California Independent Booksellers Alliance welcomed 130 booksellers to Fall Fest this year, along with exhibitors from across the state including Chronicle Books, Red Hen Press, Heyday Books, The Collective Book Studio, and Cameron + Company. Oregon publishers Blackstone and Microcosm, Seattle-based audiobook service, Vancouver, B.C.’s Orca Book Publishers, and Big Five representatives also showed up to connect with the California book trade.

CALIBA treasurer Bridget Schinnerer of Vroman’s in Pasadena acknowledged that CALIBA’s annual income has not yet matched pre-pandemic levels, yet projected that CALIBA would remain in the black for 2022: “Our rainy day fund means we have some cushion in case there is an economic downturn,” Schinnerer said. Co-executive director Kristin Rasmussen said this year’s Golden Poppy Book Awards drew almost 300; CALIBA will announce finalists in early November, and booksellers may vote starting in January. Rasmussen said she and co-director Ann Seaton would begin planning the Spring Forum “as soon as the dust settles” after Fall Fest.

Attendees also discussed how to start and sustain profitable programs beyond traditional bookselling practices. Wendy Sanchez and Robert Turner operate online shop Chukaruka, “a virtual space for minority and underrepresented voices” with an education and literacy focus; they came to CALIBA curious about how to grow their business and whether a bricks-and-mortar location was in their future. Alex Hemming, manager at Skylight books, distributes hard-to-find international titles including art books about L.A. and zines and comics from Mexico. Skylight general manager Mary Williams noted how Hemming’s love of international art books led to the bookstore distributing an entire print run of Caroline and Cyril Desroche’s Los Angeles Standards, an oversize, $55 paperback of architectural photos published by Poursuite and popular among L.A. residents.

Order Direct, and Know Thy Rep

Williams, CALIBA’s incoming president, moderated a discussion on how to build and maintain successful relationships with publishers. Panelists gave indie booksellers the skinny on getting exclusive deals, emphasizing that sales representatives have insider information and that direct orders are the way to a publisher’s heart.

Reps offer a partnership, said Roz Hilden, direct sales specialist at Scholastic. They identify trends, flag co-op materials, and troubleshoot ordering issues and invoices. “Your rep will tell you, we’re worried about this title, so order up on this one,” said Valerie Pierce, who handles retail marketing and creative services at Sourcebooks. Reps “make your job easier—it’s plug-and-play for you guys.”

Booksellers who don’t yet have a rep should ask for a markup of their territory for starters, said PGW/Two Rivers/Ingram Academic sales manager Leslie Jobson. This opens up a line of communication, because “publishers are offering promotions, special deals, for the indie market,” said Toi Crockett, Simon & Schuster director of independent sales. “What are the key titles that are coming to the top? You won’t have that info if you go into Edelweiss cold.”

Mutual loyalty is important too. “If you want to have a direct relationship with a sales rep, you need to support the publisher and the rep,” said Hilden. “I had someone who was doing popups set up an account, place an order, the title was not available, and they never ordered again.” Scholastic noticed. Williams agreed that “special orders, things you need real fast, come from a wholesaler. But the more that goes direct, the more that counts.” Crockett’s advice is to open up a credit line rather than a pre-pay account, which establishes a commitment without cost.

Publishers keep track of analytics, such as which stores order frontlist only, and this makes a difference when it comes to stores' special requests. “If you want an author [who’s on tour],” said Pierce, a publisher might check sales data to find out “have you ordered? Have you submitted Indie Next recs for us? The stronger the relationship, the more we lean on those stores.” The other panelists concurred and Crockett offered a concise tip: “Ordering direct, the discount’s higher. And you get co-op.”

The panelists indicated that open channels of communication help them support indies and vice versa. Scholastic requires proposals for hosting authors, said Hilden, who told the audience that Kristin Rasmussen’s proposal for a Dav Pilkey visit to {pages} in Manhattan Beach “became the model for pitching an event. If you want a major author, it’s go big or go home!” When bookstores sustain connections with publishers—and heed advice on how many copies to order—good things happen, like the time a small Colorado bookstore wanted a visit from Y.A. novelist Jennifer Nielsen. “Five schools noticed locally, and the store made an order for 200 books,” said Hilden. “Bam, it’s on her radar screen.”