On a day when snow fell in Denver less than 24 hours after temperatures had hovered around 80 degrees -- Mountains & Plains booksellers proved just how resilient they are. Despite terrible road conditions throughout the area that first day, booksellers representing more than 60 stores in a 12-state region that spans from Wyoming to Texas met Oct. 10-12 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver's Stapleton neighborhood to talk books and meet authors.

This year’s gathering was an energetic, busy show. Total attendance rose 10% above last year. Among the first-timers at the show were Evan Schertz, 21, the new owner of Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., and representatives from 14 new M&P members, including a few prospective booksellers, such as two women who will open Wayside Books in Cheyenne, Wyo. next year.

While the show officially kicked off Thursday morning with the Children’s Author & Illustrator Breakfast, the festivities really began that evening with a roast of outgoing ABA CEO Oren Teicher. Teicher noted that the first regional he ever attended, back in 1989 or 1990, was M&P. Fittingly, he said, his last regional representing ABA is M&P as well – a coincidence made even more poignant when it was announced Friday morning, while Teicher was out on the floor staffing the ABA exhibit, that his replacement would be Allison Hill of Vroman’s in Pasadena, Calif.

The exhibit hall bustled throughout the day Friday, with booksellers browsing 62 exhibits representing hundreds of companies. Small regional presses, like High Plains Press, headquartered on a 7,000-acre ranch outside of Casper, Wyo. displayed their offerings alongside the large New York City houses and various distributors. Publisher Nancy Curtis noted that High Plains reps don’t write a lot of orders at the show, but make the drive every year because “it’s fun and we like to talk to people; we don’t usually see anybody up in Wyoming.”

Anne Iverson, the marketing manager of Mountain Press in Missoula, Mont. told PW that the 71-year-old publisher of the Roadside Geology state series and other outdoor books had not exhibited at M&P “in years,” because, she said, it was not writing enough orders there. It instead started attending PNBA because it does not have the resources to attend two regionals in one year. “But I met Heather Duncan [M&P's executive director] at PNBA and decided to do [M&P] this year because Heather is very high energy and a lot of fun,” Iverson said, “That changes the whole dynamic. I decided to see if it’s changed. I’ve met a lot of good people here this week. I’m glad we came. I’m thinking we’re going to come back in 2020.”

While the exhibits, of course, inevitably pull in booksellers, the main attraction every year is the slate of authors in attendance. This year’s stellar roster of 84 featured authors and illustrators--up from last year’s 62--did not disappoint. All of the author events were packed, including Friday evening’s sold-out Gala Author Dinner Party, as well as Saturday morning’s Writing the West Breakfast.

Authors on hand ranged from national bestsellers to regional writers. Among national authors at the event were Therese Anne Fowler (A Good Neighborhood), W. Bruce Cameron (A Dog’s Promise), Raina Telgemeier (Guts), Ransom Riggs (The Conference of the Birds), Emily St. John Mandel (Glass Hotel), and Colum McCann (Apeirogon). Booksellers also heard from regional authors writing about and reimagining the West in provocative ways in both fiction and nonfiction: C. Pam Zhang (How Much of These Hills Is Gold), Peter Meech (Billy (The Kid)), Megan Kate Nelson (The Three Cornered War), Ginger Gaffney (Half Broke), H.W. Brands (Dreams of El Dorado), and Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians).

“I just love hearing Colum McCann speak,” said Nicole Sullivan, the owner of Denver’s BookBar, “He’s so eloquent, so thoughtful – and that accent. I am really excited to read Apeirogon.” Sullivan was just as jazzed about Jones, saying, “He was so funny at the breakfast, and I really like reading horror stories. I can hardly wait to dive into The Only Good Indians.”

In a region whose residents are so in touch with the land around them, books with a strong sense of place and lots of local color rise to the top. The big books of this show included a novel about the wives of oil rig workers in Texas and a memoir about a professional horse trainer working with the inmates of a New Mexico prison ranch to tame feral horses.

Valerie Koehler, the owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, said that Valentine: A Novel by Elizabeth Wetmore (Harper, 2020) was her pick for book of the show, saying, “It’s so good. She really pegged west Texas. She writes about the late ‘70s, the early ‘80s era when things are bad when the price of oil goes down, but even when it goes back up, things don’t get better.”

Valentine was bookseller Anne Holman’s pick as well. The co-owner of The King’s English in Salt Lake City called Valentine “unbelievable,” adding that Wetmore, who grew up in west Texas, “knows what she is talking about. You can tell she knows what it was like, living in Odessa, with men who work the oil rigs, and women, staying at home, raising their children. I am sure west Texas is lovely, but It is also harsh.”

Holman also raved about Half Broke by Ginger Gaffney (Norton, Feb. 2020), after meeting the author during the show. “It’s one of these memoirs where Gaffney learns a lot about herself, the inmates learn a lot about themselves, and, maybe even the horses learn a lot about themselves,” Holman said.

Reimagining The West

Besides the treasure trove of books and authors, the big take-away from M&P this year is that these booksellers, as well as the organization itself, aren’t afraid to tweak their business models in creative ways and to think outside the box. The BookBar, which recently bought an abandoned gas station near Regis University, about a mile from the bookstore, intends to use that space to expand its nonprofit arm, which will accept and sort books for distribution to other nonprofit organizations.

“It’ll operate much like a food bank, but for books, a place where people can gather around literature, and not be pressured to buy books,” Sullivan said, “Book clubs can meet there, and there will be BYOB days, when people can bring picnic dinners and a bottle of wine. There needs to be places like this, where you aren’t being pressured to spend.”

As for M&P itself, it was announced during the show that it is overhauling its 30-year-old Reading the West Book Awards program in order to drive sales to its member bookstores during the spring and summer months. “We already have a holiday catalog in the fall,” Duncan told booksellers during its membership meeting, “This program is for the rest of the year, especially the summer months. It’s meant to give us more clout with publishers, but more importantly, we want your customers to know about these books from you.”

This year’s nomination period opened on October 1, and will run until January 15, 2020. The longlist will be announced in February, and the shortlist in April. The public then will be allowed to vote on the short-list of nominees in the spring, and the winners will be announced in late May.

The Reading the West program will also feature the regional promotion of a single title each summer, called “Summer of.” M&P booksellers will be encouraged to promote the featured title in their stores with marketing materials provided by the organization. The inaugural title in the “Summer of” program is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, which was published 35 years ago. “We wanted something that brings this huge region together; this is the perfect book,” explained Jeremy Ellis, M&P marketing and communications manager, suggesting that bookstores set up book clubs to read 300 pages of the 900-page novel each month during the summer.

“We want to make this book a bestseller in this region,” Duncan added, “We want to make it clear that there’s more than Westerns to the West. We want to show what our 12-state regional bookseller organization can do for a book.”