Getting Energized at MPIBA's Book Camp

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By Joe Foster, Ordering Manager, Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado

I always come home jazzed from the fall trade show. There's just something beautiful about knowing that you're not alone and that everyone in this business has the same issues and concerns, that we all work as indentured servants to the one passion that binds us all into an industry. This year Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) Book Camp had a sizzle to it that I hadn't experienced before. Energy was up, and everyone seemed to be very excited about the upcoming season.

Day One of the show, held from Thursday, September 27, through Sunday, September 30, at the Denver Marriott Tech Center, was education-oriented and started out with Peer-to-Peer Roundtables, something new and incredibly useful. There were groups specifically for issues of frontline bookselling, such as difficult customers, resources, and handselling. The group I was in, buyers, discussed buying and co-op, while owners in another group discussed development of booksellers, delegation to managers, and store security. My group was diverse, with stores representing a span from Texas to Montana and from one-person operations to those with help in the hundreds. One thing that speaks to the equality of this group, however, is that we all buy pretty much the same stuff from pretty much the same folks. I picked up a few pages worth of notes and tips from these beleaguered geniuses.

Lunchtime was coupled with the General Meeting, the main thrust of which was to showcase and discuss the new MPIBA website, I've skated around it a bit and have found it to be a great improvement. I'm not completely sure of the value of the site as a resource for the general public, but I love the idea of having the MPIBA Handbook of Members available, updateable, and searchable online. With a section listing links to upcoming regional author events and a featured bookstore, it's now a bit easier to get to know your neighbors.

Next came the American Booksellers Association's session on Staff Development, presented by Chuck and Dee Robinson of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. These two seem like they would be amazing to work with. I had seen their presentation at BookExpo America, but still managed to take plenty of notes on new ideas. It's always been my thought that we spend more time with co-workers than with our loved ones, so we better love our co-workers. Chuck and Dee had some pretty good ideas on hiring people worthy of that love, and also on how to keep them around.

Following Staff Development came a choice of two sessions, one on YA events, and another on, you could say, community development: Locals First/Independent Business Alliances. I attended the latter, as it seems such ideas will be an important part of the coming year in Durango. We heard from three outrageously successful programs. Betsy Burton of The King's English was as mind-bogglingly inspiring as always, and spoke of the statewide push in Utah. That's right, statewide. Incredible. Steve Bercu of BookPeople in Austin spoke of his success as well. As kudos to Steve, I'm happy to report that I saw a guy in Maria's wearing a "Keep Austin Weird" cap this summer. David Bolduc of Boulder Bookstore spoke of his initiative and how it almost cost him some friends, although I assume he's doing okay now.

After the classes came, of course, the requisite author and bookseller booze schmooze, which I always enjoy just a bit more than I should, but not more than is healthy, I think.

Friday was dubbed "Up Close & Personal Day" and consisted of the Pick of the Lists sessions, occurring pretty much all day, pretty much uninterrupted. How very nice to not have to choose between a great educational session and hearing about the next great book. One can assume that the publishers were pretty happy about this situation as well, considering that the room was chock full of booksellers held rapt and captive all day long.

And then, yes, more booze schmooze. Very fun. I'll say no more.

Saturday morning's Author Breakfast for Literacy was awesome. I was lucky enough to have breakfast at the same table with the humbly brilliant Michael Chabon. (Good things can happen when you tell your Random House rep that she rocks the Casbah ... even if you don't really know what that means.) Michael Korda spoke in a booming voice about heroism and his book Ike: An American Hero (HarperCollins). Molly Gloss was very impressive, arguing against heroism and the possibly damaging image of the heroic western male, and her book The Hearts of Horses (Houghton Mifflin). Margaret Coel gossiped about The Girl With Braided Hair (Berkley) and had the crowd in hysterics. Michael Chabon educated the crowd on "Jews with Swords," also known as his new novel, Gentlemen of the Road (Del Rey). I've already finished it and loved its guts; a very fun read.

The trade show floor, for many the most important part of the Fall Book Camp, was pretty exhilarating. It was long, yes, running from 9:30 a.m. until 8: 00 p.m., but it was packed and vibrant and loud the whole day long. I asked almost every person I talked to how they felt about things and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I saw plenty of people placing orders, and definitely placed a few my own. Expectations, I think, are very high for holiday season sales.

And yet another night of soused chin-wagging.

Sunday morning was dedicated to Above the Treeline for both publishers and booksellers. The dig of this meeting was towards greater communication between the two groups, using the tools that Treeline provides, as well as some suggestions for newer and better tools yet. It was this roundtable meeting that really book-ended the Fall Book Camp with the spirit of teamwork and camaraderie for me. I started home with the feeling that we all left the show as stronger booksellers because of the strength of our comrades and the support we get from our business partners. I drove the six hours back through high mountain passes and quaking aspens in full fall regalia eager to get back to work.

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 MPIBA, Drew Goodman of University of Utah Campus Store won a color inkjet printer, courtesy of ABA, and Joe Foster of Maria's Bookshop 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.