With three regional booksellers association meeting taking place over the weekend of September 19—22, the fall trade shows were in full swing. Although sales have been down or flat, booksellers from all three associations voiced optimism about quality fall titles and hope for a busy holiday season.
NAIBA Indie Bookies Deal in Atlantic City
After six years in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association gambled on a return to Atlantic City, N.J., its show site for nearly 20 years, on Sunday and Monday, September 21—22. The association, formed by the 1996 merger of the Mid-Atlantic Booksellers Association and the New York/New Jersey Booksellers Association, marked its return with style, staying at what is arguably the only first-class hotel in the gambling center: the month-old Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. (AC fans reverently call it "the first Vegas-style casino.")
Although some member stores had suffered damage from Hurricane Isabel and a few attendees reported having no power at home, the event drew well. More than 1,000 people were on hand, including 568 booksellers from 212 stores, according to executive director Eileen Dengler. In addition, 342 publishers and 135 authors came to the show. The food and facilities were excellent, although no one could go anywhere without passing the casino floor. (One wag thought the site ideal for a Bill Bennett appearance.)
NAIBA president Sheilah Egan of A Likely Story Children's Bookstore in Alexandria, Va., praised what she called "the energy of the show. We've been on a high from the beginning." She added that the Borgata, a "luxury resort," was a "financially terrific place to be."
Exhibitors seemed satisfied. Gary Gagliardi of Clearbridge Publishing, publisher (and translator) of Sun Tzu's The Art of War: Plus the Ancient Chinese Revealed, said he wrote more than three times the number of orders as at other regionals and lauded NAIBA for having the trade show floor open only one day and for having all the author signings in the same room.
Besides some nuts-and-bolts workshops, many events focused on authors and titles. The two-hour Pick of the Lists rep presentation was full, and segued nicely into an informal exchange among booksellers about new and forthcoming hot titles. Among them: Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Harry Bliss (HarperCollins) and How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long, illus. by David Shannon (Harcourt). The grand opening reception, held on the trade show floor, allowed for a casual preview of the exhibitors' offerings. The Movable Dinner Feast introduced booksellers to 18 authors, including Bradley Trevor Greive, author of Tomorrow (Andrews McMeel); Lisa Tucker, author of The Song Reader (S&S); Lisa Scottoline, author of Dead Ringer (HarperCollins); and Steve Berry, author of Amber Room (Ballantine).
The annual meeting was full of good news for the association. Treasurer Tom Williams of Mendham Books, Mendham, N.J., reported that NAIBA's coffers continue to grow: its account climbed 36.2%, to more than $181,000, this year, up from $133,000 a year ago. Ad space in the association's holiday catalogue is sold out, and some 450,000 copies will be distributed. In addition, the association is instituting an author tour program. Among elements designed to make it easier and more attractive for publishers and authors to send authors to the region: a list of NAIBA stores with specialties; an author database; and tour and promotional ideas for stores. A NAIBA membership directory will be online in the near future.
At the annual meeting, ABA CEO Avin Domnitz, who earlier led one of his near-patented financial workshops, made the case for Book Sense, calling it "the single-most powerful marketing tool in independent bookselling." Noting that independent market share had held steady for four years, he proudly said that this year indies gained a half a point, the only segment other than online bookselling to grow.
The NAIBA Book Awards were presented at the Breakfast of Champions. A sleepy-looking Richard Price, author of the adult fiction winner, Samaritan (Random), paraphrased a jazz singer who once said he didn't realize there were two 8 o'clocks in the day. He added that while touring, he likes to go to "mom and pop" bookstores because they "help me save my sanity. Thank you for having your stores."
Thomas F. Yezerski, author the A Full Hand (FSG), which won for children's picture book, said he was delighted that his book, "about hardworking, independent New Jerseyans," had been honored by "hardworking independent booksellers, many of whom are New Jerseyans."
Babysitters Club creator Ann Martin sent a gracious acceptance note, which was read aloud after her A Corner of the Universe (Scholastic) won for children's novel.
Finally, Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Little, Brown) won for adult nonfiction. Oddly, no one from his publisher was present to accept—and the author was presumably busy watching the seasons change on his farm. Jerry Goodman of St. Martin's/Holtzbrinck won the annual William Helmuth Award for exceptional sales rep.
Next year's show will be back at the Borgata on October 16—17. —John Mutter
Not Wet, but Wild: SEBA on Jekyll Island
If Wanda Jewell, the Southeast Booksellers Association's executive director, hoped that the reinvigorating spirit of this spring's "bookseller revivals" would carry through to the fall trade show on Georgia's Jekyll Island, she got her wish. So much so that even before the weekend was over, attending booksellers, exhibitors and authors alike were celebrating this year's SEBA as the best yet. Fortunately, Hurricane Isabel passed by to the north. SEBA president Jerry Eidenier of Duke University's Gothic Bookshop called the 27th annual show "an unusually upbeat gathering" of 1,034 booksellers, exhibitors, and authors. There was a surprising number of booksellers who were first-time attendees (85 in all); many were from new stores or had recently purchased older ones.
