Poet Danez Smith may have set the tone for this year’s Heartland Fall Forum, held in Minneapolis October 3-5, when he thanked “strange capitalist librarians” in the Midwest Independent Booksellers and Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Associations for selecting him as the recipient for the 2018 Midwestern Booksellers Choice Award in poetry for Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017).
This year’s show was one of the most efficiently run and productive in recent memory. Booksellers and exhibitors alike raved about the show’s new format and the spacious feel of the exhibit area in a former train shed at the Historic Union Depot. There were 290 bookseller attendees at this year’s show, on par with attendance figures for the past three years: there were 210 booksellers from 70 MIBA bookstores and 80 booksellers from 44 GLIBA bookstores, with 22 bookstores sending representatives to the show for the first time. On the vendor side, 230 individuals staffed 67 exhibits representing 147 companies.
Several booksellers noted that this year’s demographic was noticeably younger than previous years. Sarah Krammen of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, who attended her first regional five years ago, when she was 22, noted that it’s “great not to be the youngest person in the room anymore” at Heartland. “There’s an excitement in the industry that these younger booksellers are bringing,” she said.
Confessing that she initially had been skeptical about the show’s format, with one half day devoted to education and the other half to the exhibit area on both days, Cynthia Compton, the owner of 4Kids Books & Toys in suburban Indianapolis said it worked out very well. She explained that half-day blocks of time are “about as long as a good sales rep appointment -- and one’s attention span.” She said that after walking the floor on Thursday afternoon, and then having conversations with booksellers that evening about their discoveries, she was “excited to come back in with fresh eyes on Friday morning.”
Midwest rep Lanora Haradon of University Press Sales Associates said that she and the other exhibitors appreciated that there was no competition for booksellers’ attention from educational sessions while the floor was open, and that the author lounge and coffee station in the middle of the exhibit hall added to the sense of hustle and bustle.
While the logistics of a regional show are always important, it’s the books themselves that remain uppermost in attendees’ minds. While many booksellers praised Sarah Smarsh, who spoke at Thursday evening’s authors dinner about Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (S&S, Sept.) Geoffrey Jennings of Rainy Day Books in a Kansas City suburb was the most adamant. “Heartland is the most important book coming out of this show,” he said. “She wrote a phenomenal book about the heartland that speaks to everyone at this show. This book will be as big, as important, and as talked about as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild -- which was first introduced to booksellers at this very show."
Judith Kissner of Scout & Morgan Books in Cambridge, Minn., the inaugural Midwest Bookseller of the Year, named Mary Casanova’s picture book, Hush Hush, Forest (University of Minnesota Press, Sept.), illustrated by Nick Wroblewski as the book of the show. While ostensibly a children’s book, Kissner insisted that it is the perfect gift for readers of all ages. “I’m a big fan of [Wroblewski’s] work,” she said, “We sell his cards. Hush Hush, Forest is the perfect marriage between Mary’s text and Nick’s beautiful woodcuts. Everyone of any age needs a copy for their home and also their cabin. This book is going to everyone on my Christmas list.”
Anne Trubek of Belt Publishing in Cleveland, who was exhibiting at a regional for the first time, was very satisfied with her experience at Heartland. “I was introduced to so many people, and I met so many booksellers,” she said, “It feels more serious than BookExpo; it’s also much more affordable and the connections are thicker.”
Referring to the announcement made at Thursday evening’s reception that next year’s Heartland will take place at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland, October 2-4, 2019, Trubek said, “I am so excited; we are going to throw a big party for the booksellers.”