The fall independent bookstore regional meetings kicked off last week with both the New England Independent Booksellers Association’s Fall Conference and New Voices, New Rooms (NVNR), an event hosted jointly by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson said 450 attendees took part in its online fair, up from 377 at the in-person event in 2019. The NVNR conference attracted a total of 856 registrants, of which 568 were booksellers; 95 exhibitors signed up for the virtual show floor, which offered previews of fall titles and discounts for orders.

“It feels like we built the field of dreams and people came to it,” said Linda-Marie Barrett, executive director of SIBA. “We are satisfied with how this turned out.” She noted that, of the total 856 registrants, 568 were booksellers, of which 290 were SIBA members, a 38% increase over 2019. The SIBA representation was bolstered by a strong influx in new members, with membership having jumped from 160 stores in 2019 to 589 stores this year, after the group waived membership dues.

Programming at both NVNR and NEIBA was entirely virtual and offered the typical fare of sessions on best practices for bookselling. Reflecting the tenor of the times, numerous presentations at both shows focused on how bookstores and readers are coping with challenges of Covid-19, and how bookstores can best highlight titles by BIPOC authors and titles on social justice issues.

The NEIBA conference opened with a conversation between Angie Thomas, author of the forthcoming YA novel Concrete Rose (a prequel to her 2017 novel The Hate U Give, about a Black teenager resisting being pulled into a life of crime), and Justin A. Reynolds, whose new YA novel, Early Departures, about time-traveling best friends, was published last week. In the hour-long Zoom session, they discussed how they seek to defy Black male stereotypes.

In an effort to promote more diverse reading habits, NEIBA announced the NEIBA Reading Challenge. The challenge uses a bingo-style sheet and asks booksellers to fill in the squares by reading works by BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ writers in several genres. Booksellers who complete the form will be entered into a drawing for a free hotel stay at next year’s regional conference.

The meetings also served to surface the many concerns booksellers are facing. Topics covered included preparing for a natural disaster and how to ask for financial assistance from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. And everyone was looking ahead to the all-important holiday sales season, which the ABA is trying to jump-start with its new marketing campaign, “October is the new December,” urging people to “buy early, buy local.”

Among the top concerns raised at both conferences were supply chain issues due to the flood of new titles and a printing capacity crunch, and possible lockdowns if Covid cases spike again.

Those issues were also the focus of the final session of Heartland Summer, the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association’s eight-week virtual event, which wrapped up last week. “This is not a typical year,” said Karen Torres, v-p of account marketing and field sales at Hachette, in a session focused on how to keep bestsellers in stock throughout the holidays. “If you get your orders in early, you are in alignment to get your books on time.”