Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association have for the second year in a row passed on holding a traditional three or four day joint trade show in favor of scheduling an extended program of virtual events. The format, which MIBA executive director Carrie Obry describes as “a thematic, cross-publisher experience” is designed to better accommodate booksellers’ busy schedules.

“It’s easy to forget how many demands are on booksellers,” Obry said, “They’re so busy right now that they’re not allowed the time off to sit through virtual events. And they’re already online a lot, because of sales reps setting up Zoom meetings.”

This year’s Heartland Fall Forum includes live author events and educational sessions that began in August and October along with recorded rep pick segments accessed on a rolling basis through the Heartland website; each rep pitches for 10 minutes. The segments are sorted by publisher and each title presented is time stamped so that booksellers can zoom in on individual reps and titles.

“We heard from so many people that there’s virtual fatigue,” Obry explained, “If you stack three days of events all together it quickly becomes way too much for people.”

Also, she noted, PW’s spring virtual conference and the Edelweiss show the following week were both “really strong and robust” gatherings that provided extensive networking opportunities. “All that virtual activity you get from that kind of a show has been done twice in a short amount of time,” she said, noting that they are attempting to bring content in a new and intriguing way. "We thought that it would only benefit booksellers to break it down and to host it on a rolling basis rather than in a two-day span.”

Larry Law, GLIBA’s executive director and a former bookseller himself concurred, adding, “We learned so much last year that we thought we could make this show even better. The most important takeaway is bookseller bandwidth: for many bookstores right now, they’re at an almost worse spot than they were last year. One foot in the pandemic and for many booksellers, one foot out of the pandemic; they’re maintaining a flood of online orders and curbside pick-ups, and also have to maintain a full-time staff working the floor, and keep both them and customers safe. So, asking our booksellers to block out a week of time did not seem appropriate or necessary.”

Last year’s virtual Heartland trade show was renamed “Heartland Summer." This year’s virtual gathering of booksellers is more compressed: it kicked off on August 14 with a conversation between stand-up comedian Charlie Berens (The Midwest Survival Guide: How We Talk, Love, Work, Drink, and Eat... Everything with Ranch) and Jeff Kamin, the producer of the Books and Bars book club in the Twin Cities.

Heartland Authors

Although Heartland 2021 will officially conclude during the week of October 18, with a session featuring a group of writers of speculative and science fiction, the highlight will be an October 14 awards ceremony showcasing the authors of the books that have most resonated this past year among MIBA and GLIBA booksellers. The two organizations also will bestow the annual Voice of the Heartland Award on an individual or organization exemplifying the values of independent bookselling that has made a significant contribution to bookselling in the Midwest this past year.

Heartland’s author presentations will feature fewer authors than last year but more interactive content, with groupings of authors of books containing similar themes in conversation.

Six regional authors will discuss “spinning a Midwest yarn” on September 15 followed in mid-October by Jacquelyn Mitchard (The Good Son), Adriana Trigiani (The Good Left Undone), Sharon Cameron (Bluebird), and other authors discussing "the elements of excellent book clubs.” The week of Oct. 18, Rebecca Scherm (A House Between Earth and the Moon); Sequoia Nagamatsu (How High We Go in the Dark); Maurice Broadus (Sweep of Stars); John Scalzi (The Kaiju Preservation Society); Dan Chaon (Sleepwalk: A Novel); and Adrienne Maree Brown (Grievers) will discuss the Midwest as portrayed in science fiction and speculative fiction.

MIBA and GLIBA are still putting together another session, middle grade and YA authors who will speak on the theme of representation.

Educational sessions kicked off on September 7 with an iPage master class, followed by sessions on the future of sectioning; social media; marketing during a pandemic; working with reps in the digital age; and shelf talkers. A special educational session will feature a group of trans booksellers discussing their experiences in the industry and providing tips on how booksellers can be more inclusive when dealing with trans authors, colleagues and customers.

Last, but not least, Heartland’s virtual book room highlights, when applicable, each author and title’s connections to the region. “Authors from all states and books set all over the world are included in the book room,” Obry explained, “They just don’t have a cute state icon if there’s not a Midwestern connection.”

Heartland Fall Forum next year is scheduled to take place in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 12-14, 2022. The two organizations not only plan to celebrate their first in-person show since October 2019, but also will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their first joint show in 2012.