September's second weekend was a busy one for booksellers as the Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association, Southeast Booksellers Association and Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association all held their fall trade shows.
Gambling with MSIBA
The New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association holds its annual gathering in Atlantic City next month, but the Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association board members beat it to the punch by bringing casino tables to booksellers attending MSIBA's annual gathering in New Orleans, September 9—12.
"When you come to New Orleans, booksellers and exhibitors want to have a free evening to explore, so we decided to roll our annual Friday and Saturday night dinner and awards into one big casino night on Friday and offer a free night on Saturday," explained executive director Susan Kent. Attendees were fed and given $40,000 in chips to use at the nine gaming tables (six Black Jack, one crap table, one wheel of fortune and one roulette wheel). The fake money was later used to bid on prizes at the end of the night. Tom and Judith Lowenburg, owners of the four-year-old Octavia Books in New Orleans, cribbed together enough fake money vouchers from others at their table to win the inventory of Scholastic's trade show booth for a mere $1.6 million. "We had fun," Tom told PW. "It's important to have events that allow people to interact informally and get to know each other. This night also raised money for a worthy cause."
Casino night was a fund-raiser for the Coleen Salley—Bill Morris Literacy Foundation of New Orleans, which provides books to underserved school kids in local communities. Besides tickets to the event, most of the money was raised from auctioning autographed handprints from children's authors. S&S national sales manager Gillian Reed coordinated the project and assembled 18 handprints (and one toe print from Lemony Snicket). "Gathering authors and illustrators was really easy because they know the value of independent booksellers and want to do anything to help," Reed told PW. The prints raised nearly $1,200.
The MSIBA show began on Thursday, September 9, with a half-day of educational programming. First up was ABA CEO Avin Domnitz's two-hour seminar "The 2% Solution," based on the findings of the 2003 ABACUS study of independent booksellers. "I hadn't heard Avin's presentation before, but I found it very encouraging," said Jerry Brace, co-owner of Brace Books & More in Ponca City, Okla. "It was very informative about how to do more with what we already have. I always feel like the educational programs are worthwhile if I can apply things when I get home. This offered good common sense." Michele Lewis, owner of two Afro-American Book Stops in New Orleans, agreed: "Domnitz offered great, valuable information. I truly enjoyed all the seminars."
One of the most talked-about presenters was Jeffrey Gitomer, the high-energy and bombastic author of The Little Red Book of Selling (Bard Press), who started Friday's full day of seminars by warning his audience, "If you have a sensitivity meter, you'll need to turn it off." And then to demonstrate his meaning, he asked a woman in the front row, "Is that okay with you, sweetie? Oh, sorry. Some chicks don't like to be called sweetie." The retailers got onto his wavelength and enjoyed his "break out of the box" advice. He urged retailers to change their humdrum phone message to something that will excite customers, and to "hire book enthusiasts, not book experts. Don't greet customers, engage them. Don't sell, help them buy. Tell customers what you can do, not what you can't."
Gitomer's only misstep was late in the presentation, when he crowed about how his weekly e-magazine helped make his new book number one on Amazon.com on its release date. When a bookseller asked why he didn't put a selling link to Booksense.com as well, he seemed unaware of the network of independent bookstores. "He didn't do his homework with this group," bristled Sally Jordan of Jeremy's Book Service in Houston, Texas. "He was promoting Amazon.com and didn't know about Booksense.com." Although this slight was mentioned by a few booksellers over the weekend, most agreed with Kathy Kinasewitz, co-owner of Best of Books Inc. in Edmond, Okla.: "Gitomer was entertaining and had some very valid points."
The exhibitor trade show ran Saturday and Sunday without any conflicting educational programs. More than 105 publishers were represented at the show, with 35 authors attending. This year authors were signing books at exhibitors' booths rather than at special signing areas off the floor. The author relocation was one of several innovations this year. "In the past, there was never a space for people to rest, so we created a reader's lounge this year," said Susan Kent. "We also changed the layout of the trade show floor to increase visibility."
Diane McWhorter's lunchtime slide show of stirring Civil Rights movement images from her forthcoming picture book A Dream of Freedom (Scholastic) created a hornet's nest of buzz about hand-selling this follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize—winning Carry Me Home. Another lunch featured an amusing q&a/reading with NPR's Andrei Codrescu, promoting his new novel, Wakefield (Algonquin). "I'm completely and totally for independent bookstores," he told an appreciative audience. "I've had terrible experiences with Barnes & Noble. Steve Riggio called about a piece I wrote with the last line stating, 'Sell your stock.' On one hand, it's good to have a B&N in small towns that previously only had a card shop. But they're directing the book business. We're putting American literature into the hands of middlemen with too much power."
