The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s third and final day of its fall trade show began with a biblio breakfast, where YA/MG star Roshani Chokshi crossed categories with her debut adult novel, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride, and Oregon Book Award winner Cai Emmons announced her two releases: Livid (Red Hen Press/IPS) and Unleashed (Dutton/PRH).
University of Montana history professor Dan Flores unearthed prehistoric North American mammals in his nonfiction Wild New World (W.W. Norton), Ross Gay accentuated the positive in Inciting Joy (Algonquin/HBG), and Stephen Markley predicted a waterlogged future in his speculative fiction The Deluge (S&S, Jan. 10). At 896 pages, The Deluge’s massive ARC rivaled John Irving’s 912-page The Last Chairlift for the show’s heavyweight title.
Fortified with coffee and laden with signed galleys, booksellers moved on to the education panels. “Indie Presses for Indie Bookstores” echoed exhibit hall conversations, with Tin House’s Nanci McCloskey telling the group, “We strongly believe that indies are the tastemakers in the industry. You discovered us and hand-sold the heck out of us” even when reviews were scarce. “Indie Next recs and Edelweiss reviews are huge for me, a kind of report card” that grades a title.
“We have specific books that marketers do an Indie Next campaign on,” added Wendy Ceballos, senior director of trade sales at Abrams. “I want to see what gems on the list you are responding to.”
Sourcebooks senior director of sales Margaret Coffee reminded booksellers that marketers visit bookstores and their social media. For Banned Books Week, Coffee’s colleague Valerie Pierce collected social media images of Juno Dawson’s This Book Is Gay, a strong backlist title.
“I take a ridiculous amount of photographs when I visit bookstores,” said Coffee, about to embark on a western Washington expedition. When she discovers a store ordering Sourcebooks titles through a wholesaler, as happened recently, she reaches out to recommend direct orders. “If you talk to a rep, your rep talks to me, but if you only talk to [a wholesaler], that’s invisible to me,” she said, and that means missing out on backlist specials and free freight. Mark Cull, co-publisher at Pasadena-based Red Hen Press, likewise visits about 80 stores annually to share his list. He joked that the only editor-in-chief repping more titles in person is Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions.
Joe Biel, founder and CEO at Microcosm Publishing, picked up on mentions of backlist and the benefits of developing good relationships with indie publishers and their reps. “We have a bookstore and a wholesale division,” Biel said. “When we switched to self-distribution, we borrowed from the historic Workman model: incentivize a store to comb your backlist” and prioritize indies. (When Microcosm is running low on a print run, he added, they hold 10% of inventory for independent bookstores.)
Biel also had strong feelings about frontlist hype. “Indie bookstores are massively incentivized to buy into the book of the season,” he said, when sleepers or backlist could be more viable. “What drives me bonkers is the pots of boiling money that are poured into a brand-new book that inevitably tanks.” Although “the new shiny thing is where you get co-op dollars,” a book with a proven track record could be a better bet.
So, what brings booksellers and publishers together? How do marketers garner attention for special curated galleys or branded boxes? “Is it a gold mailer?” asked Ceballos. “Should we sticker the package, saying this is an advance book?” asked Coffee. Personalization works, said Kim Bissell of Portland’s Broadway Books: “When you put our names on it, that makes a huge difference.”
Greener Publishing Pastures Ahead
Other education sessions included panels on “Bookselling as a Career” and “Growing Your Bookstore’s Focus,” and a lunchtime nitty-gritty session on “Decoding the P&L for Booksellers, Managers, and Owners,” led by the American Booksellers Association’s PK Sindwani and Kim Hooyboer.
Patagonia Books director Karla Olson and Chronicle trade sales rep Jamil Zaidi presented “Selling Green: What Booksellers Need to Know About Sustainable Publishing.” Just a few days after Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard made headlines for giving away his $3 billion outdoor recreation company to fight environmental crisis, Olson discussed how Patagonia, a B Corp,, uses only Forest Stewardship Council certified recycled papers, creates paper-over-board books without dust jackets, rejects shrinkwrap in shipping, and does not print ARCs. Mindful that her audience might prefer print to digital ARCs, Olson explained that in addition to “the environmental price, there’s also a commerce price. When they’re dumped, they show up on Amazon Marketplace” where third-party vendors “undercut the price all around.”
Olson circulated copies of Mark Kurlansky’s Salmon, surfer-sailor Liz Harte’s Swell, and Dylan Tomine’s 2022 fly-fishing chronicle, Headwaters. All had four-color photos and art, plus smooth matte covers and snug bindings. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t make a beautiful book with recycled paper,” she said. Olson acknowledged the challenges of shipping through wholesalers who do not follow sustainable guidelines; “hurt books” that might be rebranded “worn books”; and the February 2023 volume A Forest Journey, whose endnotes will be accessed by QR code rather than printed.
Zaidi informed listeners that 83% of Chronicle’s list would be “on FSC-certified paper in some way or another.” The company seeks ways to maximize sustainability and minimize waste: “We’re trying to pick trim sizes that don’t require a lot of paper being cut off” and discarded, he said, and customers may “notice a lack of shrinkwrapping” on their gift items. Rather than “plastic hourglasses” and other artificial parts in their games and toys, Chronicle is looking at dice and baby toys created from ethically sourced wood.
Chronicle is “prioritizing relationships” with printers that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, Zaidi said. Olson explained that Patagonia already “pulled all our manufacturing out of China about a year and a half ago [notably around slave labor], because the verification of what they’re promising is difficult. Now we print in Canada and the U.S.”
In a Q&A, the panelists and listeners bounced ideas around. What is to be done with “the fluff,” or industry shipping supplies like the yards of bubble wrap, the packing pillows, the peanuts? How about library books’ plastic dust jackets (and the scuff marks on hardcovers without dust jackets)? Is a paper catalog necessary? And could bookstores and publishers agree to co-discounting rather than overstock returns?
“Give feedback—about our books, about our packaging, about our shipping,” said Zaidi. “I can say I heard from you at a show, and that goes a long way.”
“IBPA last year challenged Portland State University students to brainstorm disruptive ideas for handling returns,” Olson said. “It may be controversial, but what we want is conversation. Think about it as a sustainability issue instead of just an accounting issue.”
Is a greener publishing world possible? Will independent bookstores and independent publishers collaborate in the year ahead? PNBA floated promising ideas for the season.