Over 500 booksellers, authors, and publishers shared unique perspectives on bookselling at the two-day New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) annual gathering in Cherry Hill, NJ from October 6-8. “Some years it’s doom and gloom. Some years it’s clapping and applause,” said Todd Dickinson, president of NAIBA and co-owner of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa. “This year was positive and professional. People came anxious to learn and to share.”
In equal parts, the conference provided platforms for authors to describe the creative process, editors and sales representatives to offer tips and insights, and booksellers from stores of all sizes and locations across the mid-Atlantic to collaborate on ideas and education.
Dickinson led the way, joining David Grogan, director of public policy and advocacy for the American Booksellers Association, and Clinton, N.J. Mayor Janice Kovach on a panel called The Angles of Advocacy. The speakers addressed an audience of over 50 booksellers on the different ways that booksellers can do political work to support their interests. Dickinson spoke about fighting a proposed local sign ordinance, while Grogan described the ABA's successful initiative to persuade states to tax online sales.
Kovach urged booksellers to see sleepy town government meetings as essential places for advocacy."Knowing what's going on with your land use board, or town council, is really important," she said.
A children’s “Editors Buzz” panel was similarly eclectic and wide-ranging, with editors from HarperCollins and Scholastic recommending forthcoming books alongside former Eyore’s bookseller Steve Geck, who is editorial director at Sourcebooks, and Jessica Echevarria, senior editor at the multicultural publisher Lee & Low.
In multiple panels, booksellers discussed inclusiveness, an issue that has been at the forefront of the bookselling community this year. During a workshop on how to manage a staff more effectively, panelists urged managers to look at themselves, hiring with diversity in mind, and seeking out educational opportunities to ensure that employees are respected. “It is your responsibility as a manager to be going to [diversity] trainings, and to approach this issue holistically,” said Duende District bookseller and ABA Diversity Task Force member Angela Maria Spring.
Attendees were joined by authors who shared their own personal stories about the process of writing and illustrating books. NAIBA executive director Eileen Dengler said that when she is looking for speakers, she often looks for authors who can reveal, “the inside workings of creating their books.”
“We want the story that we can take to our customers,” said Dengler, “something that’s not on the jacket cover.”
Authors also talked at length about the impact of booksellers in the NAIBA region on their own work. Former Obama Administration speechwriter David Litt (Thanks, Obama, Ecco), Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X, HarperTeen), Eric Velazquez (Schomburg, Candlewick), and Brendan Wenzel (They All Saw a Cat, Chronicle Books) all emphasized the impact of bookstores in shaping their work. Wenzel told booksellers that when he “gets stuck,” he spends hours in bookstores, adding, “And I get stuck a lot.”
Booksellers took a moment to honor two people from another part of the trade, as well. Parson Weems sales rep Linda Cannon was the recipient of the Sales Rep of the Year Award, which was renamed in honor of Kristin Keith, the Norton Sales rep who died at age 45 in 2016. Introducing the award, Keith’s sister, Kathryn Runyan, said that the family is, “thrilled her legacy will live on through this award. She would be thrilled. She would be dancing if she could.”
Pulitzer recipient Richard Ford received the organization’s Legacy Award, and summed up the collaborative atmosphere of the conference with an emotional thanks to the individuals across the publishing industry who helped him succeed as a writer, including, “three editors, 500 publicists, copy editors, proofreaders.”
Of his own role in publishing, Ford remarked, “I’ve always tried to write a masterpiece. If you’re not trying to write a masterpiece, why are you asking for everyone’s attention? Why are you asking them to pay you for it?”
Ford singled out booksellers for being the ones to convince readers to pay for his books over the previous four decades. “Nobody gets here by themselves,” he said. “I came here to acknowledge our longstanding deal as colleagues, and to thank you for upholding your end of it.”