The final two of the 10 fall regional booksellers association meetings concluded over the weekend of October 24—25 with lively gatherings of New England Booksellers Association (NEBA) and Southern California Booksellers Association (SCBA) members.
NEBA: Color Me Upbeat
Nearly 1,340 booksellers attended the NEBA trade show held October 24—25 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, down 13% from 2001, a record-breaking year. Total attendance was 2,292, off slightly from last year.
"It's obvious that CIROBE was a factor," said NEBA executive director Rusty Drugan, referring to the overlap between NEBA and the big Chicago remainder and overstock show. "The stores were at NEBA, but some of the principals weren't." Some remainder houses were also absent this year, although the addition of 30 first-time exhibitors more than made up the difference. The Red Sox's loss was clearly NEBA's gain as the World Series played out over the weekend. Many booksellers and exhibitors said that they would not have come if Boston had beaten the Yankees.
Like the other regionals, this year's 30th anniversary show was decidedly upbeat. Although some booksellers used the new math—where, for example, 5% down is flat—to put a good face on business, others said sales were up, way up, by any standard. Good summers at bookstores on Cape Cod and the islands and along the Maine coast contributed to the positive mood. Several suburban stores also reported an upswing in sales this summer and into the fall.
Authors were highly visible at the show, including Friday's industry luncheon at which Doris Kearns Goodwin received the President's Award, the Friday children's dinner, Saturday night's Moveable Feast with 15 authors, and the Saturday and Sunday breakfasts. Author autographings were also big draws.
Pointing to the empty space on the display table where copies of The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook had lain, Countryman Press marketing and publicity manager David Corey told PW, "This has been a fantastic show. We expected a lot of interest in the King Arthur book. The line got longer as the signing went on."
Tordis Ilg Isselhardt, publisher of Images of the Past, Hinesburg, Vt., was similarly pleased with the response to James Robert Carroll, author of her company's lead fall title, One of Ourselves: John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Ireland. "His autographing was a big success and the author was thrilled. He signed 75 books in 30 minutes," she said. At the signings, through bookseller donations of $1 a book, NEBA raised significantly more money than in the past, close to $6,800, for the Rhode Island chapter of Reach Out and Read.
The unusually late date for NEBA—last year it was held a month earlier—gave publishers a chance to showcase finished fall books. "We're done with our selling for Christmas books," said Random House sales representative Ron Koltnow. "We can concentrate on marketing. This is our big opportunity." While some recently published books were on display at the Random House booth, galleys for winter and spring were well represented on the floor, including Anne Tyler's January release, The Amateur Marriage (Knopf). Random House children's division used the show to announce the changed pub date, and to give out galleys, for one of its big titles, now pushed up from February to December, Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty (Delacorte).
"I like this time of year," said Dale Szczeblowski, general manager of the Concord Bookshop in Concord, Mass., and newly elected v-p of NEBA. "It's easier for us to place backlist orders."
One of several SRO events was the Saturday panel on the U.S.A. Patriot Act with Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression president Chris Finan. Sanders was given a standing ovation for his work on behalf of repealing section 215 of the act. "John Ashcroft made me so mad when he denounced librarians," the congressman said. "What's wrong with booksellers?" On a more serious note, he stressed, "The legislators who have come forward in opposition of the U.S.A. Patriot Act need to know that you support them."
In two Friday sessions, Doug Hall, co-author with Jeffrey Stamp of Meaningful Marketing (F&W/Brain Brew Books), turned much traditional book wisdom on its head by encouraging booksellers to cut the number of titles they carry and to spend more time getting new customers. "No more crappy books," Hall told a packed audience.
The children's panel on "Connecting with Teachers and Librarians" was moderated by Frank Hodge, owner of 240-sq.-ft. Hodge Podge Books in Albany, N.Y., which does 95% of its business with schools. The panel drew more than 70 booksellers. Panelists Andrea Cruise, educational marketing manager at Penguin Young Readers Group; Scott Meyer, owner of Merritt Bookstores in Millbrook and Red Hook, N.Y.; and Connecticut school librarian Linda Robinson urged booksellers and librarians to use each other as resources. After all, said Meyer, "we both have books." Panelists and attendees shared tips on related topics ranging from using ARCs after finished books are available (for children's reviewing programs and as prizes for summer reading contests) to creating less stressful book fairs (perhaps holding them in-store).
Other programming included panels on succession planning, ABACUS and BookScan, as well as the ABA Forum, which gave ABA CEO Avin Domnitz a chance to update booksellers on the electronic gift card and other Book Sense programs.
