A Holiday Letter From ABA’s President

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Dear Booksellers,

Thanksgiving weekend — and with it Indies First and Small Business Saturday — is over, and booksellers are in the throes of that festive, frenetic, make-or-break time of the year. What better time to thank the people who labor all year long to get us to this all-important season, the amazing, tireless, dedicated — and inspired — ABA staff.

There’s Oren Teicher, of course, who can best be described by words the Baroness Orczy used for the Scarlet Pimpernel: He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere. In this plane, on that train, headed for Winter Institute or BookExpo America, this regional show or that international trade show, traveling across the country and around the world to meet with this publisher, that reporter, this trade group, and that organization, not to mention bookstores from Portland (Maine or Oregon) to Bellingham to L.A. (he’ll actually be at {pages} in Manhattan Beach this December selling books), talking terms and technology, local first and e-fairness, and free expression. Not only is he a strategic genius, he’s figured out how to get our message about the news of our renaissance out to the world. All of that and he’s the head of the incredible ABA staff, superstars in their own right.

Right behind Oren, lugging a bag full of books that she’s bought at every store she’s visited, comes Joy Dallanegra-Sanger, who makes me think of Station Eleven’s Kirsten, traveling relentlessly, spreading the word about books, spreading joy (sorry, but she does), and cementing partnerships in every part of our industry in the process. Joy, with the help of Gen de Botton, orchestrates programs involving books and authors from Indies First to Indies Introduce to Indies Revisit & Rediscover (and please, make a display of the Indies Revisit backlist titles for stocking stuffers, if you haven’t already!); oversees, with Matthew Zoni’s help, the ABC Children’s Group and the Children’s Institute; organizes the bookseller phone calls that make our book programs work so well, the logistics with publishers that bring them into our world and bring us ever better discounts, making sure publishers and authors alike understand that books are the center of everything we do, and showcasing our importance to them all. In her spare time, she also sells books — this holiday season at Flyleaf Books in North Carolina.

Mark Nichols is, like Marie Laure’s father in All the Light We Cannot See, the keeper of the keys, guarding the heart of our world, its books and authors. In his kind, quiet way, he masterminds pretty much everything we do with books — including the Indie Next Program, as he has for years, now with the help of Linda Ford (and, along with Joy, its new addition, Indies Revisit & Rediscover), not to mention the Indie Bestseller List (Pete Reynolds’ domain, although Linda helps here, too), the White Box, the Red Box, the books ABA organizes at every Winter Institute, every BookExpo America, and the Celebration of Bookselling, which he scripts with care and literary pizazz. A perfectionist in all he does, Mark also reads more than most independent booksellers do — which is saying something. He’s beloved by us all.

ABA wouldn’t be ABA without Dan Cullen, our Nick Carraway, our narrator, scribe, and master of spin, whose skill with words is reflected everywhere ABA says anything. Dan not only tells our stories but also educates us, with the help of hard-working and ever-inventive Lisa Winn, on every aspect of bookselling, the two of them brainstorming topics and speakers, and bringing us together to educate one another about everything from marketing to finances to inventory control, ordering books to returning them, designing stores to staffing them, customer relations to public relations. Dan also, along with Dave Grogan, educates us on e-fairness and antitrust and, along with Chris Finan of ABFE, on free speech and free expression. Multitasking seems to be a common skill at ABA!

If ABA has a nerve center, it’s Jill Perlstein, a kind of combination of Miss Moneypenny and Mrs. Hawkins from A Far Cry From Kensington, her eyes not just on what has to happen, but also who has to make it happen, who is doing what they should do, and how they will get to wherever they need to go and when and how long they will stay. Those of us who do events have an inkling of how complex (and, I’m sure, frustrating, given who we are) her job is, wrangling us in and out of Winter Institute and BEA, regional shows … perhaps there should be a special medal for bravery for Jill. And for Maria Rodriguez, too, who is invaluable to Jill, but also helps everyone everywhere with everything.

ABA’s communication center is Rosemary Hawkins of Bookselling This Week fame, with whom we correspond weekly, the editor extraordinaire whose regular dispatches, like those of Annie Proulx’s Quoyle, keep us apprised of the ebb and flow of the tides and traffic in the book world, connecting us with one another and with everyone else in our universe. Reporters Sydney Jarrard and Liz Button not only tell our stories through interviews and features but get us to tell our own as well. The pastiche of news of the industry, of the world of books, and of ABA is our window (and the world’s) into Independent Bookselling.

Meg Smith of membership, marketing, and web fame is tireless at corralling lapsed members (Herding Cats would best describe it) and enrolling new ones, while Catherine Cusick and Nathan Halter nurse us patiently through traumas, helping us when we need help most. Meg also oversees the content on BookWeb and IndieBound.org, while Teresa Neufeld’s artistic talents combine with Meg’s marketing skills to produce promotional materials and graphics for print and the web.

The technical needs of ABA, including those for BookWeb and IndieBound, are overseen by Greg Galloway; Josh Harding sees to it that ABA’s servers don’t let us down; while Geetha Nathan, Matt Supko, and Anna Kumanan, masters of the Salander-ish tangle of the Internet, have somehow managed to convert us all to Drupal 7 with the help of Scott Nafz, Chanthee Keokhaw, and Ryan Quinn, and are testing a new central selling site, upgrading the search function, and otherwise improving technology — while communicating about things outside our ken in words we understand. Hosanna!  

Last, but far from least, is the money. Robyn DesHotel, who seems to have been here forever, having hit the ground running in March, when Ellie Chang left, is quiet, formidably intelligent but possessed of a wry sense of humor. A character from Michael Lewis (a hero, not a malefactor, of course), she’s already mastered the ins and outs of ABA’s not-uncomplicated financial universe and leads an impressive team consisting of Oscar Lopez, Ana Gonzalez, and Annemarie Majeau.

Complicated? You bet. I’m just sorry I couldn’t put a name on every job. Rosemary said 1,200 words max, or I would. But thank you, all of you at ABA. Singly, you share our passion for books and this industry. Collectively, you keep us sane and in the know, put us on the map, and make up a vital, much-loved part of our community.

And warm holiday wishes to all you independent booksellers out there, the most inspired and inspiring group of people I know, heroes one and all and geniuses to boot, reinventing yourselves at the speed of light (or technology), multitasking like circus performers, running brilliant businesses while (and by) helping one another — and in your spare time reading nonstop with discrimination beyond that of any reviewer, then talking about the books you love with informed passion. May your stores be filled with loyal and appreciative customers, your cash registers ring joyously, and your January shelves be full (but not too full) of good books to sell — with nothing left over to return!

Here’s wishing all of you joy.

Betsy Burton
President, American Booksellers Association
The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, Utah