Booksellers Win Big at NAIBA Fall Conference

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By Kelley Drahushuk, Co-owner of Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, New York

Fall means several things. For many it means sports -- baseball playoffs, the start of football season. For booksellers and publishers, it means regional trade shows. And to Chester County Book Company's Joe Drabyak, president of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, it means both.

In his opening address at last weekend's revamped NAIBA fall event, Joe compared an independent store to a sports team and discussed how a store might come to be a "winning team," with publishers, sales reps, the American Booksellers Association, NAIBA, store owners and staff all working towards a common goal. And with a rousing, "Let's get out there and win big today!" the NAIBA conference was in full swing.

Speaking of becoming the winning team, the focus of this year's show was to give booksellers a more concrete idea of how to sell the books publishers have to offer, with suggestions for displays, tie-ins, and events. The publishers did not disappoint with their Adult Pick of the Lists, sprinkling in sales and marketing ideas during their presentations.

Then booksellers talked about what they're reading, which is always an interesting mix. McNally Robinson's Jessica Stockton, famed Written Nerd blogger, recommended Arrival (Arthur A. Levine), a wordless graphic novel by Shaun Tan with resonance to any immigrant experience. Susan Weiss of Breathe Books described a great impulse buy to have by the register, Porn for Women -- a humor book filled with pictures of men cleaning (Cambridge Women's Pornography Co-op, Chronicle Books). A bookseller from Robin's Bookstore described an amazing appearance by Cathy Wilkerson promoting her biography Flying Close to the Sun (Seven Stories), in which she discusses her time trying to foment revolution in the Weather Underground. A member of my own staff has called the book "life changing."

I joined my favorite local author Barbara Lehman at her Moveable Feast table for lunch. Her books, including the newest, Rainstorm (Houghton Mifflin), are favorite handsells of mine. I also had the chance to meet two other authors of cool books at my table. Roland Merullo, author of Breakfast With Buddah (Algonquin), described his travels that formed the basis of the book. Check out the scene with the loon -- that was based on a real incident, which he loved most about his trek. If you are a child of the '70s like me, or just wish you were, you'll love The Great Funk by Thomas Hine (FSG), full of great photos and remembrances of that polyester-bright, disco-infused era. Imagine the fun displays to build around that!

The education sessions in the afternoon were as valuable as ever. I attended the ABA session "Staff Development" with hopes of continued staff nirvana. I was reminded that I play way too fast and loose with my hiring and employment practices and now know how to tighten things up. The best tips included using a "scoop book" where all important store info can be recorded and checked daily, making your store manual a Wiki, creating a board of directors to get feedback on overall store success and owner performance, and having potential employees submit a letter outlining why they would want to work for your store instead of filling out a generic application.

Since my store is small, narrow, and space-challenged, I thought "Making the Most of Floor Space" would be the seminar for me. The most useful suggestion amongst the many that Adjua Greaves from the beautiful McNally Robinson Booksellers presented was assigning section managers charged with keeping displays in their section fresh, coming up with new ideas, rotating face-outs and pulling stock that needs to be returned. I also like the description of displays as "attractive, attended, and abundant."

Unfortunately, running at the same time was the ABA seminar on "How to be the Story." I put divide and conquer into practice and asked Roy Solomon from The Village Bookstore (in Pleasantville, New York) to fill me in later. Good ideas included hiring a high-school kid to work on your press contacts (they don't know that it's sometimes a hard thing) and to convert your press kit to digital or PDF format (an example in PDF format can be found on ABA's trade website,

Unwinding at the NAIBA Awards Dinner, it was pleasure to hear the two authors who came to accept their honors. Michelle Knudsen, author of Picture Book of the Year winner Library Lion (Walker), said that she was able to stay calm during her speech because she was, "just getting up to say 'thank you' to friends," which she did quite eloquently. Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone (FSG) and winner of Nonfiction Book of the Year, said he wrote the book despite his fears that people "might be afraid to read it," because his people have a strong oral tradition, believing that when you relate a story, it becomes everyone's story. He hopes his story will bring cultures closer through understanding.

Out of 287 submissions for the Dashiell Hammett Award for literary excellence in the field of crime writing, given by the International Association of Crime Writers, somehow the judges narrowed the field to five. Worthy suspense writers all, but the ultimate victor announced at the dinner was Dan Fesperman, author of The Prisoner of Guantanamo (Vintage). All of the finalists and a host of other mystery writers signed books and socialized in the appropriately named Noir Bar, which I think I may adopt at my own store (seeing as I have a bar already). Penguin will make my job easier, as they featured a Mysteries Around the World brochure and display mock-up on the show floor.

Ah, yes -- the show floor. After a much needed good-night's sleep, I was able to get down to the business of shopping, schmoozing, and seeing what's hot. Some guidance was given during the morning Independent Rep Picks over breakfast. I ordered a display of Boku Books, cute little tree-free journals that can be folded over due to perfect-bound spines (highly recommended by both the sales rep and my table mates).

This year, it seemed as if there were more authors available on the floor signing books. Two titles I'm looking forward to after meeting the authors: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (Twelve) and Open Me by Sunshine O'Donnell (MacAdam/Cage) (mentioned by several booksellers as an upcoming favorite).

On my way home, exhausted but inspired, I found myself stuck in a giant traffic jam, one so large and unmoving that I put my car in park. Luckily, I had plenty of books to keep me occupied. You have to fit it in when you can.

Booksellers who stopped by the ABA booth at any one of this season's trade shows are eligible to enter drawings for prizes, courtesy of ABA and BookExpo America. At NAIBA, Mindy Ostrow of The River's End Bookstore in Oswego, New York, won a color inkjet printer, courtesy of ABA, and Lynn Gonchar of The Tudor Bookshop & Cafe in Kingston, Pennsylvania, won an iPod, courtesy of BEA.

Both winners, along with other booksellers who dropped off their business cards at the ABA booth, will be included in drawings taking place at the end of October, at the conclusion of the trade show season: for accommodations at Hotel ABA at BEA 2008 in Los Angeles, courtesy of BEA; for hotel accommodations at the Third Annual Winter Institute in Louisville in January, courtesy of BEA; and for one of 24 publisher-sponsored scholarships, including reasonable transportation costs and up to a three-night hotel stay at the Winter Institute.