UMBA's 'Positive' Weekend

There was a lot of finger crossing and knocking on wood as the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association kicked off its annual trade show at St. Paul's RiverCentre over the weekend of Oct. 5—7. Despite plenty of talk of uncertain times and a lagging economy, the prevailing mood was one of business—as-usual and guarded optimism, with booksellers and publishers sharing resources and ideas, and a full slate of authors singing the praises of independent bookstores.

At the Saturday morning breakfast, Minnesota author Leif Enger, whose novel Peace Like a River (Grove/Atlantic) has become a favorite among booksellers, talked about the importance of bookstores as places of congregation during tough times. "This is a great time to be in the book business," Enger told the breakfast crowd, to an initial smattering of uneasy laughter. "The book business is the business of hope, curiosity and faith that good things can still happen."

Despite cancellations by three high-profile authors (and scheduled dinner speakers)—Terry Brooks, Sue Miller and Kathleen Norris were unable to make it to St. Paul—UMBA executive director Susan Walker reported that the show's overall numbers were consistent with years past. There were more than 500 booksellers and 134 exhibitors in attendance, and floor traffic was steady for most of the weekend.

At the Sunday Children's Author breakfast, Newbery Award winner Richard Peck (Fair Weather, Dial) capped a rousing call to arms with a poem inspired by the events of September 11, drawing a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. In his speech, Peck lambasted the corrosiveness of much pop culture marketed to children, decried the prevailing climate of parental permissiveness and neglect, and labeled videogames "the pornography of the prepubescent."

Out on the show floor, booksellers were catching up with old friends and contacts and trolling for books. As always, people were looking for titles they could get excited about, and could recommend with enthusiasm to customers.

Jerry Bilek, a trade buyer for St. Olaf College Bookstore in Northfield, Minn., was excited by the Minnesota Historical Society's fall line-up. "They've got a handful of books that are going to be outstanding for us," Bilek said. "Jim Heynen's The Boys' House will probably be our biggest book of the season." Heynen is writer-in-residence at St. Olaf College.

"We had five authors at our booth on Saturday and ran out of all our free books," said Keith Morris of the Minnesota Historical Society. "Traffic was solid all day and we wrote a lot of orders. It's certainly seemed busier than last year for us."

Jean Ernst, of the Minneapolis children's bookstore Wild Rumpus, loved Lisa Bullard's Trick or Treat on Milton Street (Carolrhoda). "It's a really wonderful story about a step-family," Ernst told PW. Other booksellers were snatching up galleys of Diane Gabaldon's The Fiery Cross (Delacorte) and Stephen J. Cannell's The Viking Funeral (St. Martin's).

"The Cannell book has been going like crazy," said Holtzbrinck Publishers rep Tom Leigh. "I ran out of galleys and had to run home to replenish the supply from my personal stock. I think it's been a good show for us all around."

Smaller publishers and relative newcomers were drawing UMBA crowds as well. Don Patterson of Hindsight Limited was getting an enthusiastic response to his Tales of the RAF series, which he describes as "sort of an American Girls for boys, if that makes sense. The whole idea was to create a series of books for boys who are maybe reluctant readers." At this show Patterson was showing off RAF Adventure Sets, which feature the books in the series packaged with colorful, beautifully detailed die-cast fighter planes.

For booksellers like Greg Danz of Zandbroz bookstores in Fargo and Sioux Falls, the UMBA show is an annual opportunity to meet face-to-face with his colleagues in the business. "When you're out in the hinterlands, you don't get a lot of visits from industry people," Danz said. "The show is an opportunity to see lots of people you mostly talk to on the phone the rest of the year."

"Considering the events of the last several weeks, I'd have to say we are extremely pleased with this year's show," UMBA's Susan Walker told PW. "We only had one cancellation from a registered exhibitor, and were fortunate to find excellent replacements for the authors who had to cancel. The seminars were all well attended; we sold out our merchandising seminar; and had our biggest crowd ever at the Sunday morning Children's Author breakfast. All in all, I think it was a really positive weekend." —Brad Zellar

NCIBA Bookstores Important As 'Community Centers'

Even before the news of the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan punctuated the second day of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association's annual trade show this month, the September terrorist attacks were very much on people's minds at the convention center in Oakland, Calif. And while that did not keep too many attendees away—about 1,000 booksellers participated—business seemed a little slow and current events changed some of what normally goes on at one of the busiest regionals in the country. Now, more than ever, booksellers are stepping up to their role as community centers.

"When people do emerge, they will come to bookstores, because they need the community and they need what's in the books," said Clark Kepler, owner of Keplers Books & Magazines, in Menlo Park, Calif. In recent weeks, booksellers have been putting together recommended reading lists. "Not only are the booksellers searching," observed Paul Jaffe, owner of Copperfield's Books & Music in Sebastopol, Calif., "but our customers are searching."

Hut Landon, executive director for NCIBA, said he wanted the trade shows to "get people emotionally refreshed and mentally rejuvenated so that they are ready to go into the fall season. I've talked to booksellers, and everyone is revved up to be information centers and community centers. That's what we do."

Like so many booksellers PW spoke with at NCIBA, Dave Simpson, owner of Lafayette Books, in Lafayette, Calif., said there were two kinds of books people were interested in: informational titles to bring context to recent events, and good reads to offer an escape. In the second category, Simpson marked Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (Hyperion) as a good contender. Simpson said he didn't so much come to NCIBA to learn about new titles, but to be reinforced about some already on his radar. For example, he became even more certain of his decision to offer the first money-back guarantee on a book club book for Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner (Ballantine).

