If there is one topic that stands out at all nine regional bookselling conferences this year, it's getting back to basics, both the traditional ABCs of book retail and newer ones like creating an effective Web site and selling e-books using QR codes. "Booksellers are hungry to be better booksellers, better business people," says Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association. "It's why we turned it into a fall conference rather than a trade show." It's also why NEIBA is adding a Moveable Feast of Ideas this year. Booksellers will be able to go from table to table and sample suggestions regarding a smorgasbord of concerns, from Web sites and social media to used books, remainders, and credit cards.

Part of the programming that the American Booksellers Association offers at the shows is giving booksellers another viewpoint of the basics—from the customer’s perspective—at Bookstore Self-Audit. The Southern Independent Booksellers Association will present a companion panel, Web Site Self-Audit. Other ABA panels cover the nuts and bolts of applying for a loan from the Small Business Administration and getting the most out of the children’s book market, at which it will introduce the soon-to-be-named chair of the ABC.

Of course, basics can vary depending on the part of the country where the conference takes place. California recently forced Amazon and other e-tailers to collect sales tax. So Jennifer Bigelow, executive director of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, is concerned about not just effective Web sites but affiliates, now that Amazon has fired theirs in the legislation’s wake. “What stands out for me,” she says, “is affiliates. How do we effectively partner? And how do we market e-books?”

Eileen Dengler, executive director at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, is reinvigorating this year’s conference by taking the same ingredients—a two-day show—but flipping them. The show floor will open a day earlier and the focus of day one will be on books; the second day will become the day of education. Dengler’s also trying to turn the educational sessions on their heads. “For a lot of our programming,” she says, “we’re taking the idea and presenting it differently.” As an example, she cites the decision to ask Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, to share their ideas about how to be better booksellers based on their bookstore visits in conjunction with Bookapalooza.

Deb Leonard, who became executive director of Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association one week before the start of last year’s trade show, is one of three executive directors who are about to run their first shows. “We’ve been trying to look at the trade show a little differently,” she says, “and make it more like Winter Institute.” She interprets that as an emphasis on education and on meeting authors, including those whose books won’t come out until next spring.

“There’s a change in the air at Midwest Booksellers Association,” says executive director Carrie Obrey, who is also putting the finishing touches on her first show. By moving MBA to a more self-contained space, the Depot in Minneapolis, she is hoping to give booksellers increased opportunities to network by replicating the collegial atmosphere of Winter Institute. She’s also putting a distinctly Midwestern spin on basics, with sessions on working better with phone reps and using publisher marketing material. As for the long-rumored possibility of a joint show with Great Lakes, Obrey says, “It would be a show that would really be on the map. We see a lot of value to it. But we are booked into the Depot in 2012.”

The third new executive director, Laura Ayrey of Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association, is looking to foster more bookseller networking and mentorship at this year’s conference. On the first day, MPIBA will set up a bookseller lounge where booksellers can share information one-on-one. There will also be more programs directed specifically at nonbooksellers, including a repeat of last year’s daylong sessions for self-publishers and several panels aimed at sales reps. “We just want to offer more education for everybody,” says Ayrey. In keeping with the increased importance that sidelines have taken at independents, MPIBA will highlight them in a separate mini-exhibit on the trade floor.

Wanda Jewell, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance executive director, hears wedding bells whenever she thinks about this year’s show. “We’re trying to do a marriage between basics and social media,” she says. In addition to planning for sessions on sales-tax fairness, how to use a credit card to benefit your bottom line, and protecting your assets, she’s also hosting a mock wedding—complete with a site for the couple—for her assistant Sara Malcolm and Brandon Perry—who will “get hitched” at the show as part of the Writers Block Auction to raise money for the SIBA Book Awards and to promote independent booksellers. In addition, Jewell is offering a fresh take on rep picks by offering them at warp speed, one hour only, one minute per book, at 60 Readers, 60 Seconds Each.

No matter how strong the programming, without authors the fall conferences wouldn’t have the same appeal for booksellers or publishers. “We’ve seen the regional shows establish authors at the indies,” says Simon & Schuster’s director of marketing, Wendy Sheanin. In 2008 S&S used the regionals to introduce Chris Cleave, whose novel Little Bee has gone on to become an indie staple. This year Sheanin has high hopes for Doron Weber, who will discuss his memoir Immortal Bird (Feb.) at the NAIBA preview supper.

