The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Discovery Show was held in Spartanburg, S.C., for the first time, running from September 13–15, and drew numerous new booksellers from across the region. Among them was Lisa Misosky, owner of Southland Books & Café, a general used bookstore in Maryville, Tenn., who has just begun adding new books to her inventory, after years of selling used titles almost exclusively. “I expect to move to about 10 to 20% new books in the next several years.” Misosky, whose store is located an hour outside of Knoxville, has turned her store into a safe space for LGBTQIA+ youth from the area. “We’ve had to face down Nazis who have been coming down from Knoxville to harass us this year,” she said. “Fortunately, when they show up, they are both outnumbered and outgunned and we have been able to run them off.”
Another newcomer was Lucy Perkins-Wagel, a bookseller from Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Fla., who was on the hunt for new YA titles. “It’s such a privilege to be here among all these people who are so passionate about books and reading,” she said. “I started working at the bookstore after the U.S. Navy. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always had a book in my hand. I now feel like I’ve found my people.”
Nicole McManus from My Sister’s Books in Pawleys Island, S.C., which is celebrating its 17th anniversary this year, noted that the staff felt the store didn’t stock enough of a selection of children’s titles. “We’re actively trying to pull in young people and we’ll do anything we can to try and pull them away from their video games,” she said. To wit, the store launched a new Kids Club, and has begun to offer audiobooks from Libro.fm.
Further south, Birmingham, Ala., will soon have a new children’s-focused bookstore, with the opening of Thank You Books later this year. Co-owners Laura Cotten and Kristen Iskandrian told PW, “We’re just super-excited to share our love of reading and literature with fellow book-lovers in Birmingham.”
The enthusiasm and buzz at SIBA were especially high this year—augmented by regular infusions of sweet tea and donuts from the Krispy Kreme down the road. Emily Hutton, associate director of field sales for Simon & Schuster, was suitably impressed. “Traffic has been very good at the booth,” she reported, noting that there was strong interest in middle grade graphic novels, such as The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (Aladdin), and authors with a strong track record, such as Stuart Gibbs, whose new novel Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation, was just reaching stores.
Elizabeth Venere, marketing manager for Little, Brown, concurred, and noted that as it was her second time at the show she had a basis for comparison. “There’s just a great energy this year,” she said, highlighting interest around Shanda McCloskey’s T-Bone the Drone.
McCloskey was just one of the more than 140 authors who participated in various SIBA activities, from cocktail receptions to sign-arounds. She took part in the panel entitled “Read Early, Read Often,” which included Camille Andros, author of From a Small Seed: The Story of Eliza Hamilton (Holt); Deborah Wiles, author of Anthem (Scholastic Press); and Mike Lowery, Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts (Orchard). In a broad-ranging discussion about their influences and interests, one particular comment in particular resonated with the audience: “I’ve got a bunch of kids that I’m trying to engage in literature,” said Andros, who is the mother of six, “And I hate it when I hear teachers say, ‘You can’t read a graphic novel, that doesn’t count.’ I can see firsthand what it does for them to be able to see those pictures. The frames help them read longer text and help build up their stamina. I think they are a huge help.”
Julie Murphy, author of Dear Sweet Pea (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), was joined during a lunchtime session by Akilah Hughes, author of Obviously, Stories from My Timeline (Razorbill); Charlaine Harris, author of A Longer Fall (Saga Press); and Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal, authors of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight (Sourcebooks Fire). Here, the main subject was diversity, inclusion, and representation, with each author sharing an anecdote about what attracted them to writing and talking about how their work helped to extend the audience of readers to people who in the past have had a difficult time finding themselves or their experience represented in books.
Murphy drew applause after describing the transformative experience of having new fans reach out to her after her second book, Dumplin’, became a bestseller and why she has shifted to middle-grade for her new book. “If you don’t know what Dumplin’ is about, it’s about a fat girl who enters a beauty pageant,” she said. “And I got a lot of emails about how it started conversations between teens and their parents. And I thought, but why do these conversations have to wait until kids are 16 and in high school? Why can’t they start in third, fourth or fifth grade... and so, that’s what my new book tries to do.”
Overall, the Discovery Show drew 507 total attendees, of which 210 were booksellers representing 75 stores. “The attendance is one of the highest we’ve experienced, surpassed only slightly by our show in Savannah in 2016,” said SIBA’s Nicki Leone. “It represents a 22% jump over 2018 in Tampa, which had been dampened by Hurricane Florence, and a 13% gain over our show in New Orleans in 2017.”
Next year, the show shifts back to New Orleans, and will take place September 11–13. One big change attendees can anticipate will be the ascension of a new executive director of the organization, following the retirement of Wanda Jewell after 30 years in the role. Jewell, who was honored with a cake, a tiara, and a serenade by the SIBA board, could be seen dancing with, hugging, and kissing many of the attendees throughout the show. “SIBA has been such a huge part of my life, I don’t think it will ever not be a part of it,” she said with a sad smile.