At the Harper booth, regional sales manager Kristin Bowers said that the slightly slower traffic allowed her to have "meaningful discussions with people" that really help to sell the books. She said there was great interest in Churches by Judith Dupré.

Spirituality is a big draw this season. At Readers' Books in Sonoma, Calif., events coordinator Kathleen Caldwell said she has had to cancel 14 events so far, "but they are showing up in droves for anything spiritual." Caldwell said the store has had to rethink its marketing strategy to get people into the stores. "Getting people to come out now is the challenge," she added. "It's been a rude awakening and an eye opener because it makes you focus on what really works." When Nomi Eve could not attend a reading for her The Family Orchard, Caldwell arranged a "phoner" and then enlisted the help of her staff and customers to get the word out that the event was going to take place.

Uncertainty looms ahead for the holiday season. "I have no idea what it will be like," Jaffe told PW. "It seemed like we were going to have a good holiday before September 11; now, I question how the holiday is going to turn out. I feel uncertain and our customers feel uncertain."

Despite the uncertainty, though, business was done at NCIBA and booksellers shared ideas about the business of books in the expansive educational programs. Sunday's mood was reflective and somber due to the current events. There was a much-welcomed bright spot at the Chronicle Books booth, where Addie Somekh and Charlie Eckert, authors of The Inflatable Crown Balloon Hat Kit, made balloon hats for people and shared their experiences of traveling the world looking for laughter. Their book captures their three-year journey through 35 countries, including some of the most politically sensitive places. "Everybody is born with the need to laugh and have fun," Somekh, balloon artist extraordinaire, told PW. "When you look at the pictures from all over the world of the kids laughing, they are really very similar." —Bridget Kinsella

NAIBA's 'Wonderful' Weekend

Many participants at the annual meeting and trade show of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), held October 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., had anticipated a falloff in attendance due to the recent terrorist attacks and the concurrent New England Booksellers Association show. But turnout "wasn't nearly as bad as expected," said Eileen Dengler, NAIBA's executive director. Held for the second year in a row at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, NAIBA drew around 1,000 people—half booksellers and half publishers—down slightly from last year's 1,325.

Dengler told PW she was "glad to see everyone coming together" and emphasized the importance of regionals in developing community. In particular, she was pleased with the attendance at the roundtables and workshops, which she described as "better than ever."

Among more sparsely attended events were the Adult Book Luncheon, which lost its main speaker, Naomi Wolf. Instead, it featured fill-in David Hajdu, author of Positively Fourth Street (FSG), and the inimitable Letitia Baldridge, Jackie Kennedy's social secretary and author of the recent memoir A Lady, First (Viking). Unfortunately, the NAIBA Book Awards had not been finalized and will be announced at a later date. The awards were ready for the Children's Book Luncheon, where the NAIBA Children's Award was presented to Jerry Spinelli for his YA novel Stargirl (Knopf) and the Children's Picture Book Award went to Jacqueline Woodson for The Other Side (Putnam).

At Saturday night's opening reception, just prior to the Moveable Feast author dinner, Charlie Young of Simon & Schuster was presented with the NAIBA Helmuth Sales Person of the Year Award. At the dinner, NAIBA president Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., read regrets from Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America (HarperCollins), who passed in order to accept an invitation to dinner with vice president Dick Cheney.

The remaining authors played a game of oneupsmanship by boasting of having turned down progressively more prestigious dinner invitations—the ultimate coming from Maxine Clair, author of October Suite (Random), who joked about declining an invitation from Oprah for that very evening. Nevertheless, it was Malachy McCourt who stole the show by delivering a rather fortissimo rendition of the traditional Irish ballad "Danny Boy."

Sunday's trade floor saw heavy traffic throughout the morning. Jay Bruff, a Norton sales rep, said he felt that despite the slightly lower numbers, "traffic at the booth was still good" and booksellers were "getting excited about the holiday season." Unfortunately, the upbeat mood waned as news of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan reached the conference delegates.

The September 11 attacks were on the minds of booksellers, many of whom expressed resistance to buying some of the instant book products that have come out in the last few weeks—even from those promising to donate proceeds to charity. One New York bookseller commented that he "didn't think the time was right" to sell certain items, citing Workman's calendar Glory, a rushed-to-print calendar featuring photographs of the American flag, as one example. The same bookseller said that he preferred items such as Workman's 1000 Play Thinks: Games of Science, Art & Mathematics, adding, "They're just the thing to handsell to a customer who wants some distraction but can't get into a novel right now."

Nevertheless, others were less reticent, and interest in patriotic titles such as Ten Speed's homage to the American Flag, Long May She Wave, was strong. Laura Burrone of Yale University Press admitted that the recent events had given a huge boost to the press, particularly its Nota Bene imprint, which features Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid and Five Days in London by John Lukacs. Also, Paul Nuhn of Daedalus Books noted booksellers' continued strong interest in remainders because of the slowing economy.

During the annual meeting, new board members were announced: Jack Buckley, 9th Street Books, Wilmington, Del.; Tom Williams, Mendham Bookshop, Mendham, N.J.; Dean Avery, Ariel Booksellers, New Paltz, N.Y.; and Susan Stemberg, Alphabet Soup, Lawrenceville, N.J. —Edward Nawotka