We’re clearly not out of the pandemic forest yet, but for the regional bookseller associations, there is enough distance from the storm to see clear skies, learn from last year, and forge ahead with dynamic programming, both in person and streamed. Shows presented by the New England Independent Booksellers Association and the combined New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association/Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (who have teamed up again this year) are all virtual, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association and Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association are conducting in-person shows to be followed by a collaborative virtual annex of additional programming, and the California Independent Booksellers Alliance meeting is a mostly virtual conference augmented by two in-person author events.

Last year saw collaborations between organizations that were born out of necessity; this year, many of those efforts resulted in joint programs that will continue for the foreseeable future. And virtual programming in general has proved to be a boon. “One of the things that came out of Covid is that there are so many times when we just want to talk to each other in small groups about best practices and more,” says Ann Seaton, co-executive director of CALIBA, “so I see virtual education going on indefinitely.”

Tweaked and fine-tuned from last year, this fall’s conferences offer a bounty of opportunities for booksellers to connect with authors and publishers, and, for some, to clink glasses, hug, and shake hands. PW spoke with the associations’ heads to get the lowdown on all the happenings and offer an overview, but at press time, some details are still in flux. Up-to-the-minute and detailed information about schedules and author appearances is available on each association’s website.

New England Independent Booksellers Association

The fall conference season kicks off with the nearly all-virtual NEIBA show, September 21–23. Hopeful but trepidatious, Beth Ineson, executive director of NEIBA, has decided to close out the show with a bang: an in-person Masked Ball to be held in Providence, R.I., where the New England Book Awards will be announced. The traditional banquet is a favorite for booksellers, so, Ineson says, “with the earlier promise of doing something in person, we did think that we could take our chances with a one-night event. Whether this event is still going to happen or not is still very fluid.” The final decision will be based on Covid positivity rates in the region. “Our fingers are crossed. We definitely want it to happen, but we are more interested in being as safe as we can be.”

With the exception of the closing ball, all events and programming are virtual. Ineson says that while everyone is eager to go back to being in person, last year “we learned that whenever NEIBA booksellers gather, in whatever format, there’s magic. We were delighted that so much of the community building, learning, and author discovery that is part and parcel of our in-person events continued in the online format.”

Not only did the conference continue, but one of the silver linings of virtual programming is that it is far more accessible to frontline booksellers. Only a select group of bookstore personnel can attend in-person shows, Ineson points out, but cyberspace changes that. While NEIBA’s relatively small geographical region means the fall show is usually only a car ride (not a plane trip) away for most members, Ineson says previous events hadn’t gotten the frontline bookseller involvement she hoped for. “Our online events have afforded us the chance to really engage,” she says. “That has been really satisfying to me.”

Another lesson learned from 2020 is that five days is too long. Last year, “We took a big swing at five days, from dawn to dusk,” Ineson says. This year, responding to member feedback, NEIBA will return to the format of the traditional event—“three great days,” Ineson says. “It will closely follow the schedule and rhythm of what we used to do when we were in person.”

Another change is how the publishers’ booths are being handled. “Last year we had pretty static booths,” Ineson admits. This September the booth format will be Zoom rooms, which will allow more dynamic interaction. As was the case with in-person shows, there will be no counter programming while the booths are open. “The publishers are coming forward with really innovative programming for the booths,” Ineson says. Some of it is focused on authors, while some is book specific, bringing booksellers together for crafts, cooking, and other activities. Ineson also intends to incentivize booksellers to attend these events, as they have in the past, with raffle tickets and drawings for various prizes, from gift cards to comped hotel rooms. “We’re excited about this change over last year,” she says.

The opening keynote speaker will be Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and named one of the world’s top 10 influencers by LinkedIn. Other author events include an adult author breakfast featuring Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordel and Lily King. Cordel is a legal commentator on many media outlets, including, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR, whose book Her Honor comes out this October from Celadon. The author of five novels, King is best known for Euphoria and, more recently, Writers and Lovers. Her latest is Five Tuesdays in Winter, out in November from Grove. The closing keynote author is W. Kamau Bell, who will discuss his upcoming book from Workman, Do the Work! An Antiracist Activity Book for All.

