Friday, September 23, 2011

NAIBA: Watch the Transformation

The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, which hosted the 2011 New Atlantic Booksellers Association annual conference (Sept.19-22), could serve as a metaphor for bookselling as a whole. With an exterior wrapped in vinyl and an interior filled with hard-hatted workers, the former Trump Marina Hotel is in the midst of both a figurative and literal makeover to regain lost business. A sign in the casino proclaims: “Out with the old... in with the gold. Watch the transformation.” That a similar transition is taking place in the book business was evident throughout the show.

As NAIBA president Lucy Kogler of Talking Leaves...Books in Buffalo, N.Y., noted at the Awards Banquet, “the book business is under construction, re-construction. The changes [in bookselling] are myriad: some obvious, some occult. The outcome uncertain. But what is certain is that independent bookstores are an essential component of the plan.”

And it’s not just educational sessions like one on alternate business models that pointed up the change or the dialogue that evolved between YA authors and booksellers at a panel on how to host successful YA events. The show itself was de-constructed to make it more useful. For instance, the annual meeting was shortened and the region’s first Town Hall was held to find out what NAIBA could do better. “Bookselling is becoming increasingly difficult,” noted board member Pat Kutz, co-owner of Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport, N.Y. “So we want to do everything we can to help you so you’ll be here next year.”

The show days, too, were flopped to encourage booksellers to dive into the exhibits, lunch with reps and get a look at, or be re-reminded about, top books for fall and winter. The educational sessions were relegated to the second day, which also included a Moveable Feast of both adult and children’s author. In their keynote session, Arielle Ekstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Published (Workman), reminded booksellers that a well-curated bookstore is important, but it’s not enough, and encouraged booksellers to “embrace your inner entrepreneur.”

It’s not clear how much the changes contributed to the upbeat mood of the show, which drew 400 people, roughly the same number of stores as in years past. Or it could have been stand-out author events, ranging from the moving—Doron Weber speaking about his son who died far too young, Immortal Bird (Simon & Schuster, Feb. ‘12), or YA author Lauren Oliver on how grief fueled her first middle-grade novel, Liesel & Po (HarperCollins, Oct.)—to laugh-out-loud funny—Jack Gantz (Dead End in Norvelt, FSG) describing his childhood or Colson Whitehead (Zone One, Doubleday, Oct.) talking about his approach to becoming a writer.

By swapping the exhibit day with the day of education and tweaking rep picks and making them more personal by rotating reps from table to table at lunch, the emphasis of the show moved back to books. In fact the day was dubbed, Bookcentric, and included an editor’s buzz panel, modeled after one at BEA, with Carl Lennertz, the newly appointed head of World Book Night and this year’s Legacy Award winner, as well as speed-dating with children’s authors. Talk about the books. Children’s author Peter Brown, winner of a NAIBA Book of the Year Award for Children Make Terrible Pets (Little, Brown) had such a long line for signed copies of his new book, You Will Be My Friend (Little, Brown) after his breakfast talk that he was still signing 15 minutes into the next session.

The changes were welcomed by most reps despite a very long day. They had to set up their exhibit booths early in the morning, because the preceding evening the hotel needed the space for its weekly Bingo Bonanza. NAIBA executive director Eileen Dengler also rearranged the hall to make sure booksellers stopped at all the booths. “I like the way it flowed,” she said. “I was very pleased with the show. Everyone who was there had a great time.” Macmillan sales representative Mike Cutforth agreed. He also gave a thumbs up to sitting with booksellers to give the rep picks rather than at the front of the room from a podium. “I think you connect [with booksellers] a lot better. I’d probably bring more of the list books,” he added. “I gave them away in the first half hour the exhibit hall opened.”

The show drew lapsed NAIBA members like Judy and Jerry Heaton, owners of 25-year-old The Bookworm in East Aurora, N.Y., who had been energized by a NAIBAhood gathering earlier in the spring and decided to come, and long-time members like Rob Dougherty, manager of Clinton Book Shop in Clinton. “I think it was a great show,” said Dougherty. “I liked the bookseller interaction. I really come to hang out with people. I enjoy this more than BEA. We’ve scaled down our BEA visits.” He also uses it to get signed books and galleys to give to his best customers.

For many booksellers the chance to be with “their peeps,” as Susanna Hermann’s, co-owner and manager of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y., referred to it in a tweet, seemed to be the biggest draw. The book pitches did have their intended effect. Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD Books in Brookline grabbed a galley for William Landry’s Defending Jacob (Delacorte, Jan.), which was presented by Kate Miciak of Random House at the Editor Buzz, and said that she should be able to sell a lot. On the children’s side, WORD owner Christine Onorati said that author Kenneth Oppel “really sold it” at a breakfast presentation; she’ll now be pushing his This Dark Endeavor (Simon & Schuster), which just pubbed. As for the biggest book for the holiday season, no one cared to venture a guess.

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