But S&S is not the only one trying to break out winter and spring titles. “Traditionally,” says Craig Popelars, director of marketing at Algonquin Books, “the regionals showcased authors whose books were just out in stores. But now we see an opportunity to create some prepublication excitement for books that are coming out four months down the road. I certainly see that buzz tack born out of Winter Institute.” Algonquin is using the shows to break out Kevin Fox’s novel Until the Next Time (Feb.), as well as to build on the attention Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift received at the Editors Buzz panel at BEA.

Thom Chambliss, executive editor of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, says that he’s been offered more authors than in the past few years: 160 authors for 90 slots. “I think publishers have come to realize that meeting the author makes a difference, and hearing an author makes a huge difference,” says Chambliss, who will host big-name writers at this year’s conference, including Chuck Palahniuk, David Guterson, and Christopher Paolini.

To accommodate publishers who want to use the shows to build buzz for spring titles, Hut Landon, executive director of Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, is adding a buzz lunch with seven authors of spring titles, to be introduced by their reps. He looks at it as an opportunity for booksellers to discover new books and authors. Because booksellers look forward to meeting fall authors, he features them at the show’s two breakfasts and at the author reception.

Even though publishers are displaying dozens of books at accompanying exhibits and bring dozens of authors to the show (see pp. 21–22 for listings of big books and galleys to grab), they are trying to be much more selective. “We are trying to concentrate on what booksellers have been telling us they want— focus, focus, focus—on the fall big titles,” says Trish Weyenberg, v-p, director of field sales, paperback, for Penguin. “In addition, we use the trade shows to start a conversation on select winter titles by giving away galleys.”

Lucille Rettino, director of marketing, children’s publishing group at Simon & Schuster, agrees about the need for focus. “We are only sending authors with speaking/signing events,” she says. “Our focus is sending the right author to the right show and not just sending authors because they’re local.” .

One effort that publishers have made in the past few years, not just at BookExpo America but at the regionals, is to push organizers to invite consumers. “I think as an industry we’re still incredibly insular in our approach. We still work behind a curtain and need more than ever to throw open the gates and invite everyone into the chocolate factory. What’s wrong with opening up the trade show?” asks Algonquin’s Popelars. “We’re never going to be a consumer book festival,” notes Landon. But this year NCIBA is taking the first step by encouraging booksellers to invite one or two book group leaders to attend for a day.

As for the conferences themselves, despite declines in regional membership Landon predicts strong shows across the board. “Especially with Borders closing,” he says, “I think these shows have a little added importance this year. The independents are being paid attention to.” And like last year, NEIBA’s Fischer anticipates that booksellers will set aside their worries about the economy and e-book transition and leave feeling good.

Click the links below to see our lists of galleys to grab:

Regionals 2011: Adult Galleys to Grab

Regionals 2011: Children's Galleys to Grab

Fall 2011 Regional Trade Show Schedule

New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association

September 19–21 (Mon.–Wed.)

Atlantic City, N.J.

For more information: www.newatlanticbooks.com

Midwest Booksellers Association

September 22–23 (Thurs.–Fri.)

Minneapolis, Minn.

For more information: www.midwestbooksellers.org

Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association

September 30–October 2 (Fri.–Sun.)

Denver, Colo.

For more information: www.mountainsplains.org

New England Independent Booksellers Association

October 12–14 (Wed.–Fri.)

Providence, R.I.

For more information: www.newenglandbooks.org

Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association

October 13–15 (Thurs.–Sat.)

Portland, Ore.

For more information: www.pnba.org

Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association

October 14–16 (Fri.–Sun.)

Dearborn, Mich.

For more information: www.gliba.org

Southern California Independent Booksellers Association

October 22 (Sat.)

Long Beach, Calif.

For more information: www.scibabooks.org

Northern California Independent Booksellers Association

October 27–29 (Thurs.–Sat.)

Oakland, Calif.

For more information: www.nciba.com