If there’s a creative way to get editors talking with independent booksellers, Karen Torres has probably thought of it. Even for her, however, booking a private bus for a 280-mile day trip was a bit of a leap. On August 1, Torres, who is Hachette Book Group’s v-p for field sales and account marketing, did just that, leading 26 editors and publishers (plus one reporter) on a journey from the company’s New York headquarters to bookstores in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The purpose of the trip, Torres said, was to give acquiring editors “an opportunity to get a sense of the marketplace.” Attendees spent the day exploring indie bookseller Annie Philbrick’s Savoy Bookshop and Café in Westerly, R.I., and Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn. The group included senior editors and publishers from Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; Lee Boudreaux Books; Da Capo Press; Hachette; Grand Central Publishing; Little, Brown; Little, Brown Young Readers; Orbit Books; Perseus Books; and PublicAffairs.
The idea came about as the result of a 2016 conversation that Torres arranged between Tattered Cover Book Store’s Cathy Langer, Philbrick, and HBG editors. The gathering touched on ways that publishers could more effectively engage with indie booksellers. Torres said it was so informative for HBG’s editorial staff that she went home thinking, “What should I do next with Annie?”
Torres hatched the idea of the tour as a way of “bringing booksellers and editors together” in a setting outside of New York City. Philbrick leaped at the opportunity, saying that there’s a kinship between editors and independent booksellers that warrants exploration through more frequent communication between the two. “Their job is to find books that move them, and then do that for readers,” Philbrick said. “Our job is to do the same.” At both bookshops, Philbrick was an enthusiastic guide, introducing the history of each location to the editors, heading up a brief tour, and then opening up the floor for browsing and questions.
As Orbit Books editor Brit Hvide wandered the aisles, Savoy’s robust sci-fi and horror sections caught her attention. Wes Miller, senior editor at Grand Central, was drawn to the store’s mystery area, noting the size of the section and its placement in the store. “Often mystery sections are just one shelf,” he said, “and they’re not by the front window with lots of hardcovers.” Looking around, he added, “This is the kind of bookstore that makes you say, ‘Maybe I should move to this town so that this can be my bookstore.’ ”
At Bank Square, children’s buyer Kelsey April ended up giving book recommendations to Little, Brown Young Readers executive v-p and publisher Megan Tingley. As much benefit as there was to talking as professionals, she said, “it was great to talk to Megan about books as a customer,” too.
On the trip back to New York, Torres said the editors “had a great day,” noting that there was lots of excitement at the idea of HBG editorial leaders “connecting with booksellers and customers.”
For Savoy and Bank Square event coordinator Elissa Englund, that response is encouraging. Englund said more communication by New York publishers with independent booksellers outside of New York City can’t help but be a good thing. “We seem like we’re remote because we’re in Rhode Island,” she said. “I like for them to see that we have a big thriving community of people who like to read.”
Asked whether she thought the foray was a success, Torres replied emphatically: “The answer is yes.” She added that she is already penciling next year’s trip into her calendar.