At the show, the entire Random House sales force received the Saul Gilman Award for excellence; they donated their $1,000 award to the New England Literacy Resource Center. In accepting the award on behalf of all 13 sales reps, Don Brock paid tribute to retired sales representative Bud Fairbanks. "He has probably done more than anyone to foster the relationship between Random House and booksellers," said Brock.
Employee-owned Candlewick won the Publishing Award at the Sunday morning New England Book Award breakfast. The other New England Book Award winners received cash prizes, which they donated to literacy and children's organizations. Lois Lowry (children's) chose Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine; Jodi Picoult (fiction), Children's Literacy Foundation in New Hampshire; and Simon Winchester (nonfiction), Berkshire Literacy Network.
Picoult used the breakfast to deliver an impassioned speech against the rise of online bookstores and chain bookstores and the use of co-op for bookstore placement. "We don't need the government telling us what we can read and not read," she said, "because publishers are doing that themselves."
Even before NEBA deposited all the checks the show generated, it was clear that the association remains in good health. At the annual meeting, outgoing NEBA treasurer Peter Sevenair, senior buyer for trade books at Brown University Bookstore in Providence, reported that net assets were $52,429. "It's a good position to be in. We don't have a Harvard-size endowment, but we want a comfortable cushion." One of the contributing factors was the success of this year's redesigned holiday catalogue, which will be inserted in one million newspapers.
The newly elected board consists of president Eric Wilska, owner of Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass.; v-p Szczeblowski; treasurer Allan Schmid, owner of Books Etc. in Portland and Falmouth, Maine; and clerk Debra Woodward, a sales representative for Consolino & Watson. Speaking on behalf of the board, Wilska said, "We look forward to serving you well and honorably and honestly."
SCBA Rounds Out the Regionals
The Southern California Booksellers Association honored one of its members' favorite authors at its Moveable Feast on October 25 in Pasadena when it presented its nonfiction award to Carolyn See for Making a Literary Life (Random). "I feel at home with you guys," See told the crowd of approximately 200 booksellers and 40 authors. "I think of you all as family."
When T. Jefferson Parker won the fiction prize for Cold Pursuit (Hyperion) he gave a big nod to See. "It is appropriate enough that one of the people in this room who slapped me around and told me about being a writer was Carolyn See," said Parker to much applause. "Thank you, Carolyn."
The children's book winner was Kathleen Krull, author of Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (Harcourt). "This, after six glasses of wine," she joked as she thanked booksellers. Krull, like others at the feast, had to drive through some of the areas affected by the fires and said: "It does feel a bit like the end of the world, but if it has to be the end of the world, I'd rather be with independent booksellers."
Earlier in the day, SCBA held a few workshops on everything from Book Sense gift cards to a session on "Heating up the Holidays" where Terri Hudson, Ashland University Bookstore director, Ashland, Ohio, shared her merchandising tips for promoting the holiday catalogue titles. "I like to have multiple copies," she said, "sometimes that's all it takes." But with just-in-time inventory management, stocking multiple copies is not always feasible, so she suggested booksellers make copies of the covers and display them. "It's a way to make it look like you have more copies," she said.
At lunch, fellow retailer and first-time author Jack Mitchell (Hug Your Customer: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Success, Hyperion) donned his tape measure and talked about how his experience as a family-owned high-end clothier relates to bookselling. "The 'hug' is a metaphor for staying close to your customers," he said. "It's knowing whether they like Coke or Pepsi." (And since his customers include top executives from both competing soft drink companies, he was not speaking metaphorically.) "I cherish my independence, as I'm sure you do," said the CEO of Mitchells/Richards, which has two locations in Connecticut. "It's about customers first—before the book. They assume you know about the books. My most competitive edge is not about price."
Unlike other regional shows, SCBA limits displays to a few table tops and concentrates most on the feast, which other associations have adopted into their programs. The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association is considering its own feast in the future and sent Judy Ness to Pasadena as a "friendly spy."
California authors are the priority at the feast. "With 150 candidates for governor in this state," said SCBA v-p Candace Moreno from the San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe, "certainly we can find 150 books by California authors to nominate for an award."
Among authors getting some buzz at the feast: agent/author Laurie Fox (The Lost Girls, S&S), who was escorted by agent Diane Leslie; Michelle Huneven (Jamesland, Knopf); Francesca Lia Block (Wasteland, HarperCollins); Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs, Soho); and Lisa See, Carolyn's daughter (Dragon Bones, Random). Amy Stewart, author of The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms (Algonquin) livened up the dinner conversation by bringing along some of her squirming subjects. After dinner James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs and Binion's World Series of Poker (FSG), challenged booksellers to a high-stakes poker game.