Booksellers and publishers gathered at two regional shows over the October 1—3 weekend. The Upper Midwest Booksellers Association's fast-paced show was held in St. Paul, Minn., and the well-attended Northern California Independent Booksellers Association met in Oakland, Calif.
The UMBA show was a jam-packed weekend of educational sessions, author-studded meals, book exhibits, receptions, signings and, once again, an evening boat cruise down the Mississippi River.
The show kicked off Friday with a full day of educational programs. One session both publishers and booksellers cited as especially memorable was the "Pick of the Lists," where 12 publishers' and commission reps each had 10 minutes to present their lead titles to an SRO audience. Peggy Bieber, owner of the Little Professor Book Center in Aberdeen, S.Dak., and UMBA president, said, "Everyone loved the 10-minute rule. Publishers had to pick out the top titles. It was really helpful, cutting to the chase like that."
Many of the 50 booksellers attending the "It Worked for Me!" session raved to PW about ideas gleaned from brainstorming. One bookseller promoted her the store's "human coupons": any bookstore patron who introduces a new customer to the bookstore receives a one-time discount on a purchase, as does that new customer.
Fiction titles were a big draw at UMBA. The most talked about upcoming release at UMBA by far was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (FSG, Nov.). Robinson ignited as much excitement in booksellers as did her book when she appeared as one of the Saturday evening dinner speakers. Anita Zager, owner of Northern Lights Books & Gifts in Duluth, Minn., described Robinson's first novel in 24 years as "a true Midwest voice. When we heard she'd be at UMBA, we were absolutely thrilled to hear her speak."
Other red-hot galleys for adult readers included The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty (Viking, Jan.) and Please Don't Come Back from the Moon by former Madison, Wis., bookseller Dean Bakopoulos (Harcourt, Feb.).
Carrie Sutherland, a bookseller at J.W. Beecroft Books in Superior, Wis., was excited to see a galley of The Ice Chorus by St. Paul resident Sarah Stonich (Little, Brown, Feb.). "I'm so excited, I've been waiting to read this book for three years," she told PW.
The most hyped children's titles included The Friend by Sarah Stewart (FSG, Aug.), The Train of States by Peter Sis (HarperCollins/ Greenwillow, Oct.) and Mark Teague's Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation (Scholastic).
But a new release from a tiny Minnesota press stole the show for many children book buyers. Color, Color, Where Are You, Color? by Mary Koski (Trellis) is a vividly illustrated book of poems that was just published as both a hardcover and a board book. Koski told PW that Trellis brought 140 hardcover copies and 80 board books, and all were gone by Sunday morning. She is booked through the fall with signings all over the Upper Midwest.
Ellen Scott of the Bookworm in Omaha, Nebr., sang the praises of Koski's work: "It's a new book I wasn't expecting to find. This book is exactly why I come to UMBA—to discover sleepers from small publishers. It's a great poetry book. And the illustrations are gorgeous!" Glenn Switalski of Creekside Books in Cedarburg, Wis., agreed: "Color, Color reminds me of My World of Color by Margaret Wise Brown."
Bookseller attendance was noticeably smaller than last year's show. There were 500 booksellers from 130 bookstores, down from last year's 588 booksellers from 136 bookstores. This year, 366 exhibitors staffed 120 tables and booths, up from last year's 350 exhibitors staffing 113 tables and booths. Total attendance this year was 1,136, down from last year's 1,230 attendees.
Chris Livingston, owner of the Bookshelf in Winona, Minn., put it all in perspective after the show concluded, declaring, "For the exhibitors, it must have been a disappointment. But because there were fewer people, I got more done. I was able to talk to more reps and do business with publishers I hadn't done business with before. It was a good show for smaller booksellers like me. And that matters." —Claire Kirch
Regional trade shows are judged by attendance and orders, and the Northern California Independent Booksellers show held steady in both aspects with roughly the same number of booksellers (800), exhibitors (800) and other industry attendees (100). But in terms of the ebb and flow of the event, there was a flip-flop—with Sunday morning drawing more booksellers than Saturday.
"This is the busiest Sunday that I can remember in years," observed NCIBA executive director Hut Landon.
