consumer research. “It was a banner year for bestsellers,” she said of 2018, which showed a 1.3% increase in sales volume due to “top heavy sales,” with adult nonfiction and children’s books being particularly strong categories currently.

In children’s books, stories about social situations, holidays/religion, games and activities, and educational titles were the top sellers across the industry as a whole. After a significant decline in 2017, YA science fiction/fantasy/magic novels rebounded, with much of that increase due to the success of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.

While learning about such industry trends is essential, booksellers agreed, it’s the authors they were going to meet at WI14 and the books they were reading that most excited them. Of 150 creators appearing at WI14, about 50 are either children’s authors or illustrators (or both). Julie Shimada, the children’s buyer at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, who is a first-timer at Winter Institute, was most excited about Bill Konigsberg and The Music of What Happens (Scholastic/Levine); Christian Robinson and Another (S&S); Holly Goldberg Sloan and To Night Owl from Dogfish (Dial), whom Shimada described as “hilarious” at a presentation Sloan made at the Mountains & Plains regional booksellers show; and Justin A. Reynolds and Opposite of Always (HarperCollins/Tegen), saying, “I made a point of reading this book before WI14 and I am really excited to meet him.”

There will be a fuller report of all the happenings at WI14 in Children’s Bookshelf next week, along with a photo essay.