"I wish every show was this good," said Leila Salisbury, marketing manager at the University Press of Kentucky. "It makes me believe things are looking up for publishing and bookselling."
John F. Blair president Carolyn Sakowski added that she and her staff took twice as many orders Saturday morning after the exhibits opened than they did during all of last year's SEBA in Ft. Lauderdale.
The exhibit hall's unusual liveliness carried over into sold-out meals, late-night author readings, long autographing lines and Friday's hands-on bookselling sessions.
SEBA favorite Clyde Edgerton, whose latest book is Lunch at the Piccadilly (Algonquin), was a smash, playing his guitar and singing zany country songs at Friday's SEBA Supper and at Algonquin's 20th anniversary party Saturday evening; Nashville songwriter and country rock diva Marshall Chapman, author of Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller (St. Martin's), scored a get-down hit of her own at Friday's Free Press Pool Party.
The most exciting announcement of the show was SEBA's sponsorship of a spoken-word series that will air on public radio stations throughout the Southeast beginning in October. "It is our goal to bring the importance of local independent bookstores to the attention of the public," Jewell said.
The first show in the series, "What Reading Means to Me," was taped on Friday with panelists Phyllis Tickle, author of A Stitch and a Prayer (Paraclete); Terry Kay, author of Valley of Light (Washington Square); Robert Morgan, author of Brave Enemies (Algonquin); and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of After (Soho).
One bit of sad news came out of the show: John Luckett, Norton's longtime southern rep and the affectionately regarded "Voice of SEBA," is retiring this month. At the show's end, he announced over the exhibit hall's P.A.: "The fat lady has sung."—Bob Summer
PNBA Prepares for a Hopeful Fall
Attendance dropped slightly at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show in Portland, Ore., September 18—20, but sales reps seemed pleased with the number of orders they wrote, and most attendees approved the show's new Thursday—Saturday afternoon format. There was buzz about the new Book Sense gift cards and the Thursday evening Celebration of Authors, which introduced new voices to the booksellers.
The author events were varied and well attended, but two books written by two diminutive women (in physical stature only) stole the show: How to Get Your Children to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell (Algonquin's follow-up to her Educating Esme) and, from Sasquatch, Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason by Nancy Pearl.
This year's PNBA attracted 467 booksellers from 164 stores and 425 publisher employees from 123 companies, representing a 14% decline in both categories, according to executive director Thom Chambliss. Explaining that the association tries to find the right mix of regional and national authors for its show, he told PW, "It's always a balancing act." This year's educational seminars were particularly well attended, he pointed out, as booksellers packed the rooms for sessions on sidelines and how to work more closely with libraries and schools in their communities.
"Considering that business has been pretty bad since spring, my sense is that booksellers are gearing up for a busy fall," Chambliss observed. Others agreed, and as Publishers Group West's Harry Kirchner told PW, there was plenty of "guarded optimism" on the part of booksellers about fall and holiday sales. Overall, booksellers said that the marketplace had picked up during the last couple of months.
"Just two months ago people were stating that down 2% was the new up, and down 10% was the new flat," observed George Carroll, president of Redsides Publishing Services. "Everybody's a little happier now. And I think it's going to be a good year here, because there are a lot of good local authors who have good books coming out."
"It's just a real solid base of books, so it's kind of hard to pick out the stars," said Russ Lawrence of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Mont. "I just feel that we are going to have a book for everyone who comes into the store this holiday season. We might even have two or three."
Bookstore managers and friendly competitors Patti Siberz from Bob's Beach Books and Stina Seeger-Gibson from the Book End, both in Lincoln City, Ore., said they were still looking for a breakout children's book and had high hopes that Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Doug Wood (Scholastic) would meet the mark. Located in a shore town, both booksellers noted that the slow economy has hurt the tourist trade, but said the trade show bolstered their spirits. "Being from a small town, we never get to see these people," explained Siberz. "Book reps don't see us. So this is our life's blood." She observed, too, that the author speakers and the booksellers evoked more "passion. That's when we remember why we do this."
Booksellers particularly enjoyed the Celebration of Authors event introducing them to totally or relatively new voices. "The organization is serving a higher purpose [with this event]," said Scott Fowley, PNBA's vice-president. "We're not just promoting what is already selling." Hoping that some of these books may become hand-sells, the authors go all out to connect with the booksellers in attendance. For example, for his debut YA novel, Inside Out (HarperCollins), Terry Trueman brought the opening scene vividly to life in his reading. It was so effective that the emcee commented, "That's one hell of a writer that can make you think you are hearing voices." —Bridget Kinsella