New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association/Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

Next up on the regionals hit parade is the joint NAIBA and SIBA show, “New Voices, New Rooms: Opening Doors,” being held virtually September 27–October 1. Last year, the pandemic threw the two groups into a joint affair, but it looks like the romance will continue for the foreseeable future. “We loved last year,” says Eileen Dengler, NAIBA’s executive director. “We offered so much, far more than we’re able to when we’re in person, and we reached far more booksellers. It was so exciting, and it brought together booksellers from two regions in a very intimate way. The success of that propelled us to spend this year doing projects together.”

In reviewing last year, “so much” turned out to be a bit too much for publishers who were involved in the show for a full five days. “Publishers were overwhelmed,” Dengler says, “so we fine-tuned the weekly schedule.” This year, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be publisher booths and author events, while Monday and Friday are reserved exclusively for education sessions.

As with last year, there will be a hospitality welcome center via Zoom. Booksellers can chat with anyone in the room. Publishers, whose presence will be announced in advance, will also be a part of the chat. Breakout rooms are available, so that if a bookseller wants to speak with, say, HarperCollins, they can go to a breakout room and do so. A new feature is that Dengler and Linda-Marie Barrett, SIBA’s executive director, are encouraging meetups via the welcome center. “Booksellers can leave a session and say, ‘Oh, I really want to continue this conversation,’ and use the breakout space to do so,” Dengler says.

Based on feedback from last year, Office Hours (meetings between booksellers and publisher representatives) programming has been streamlined. “Last year we had huge blocks of time; this year we’ve consolidated them to manageable one-hour chunks that are themed: new accounts, sales reps meetings, and publicity,” Dengler says.

The evidence shows that publishers, too, loved last year; this year, they submitted more than 300 authors for the roughly 100 slots available. “It’s a wealth of incredible opportunity,” Barrett says. To corral this bounty, Barrett has put together themed author panels that will include “Rewritten Classics,” which she notes are very popular with booksellers right now; “Horror at the Lunch Table,” which is a luncheon event; and a romance panel, “That’s Amore.” Regarding keynotes, Barrett says, “We want to begin and end really powerfully.” The opening keynote is “Being Black in America: Past, Present, and Future,” with speaker Sesali Bowen, a writer and events organizer who was an editor at Nylon and a writer for Refinery29, where she helped launch the Unbothered subgroup for Black women. The closing keynote features A-list children’s authors speaking about “Tales of Hope & Alliances.” Participating are graphic novelist Ben Hatke, author and illustrator Yuyi Morales, and Peter Reynolds, also a children’s author and illustrator, as well as the founder of the educational media company FableVision.

Other new additions that Dengler and Barrett are particularly excited about are Interludes and the Vindie Awards. Interludes are recorded videos, no more than 10 minutes long, that will follow events. One such interlude is from Brian Slocum, debut author of The Violin Conspiracy, a novel about the Black experience in classical music. Slocum will play violin and discuss the inspiration for his book.

The Vindies celebrate the best videos produced by booksellers. A panel of judges reviewed over 100 videos from the past year and declared winners in several categories. A celebration, hosted by Michael Triebwasser at Politics & Prose, will be held via Zoom on September 30, 6–6:30 p.m.

Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association

Those intrepid adventurers in the Pacific Northwest are the first group of booksellers to wade into the waters of an in-person conference. PNBA’s fall show, “Back in the Flow,” will take place October 3–5 at the Red Lion on the River in Portland, Ore. Following both its own show and MPIBA’s live show in Denver, both groups will team up for what they call a “virtual annex,” which runs October 11–22 and will feature additional author events, a PNBA general membership meeting, awards preview, and more.