Many attributed the lackluster attendance at the start on Saturday (which steadily picked up as the day progressed) to a roster of breakfast authors whom the attendees described as excellent although not having the star quality to bring booksellers out at 8 a.m. in large numbers. California's State Librarian Kevin Starr (Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, Knopf) is a local icon; Francisco Goldman (The Divine Husband, Atlantic Monthly) is the kind of literary novelist independent booksellers love to hand-sell; and ABC News correspondent Jim Wooten might be a recognizable name but few knew much about his forthcoming AIDS memoir We Are All the Same (Penguin Press) before the breakfast. Those who attended the breakfast had no complaints, but since it drew fewer booksellers than in recent years the slower spill-out onto the show floor disappointed some exhibitors.
"It is no question in my mind that our Saturday attendance and our Saturday energy was affected by our Saturday breakfast, which featured perfectly good authors who did a wonderful job, but none of whom was a marquee name," said Landon. This is a delicate subject for a regional executive director to address, and Landon wanted to make it clear that all the Saturday authors were welcomed and appreciated.
The Sunday children's book breakfast drew 170 people—a recent NCIBA best—and featured Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black promoting their fifth installment, The Wrath of Mulgarth, in their bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles (S&S); husband-and-wife collaborators Sarah Stewart and David Small with The Friend (FSG); and San Francisco's own Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) with The Grim Grotto (HarperCollins).
"The energy of the show on the floor on Sunday was markedly better and commented upon by booksellers and exhibitors," said Landon.
One event that is fast becoming a perennial favorite at NCIBA is the Movable Feast of Authors—in its third year for this association. An eclectic mix of recent talent on the menu makes the feast work. Seasoned novelists Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Queen of Dreams, Doubleday), Harriet Scott Chessman (Someone Not Really Her Mother, Dutton), Lawrence Thornton (Sailors on the Inward Sea, Free Press) and Monique Troung (Book of Salt, Mariner) mixed with hardcover first fiction authors Marc Acito (How I Paid for College, Doubleday), Joshua Braff (The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, Algonquin), and M. Allen Cunningham (The Green Age of Asher Witherow, Unbridled, Oct.). In nonfiction there was William Vollman (Rising Up Rising Down, Ecco), Gary Erickson (Raising the Bar, Wiley), Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Basic Books, Oct.) and Susan Jane Gilman (Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Warner, Jan. 2005).
Exhibitors PW spoke with were pleased with the orders they wrote. "I've received more orders at this show than I've ever received," Penguin rep Lindsey Wood said.
"I see a lot of bookselling staff members," observed Paul Kozlowski, Random's v-p, director of field sales. "For me, that's the most encouraging thing."
Lydia Sparksworthy, manager of Bookself Stores in Truckee, said the stores' owner views sending booksellers to the NCIBA as staff development. "They are just in awe," she said about the two booksellers who attended the show this year. Sparksworthy said that "name" authors might draw a crowd, but meeting new authors, like at the feast, helps her sell books. "It's great to speak to an author directly and hear some tangent you'll remember when you are hand-selling their book," she explained.
Chris Stroth at Books Inc. in Burlingame told PW he was pleased to send almost his entire staff to NCIBA. "I was excited to let them make discoveries," he said. "We'll meet later for a show and tell."
Judy Wheeler, owner of Towne and Center Books in Pleasanton, said she planned to build an event around San Francisco Bay Books'The Fabulous Fior: Over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen by Francine Brevetti, about the longest-running Italian restaurant in the country. "We have five Italian restaurants on our street," said Wheeler.
John Evans, the co-owner of Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland and Malibu, attended NCIBA this year as both a bookseller and a new publisher. "It's the first time I've worn a suit," he said. Diesel recently published its first book, Read 'Em and Weep, a collection of essays by Barry Gifford on books that meant something to him. Originally Evans said he expected to only sell the books at Diesel stores, but when the publisher were approached by other independents in Southern California about selling the books, it decided to offer the title at a 50% discount, nonreturnable, with a six-book minimum. City Light's Paul Yamazaki was placing an order for the small-sized book as PW spoke with Evans.
At the end of the day, NCIBA attendance was up slightly, said Landon. The association asked for a $1 donation for the books at the author signings and gave the proceeds to the American Booksellers Foundation for the Freedom of Expression. "We raised $2,500 last year," he said. "This year, NCIBA will be sending a $3,200 check to ABFFE." —Bridget Kinsella