Hot galleys included Ron McLarty's The Memory of Running (Viking, Dec.), which gained national attention after Stephen King championed it last year when the book was available only as an audiobook; J. California Cooper's Some People, Some Other Place (Doubleday, Oct.); the reissue of Jacqueline Susann's Every Night, Josephine (Penguin, Dec.); and Clive Barker's second volume, Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War (HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler, Sept.), which Amy Loewy of New Orleans' Garden District Bookstore called, "a roller-coaster ride. It's nonstop action and enjoyable for kids and adults."
Kathleen Rooney's Reading with Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America may be the University of Arkansas Press's breakout title in the fall. It traces the eight-year run of Winfrey's book club and its reformation in 2003. Grabbing the most attention without a galley was the poster announcing The Mermaid Chair (Viking, Apr. 2005), Sue Monk Kidd's long-awaited follow-up to her Book Sense bestseller The Secret Life of Bees.
Holtzbrinck rep Jim Riggs had the "perception that the trade show was a little slower than usual," but he was happy that "I took about the same amount of orders as I did last year."
Rayner Krause, with the commission sales group Southern Territory Association, noted, "There are fewer people here than we've had in the last few years. Maybe it's the economy, because usually people are looking for an excuse to come to New Orleans. I've taken a handful of orders, but not nearly what we usually do."
MSIBA executive director Kent said attendance was "down slightly from last year in Austin. Historically, New Orleans was a bigger draw for people, but the last two shows in Austin have drawn more people." She put bookseller attendance at 160.
After the trade show floor closed on Saturday, there was a cocktail party for both booksellers and exhibitors featuring Jill Conner Brown, promoting her forthcoming Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men (Three Rivers Press, Oct.). Before launching into a heartfelt and hilarious off-the-cuff monologue about how important indie booksellers were and continue to be as hand-sell enthusiasts of her series of books, Brown announced that she would be turning her talents toward fiction. She is creating three Sweet Potato Queens series of mysteries, romance and erotica. "Although some people think the things I write can't be true, they really are," Brown told PW. "I'm working on creating the series right now and it's harder to make stuff up. It's like telling lies—you have to remember what you said before." Brown hopes to debut her first fiction title in the spring of 2006. "I always envisioned writing a series of books like Nancy Drew, something like The Sweet Potato Queens at the Old Mill," said Brown. —Kevin Howell
SEBA carries on
Although stories and worries about hurricanes were plentiful among booksellers and exhibitors at the Southeast Booksellers Association's September 10—12 trade show, the weather didn't affect SEBA's strong attendance at the Cobb Galleria Convention Centre and adjacent Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta. According to executive director Wanda Jewell, the show attracted 1,450 attendees, including 473 booksellers from 257 stores.
Emoke B'Racz's Malaprop's Bookstore and Café in Asheville, N.C., escaped harm from Hurricane Frances, but she noted that runoff from flooding throughout the mountainous area polluted the city's water supply to such an extent that residents were still boiling drinking water. "Customers are beginning to come back into the store," she told PW, "but anything that upsets a whole city psychologically affects business." Gutenberg Café, a bookstore and Internet coffeehouse in Richmond, Va., wasn't so lucky. It was flooded by six feet of water and will remain closed for at least another month.
One book that benefited from readers saturated with hurricane talk was Philip D. Hearn's Hurricane Camille (Univ. Press of Mississippi). Assistant marketing manager Ginger Tucker told PW the title was "one of our most picked-up and ordered books." She was initially apprehensive about promoting a book about a massive 1969 Gulf Coast storm to retailers who were already under duress from hurricanes Charley and Frances. "As it turned out," she said, "when it caught the eye of booksellers, often they would tell me their own hurricane stories."
Throughout the show, hurricane-relief donations were collected at all ticketed meal events. A total of $1,012 was collected for the Salvation Army Disaster Relief Effort.
Friday's bookselling nuts and bolts educational sessions were well attended. "The 2% Solution," presented by ABA CEO Avin Domnitz, was singled out for praise. "I've read about the ABA's 2% solution, but this is the first time I understood how comprehensive it is," said Richard Daley, co-owner of the recently opened Pass Christian Books in Pass Christian, Miss. "The information on raising profitability is very beneficial, and almost alone made coming to our first SEBA worthwhile."
Several publishers found that food was the way to promote books. Friday evening's Good Eats party elicited raves over the tasty food from Frank Stitt's Southern Table (Artisan) and pungent punch from The Pat Conroy Cookbook (Doubleday/ Talese, Nov.). Ann Carlson of Harborwalk Books in Georgetown, S.C., deemed Stitt's cookbook "so attractive, it sells itself."
Random House served cake to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Truman Capote's birth and to promote its new Capote releases, including the new collection of his letters, Too Brief a Treat, edited by Gerald Clarke; a reprint of his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms; and a newly compiled The Complete Stories of Truman Capote; the latter two books feature introductions by, respectively, John Berendt and Reynolds Price (both Modern Library).