“We are ready,” PNBA executive director Brian Juenemann says emphatically. “We” refers not only to his immediate team but to the volunteers who eagerly agreed to help as soon as the call went out, as well as to authors. “We received so many author proposals it was crazy,” he says. “That was the point when we realized that people really wanted this to happen.” Covid protocols are clearly stated on the PNBA website, and barring a mandated lockdown, the in-person show will go on. “We’ll no doubt be masked up and, of course, on extra thoughtful and careful best behavior, but the show is bursting with offerings.”

The return to the real world is the kickoff to an overhauled event. “We completely flipped the schedule,” Juenemann says. “It was a good time to blow things up.” In general, he explains, they opened up the schedule to avoid inundating booksellers with too much in what could potentially be a disorienting first-time-back-in-a-crowd experience. This meant eliminating a few popular events like the “Sweet and Eat” desserts that had been held at the end of each day. “We want booksellers to reserve their energy, so we thinned out the offerings,” he says. The abbreviated show runs from Sunday morning to 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Also thinned out is the capacity. Attendance at all author events, except keynotes, has been cut down by 25%. “Right off the bat, we are putting fewer people in the room and opening up the space—a physical and psychological bonus for people,” Juenemann says, adding that the reduced capacity has worked so well that PNBA has not had to turn away anyone who really wants to be there.

In the past, education sessions were scheduled first, while exhibitors were setting up, but this year the Sunday Brunch will be the initial event, giving booksellers the chance to mix and mingle with authors. The rest of the afternoon will be devoted to the Big Pitch, which Juenemann describes as “a parade of reps who will be in front of booksellers, some of them for the first time in a long, long time.” There will be no competing events while the reps are on parade. Following this is Explore the Floor, a soft opening of exhibits that will allow booksellers to get reacquainted.

Sunday evening begins with Dinner at the Kid’s Table, 7:30–9 p.m., with five children’s and YA authors. It is capped off with a nightcap (or two) at the bar and the Must Love Books Member Mixer, with three featured authors. Breakfasts on Monday (7:45–9 a.m.) and Tuesday (8–9:30 a.m.) will also provide opportunities to hear from and meet authors.

The full day for exhibitors is Monday, which will see a return of some fun events sponsored by publishers. From 5 to 6 p.m., Blackstone sponsors Riverside Refreshment Hour, giving attendees a chance to refuel in all ways. The Signature Dish, a dinner at 6–8 p.m. sponsored by HarperCollins, will have a baker’s dozen authors feasting with attendees. Then Blackstone is back with its Nightcapper Autographing Party, 8:30–10 p.m., where another dozen authors will be signing and chatting.

The seven education sessions to be held on Tuesday are one of the “foundational things we’re built on that work,” Juenemann says, and range from mastering Edelweiss to managing manga or acing author events. Another PNBA must-do event is a strong closing keynote, which will be a luncheon, “De-escalate Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Unplug the Power Struggle with Principle-Based De-escalation,” presented by Steven Seiller, who provides consultation, training, and risk management to organizations.

To wrap things up, Juenemann is pleased to report a “cool twist” on the PNBA’s Rural Library Project, which puts books into small, rural libraries that have very limited funds for acquisitions. Recipient libraries are recommended and chosen each year by member bookstores. Traditionally, books were collected annually during the closing of the show fair, but PNBA has opened it up to publishers to donate books. The recipient this year is the Blue River Library, close to where National Book Award winner Barry Lopez (Arctic Dreams) lived (and died in 2020). “It’s going to be really gratifying to deliver these books after the show.”

Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association

MPIBA is the other regional association to forge ahead with a live show, to be held at the Renaissance Denver Central Park Hotel, October 7–9. The decision to do an in-person show came after careful consideration and polling of potential attendees. “We did two surveys in late April and May, one for our bookseller members and one for industry participants,” says MPIBA executive director Heather Duncan. The overall response—particularly from booksellers—was very positive for in-person attendance. “Booksellers have been extremely excited” about going to Denver, with most saying they would attend no matter what the Covid precautions might be. Publishers were less enthusiastic at first, and Duncan expected to use only half of the reserved ballroom. But later they reassessed, “so we will definitely need to use the full space,” Duncan happily reports. “I think people are ready to gather,” she says. “I know I am. We just feel like it’s time to see everybody.”

The show’s Covid protocols will be implemented according to the mandates of Colorado’s health department. But to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and to avoid the awkward “are we hugging or not hugging?” quandary, MPIBA has devised a clever sticker system, thanks to Nancy Daniels, who helps with booking logistics. A green sticker indicates that “you’re all in for hugs or handshakes,” Duncan explains, while red indicates “give me space” and yellow signals something in between the two. Sticker information will be posted on the website and at the show.

Duncan and her team have also devised cost-cutting and other measures to make it as easy as possible for booksellers to attend. “Always one of the major impediments to attending the show is cost of travel, hotel, and meal events,” Duncan says. MPIBA is underwriting hotel rates for booksellers, reducing the normal $147 rate to $85, and is making the dining events more affordable. The shows ends at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, eliminating the need for another hotel night. MPIBA is also opening the show to anyone in the book industry. Any bookseller who is a member of their regional association can get a free badge; nonexhibiting industry persons can buy a badge.

Like its counterparts, MPIBA had enough author submissions for live attendance that the initial thought to do some hybrid author events was jettisoned. Most of the 77 allotted authors slots have been taken, which is not a dramatic reduction from 2019’s tally of 89, Duncan says.

The show kicks off with a reception at the newly opened Tattered Cover Stanley Marketplace on Wednesday, 6–8 p.m.; the new store is close to the hotel. Though the opening reception is normally held at the hotel bar, Duncan says, “I know that a lot of folks coming into town are anxious to see that space, and we thought it would be fun to take it off-site.” Stanley Marketplace is a former airplane factory with an indoor renovated airport hangar containing shops and restaurants.

Thursday is chock-full of author and meal events, some education sessions, and reps’ picks, which will happen throughout the day. The day begins with a children’s author and keynote breakfast featuring Megan Bomaars, Yuyi Morales, Frank Morrison, Lilliam Rivera, and, hopefully, Peter Reynolds, whose confirmation was pending at press time. Midday is a “Feast of Fiction” lunch, noon–1:15 p.m., with a dozen authors, and later “Books and Brew Author Speed Dating,” where 14 more authors will be participating. Closing the first day is a member meet and greet at the Station 26 brewery across the street, the annual go-to meetup.

Before the exhibit floor opens on Friday, the day starts with four “Coffee Talks” for bookstore buyers, owners, and managers, frontline booksellers, and marketing and event staff. “We always hear that connecting with colleagues is the thing that booksellers love, this year more than ever. I think they want to see how everyone made it through, how they are all doing, what they’ve learned,” says Duncan, who adds that these sessions will be particularly helpful for the 45 new members that MPIBA has added since 2019.

To close the day, “Friday Night Feature” is an author dinner featuring Adiba Nelson, Lorena Hughes, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Megan Kate Nelson, and James Rollins. Closing day begins with a final author event, “Books for Breakfast, Nonfiction Edition,” followed by education sessions.

California Independent Booksellers Alliance

Against a backdrop of so much uncertainty, CALIBA, according to Ann Seaton, is taking a hybrid approach, with two live gatherings where authors and booksellers can mingle, plus virtual education programming October 25–27. “We didn’t want to plan huge things when we didn’t know which way the wind was blowing,” she says. Seaton is optimistic that there won’t be another complete shutdown, but says caution seemed prudent.

With their show still two months out, and with codirector Kristin Rasmussen just on board since August 23, there is much to be confirmed, but the outline of the in-person events is in place. Echoing MPIBA’s Duncan, Seaton says, “Booksellers have been telling us over and over again that they want time to catch up with each other and the greater publishing community.” To that end, CALIBA has planned a “relaxed easy platform.”

The first of the live events takes place on October 24 at Books Inc. in San Francisco; the next is Thursday, October 28, at Vroman’s in Pasadena. Six authors (to be announced) at each event will give brief presentations about their books, with the rest of the three to four–hour-long events for casual mixing and mingling. On October 29, CALIBA will host its annual Town Hall, and much else is in the works and yet to be announced.

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