The show's biggest sleeper hit was Escape in Iraq: The Thomas Hamill Story (Stoeger Publishing), which caught booksellers' eyes despite copies of the book being virtually hidden among the display tables of the Booklink rep group at the back of the hall. Hamill, an ex-contract worker in Iraq, drew a long line as he signed copies of his tale of escape after being held captive for 23 days by Iraqi rebels. Hamill will be interviewed on CBS's Early Show, NBC's Dateline and several Fox shows following the book's October 11 publication. —Bob Summer
PNBA: Slow but steady
Traffic was slow at this year's Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show in Portland, September 10—12, but most of the vendors were satisfied with the number of orders placed by attendees. "They felt there were a lot fewer attendees this year," said PNBA executive director Thom Chambliss. "The numbers don't totally support that, but it was indeed slower than in past years." The regional economy is quite slow, Chambliss pointed out; Oregon and Alaska have the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Last year PNBA drew 467 booksellers from 164 stores, while this year only 449 booksellers from 140 stores attended. Vendor attendance was about the same, with 404 people from 128 companies. The biggest increase in attendance was in the author category, with a total of 91 this year as opposed to 77 in 2003.
For the first time, PNBA hosted an author's feast—with much assistance from the Southern California Booksellers Association—and it was a huge success. "Everyone was pleasantly surprised," said Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash. "I suspect it's tough on the authors [who sit at five bookseller tables during the evening]. It was more personal than it would have been listening to three speakers at a banquet."
Among the 20 authors on the PNBA feast were: New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss (Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, Harcourt), former PNBA award winner Claire Davis (Season of the Snake, St. Martin's, Mar. 2005), Jeff Shaara (To the Last Man, Ballantine, Oct.), local favorite Nancy Pearl (Book Lust 2005 Calendar, Sasquatch) and Ron McLarty (The Memory of Running, Penguin, Dec.).
The PNBA Perennial Celebration of Authors event highlights new writers in the region. "This event is a major part of our ongoing efforts to support regional authors and to provide our stores with access to authors with books that we feel will make great hand-selling opportunities," explained Chambliss.
For some participants in the celebration, it was their first time speaking about their books, and their inexperience charmed the booksellers. Others put on a show. Rather than read from her debut novel Broken for You (Grove), former actress Stephanie Kallos shared "How to Write Your First Novel" with the audience, presenting a funny, poignant litany of steps along the way to a writer's life. Former opera singer/newspaper columnist Marc Acito literally broke into song as he presented his first book, How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater (Broadway). He called his main character "bi-today, gay-tomorrow," and he thanked the booksellers for their support in making the book a success and for making it okay to attend his 20th high school reunion.
Breakfast speakers helped get PNBA attendees off to a good start with laughter and gratitude. A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All (S&S), advised would-be smarty-pants that they really don't need to know everything—just one key fact about every topic. "Philosophy?" he asked. "Mention that Descartes had a fetish for women with crossed eyes and that'll shut them up." Former Spy and National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra (Father Joe: the Man Who Saved My Soul, Random) told PW that he felt like the straight guy between two comics after being squeezed between Pam Munoz Ryan (Becoming Naomi Leon, Scholastic), who read the darnedest things that kids wrote to her, and Christopher Moore, who admitted he "committed a Christmas book" in his forthcoming Stupidest Angel (Morrow). "It has the graveyard sex and cannibalism that I think we all look for in a Christmas story," he said. He also thanked indie booksellers for tackling customers in their stores and handing them his books.
Coming off a slow summer, booksellers PW spoke with said they hoped for a good holiday season. "I hope my Christmas isn't like Christopher Moore's Christmas," joked Sally McPherson, a first-time PNBA attendee from Cannon Beach Book Company in Cannon Beach, Ore.
First time PNBA attendee Gary Hunt, owner of Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, Idaho, used the show to order stock for a new store he was opening the next day. "It's nice for us to be able to populate the shelves in one fell swoop," he said.
Politics could make it hard for books to break out this fall, but Rick Simonson at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle believes that makes hand-selling even more important. Simonson's hand-sell favorites for this fall are Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières (Knopf) and nature sculptor Andy Goldsworthy's Passage(Abrams, Nov.).
"In my 25 years in book publishing," observed Abrams rep Andy Weiner, "I've never had the experience of selling a gift book like I have with this one." Weiner said PNBA booksellers were ordering 50 copies of Goldsworthy's $60 book.
Other reps were mixed about the two-day trade show. "Everything is beautiful. Nothing hurt," said George Carroll, president of Redsides Publishing Services, borrowing a couple of lines from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. But Time Warner rep Jennifer Royce said she had written more orders than expected.
In other PNBA news, the association voted unanimously to fund The Spoken Word radio program for one year. The Spoken Word will record author readings in the region to create one-hour programs and will credit PNBA and name at least 12 member stores per show. "I believe that this was the most significant step to benefit our members that we have taken in several years," said Chambliss. The board agreed to fund the program for one year. —Bridget Kinsella