A Letter From ABA Board President Robert Sindelar on the Delight of Participation

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

The Delight of Participation (After Ross Gay)

Dear Fellow Booksellers,

Over these last couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure (the delight) of traveling to both the Pacific Northwest and Northern California Independent Booksellers Association fall trade shows. One of the highlights of these visits was the Sunday morning breakfast at PNBA, where I got the opportunity to hear the amazing Ross Gay talk about and read/perform from his forthcoming The Book of Delights (Algonquin Books, February 12, 2019). On a weekend where many of us were otherwise saturated with distressing news about our ever-divided country, Ross inspired us with his poetic meditations on the wonder and magic of daily life (my favorite is the exuberance and joy found in the random high-five from a stranger — I’ve reread that one a few times now).

I don’t always go to the meal events at trade shows anymore. I guess I feel I’ve got so much else to do that if I can spend that time working (or sleeping) I should. But Marlon James was also on the ticket that morning, and I’m way too big of a fan to pass up that opportunity. The fact that Laurie Halse Anderson and Leif Enger (both of whom I’ve had the good fortune of hearing speak before) were also going to be there certainly didn’t hurt. But after more than 27 years of bookselling, you’d think I’d know that the meaning and power of the event comes not merely from the speakers but from sitting amongst my friends and colleagues of the book world and sharing in the powerful stories from the stage together. The delight I had that morning was indulging in the act of participation.

As member booksellers of ABA, participation — most often in the form of idea sharing, whether at Winter Institute, at regional trade shows, or on social media (there are two great indie bookseller Facebook groups you should check out, Indie Booksellers and BXsellers) — is something many of us are pretty familiar and comfortable with. I wanted to point out two opportunities for participation coming up that all members should be aware of.

Nominations for the ABA Board

Before I joined the ABA Board, I kind of felt like it was a private club. That I needed an invite to participate. I was lucky/privileged. A colleague of mine nominated me (I think he said something about rather than sitting around having a bunch of opinions, why don’t I step up and serve). Yet, looking back, I feel it was almost irresponsible of me (to myself) that I let the whim of someone else’s nomination dictate whether I would enter into a significant role like this.

The nomination process for new ABA Board members is open now. Certainly, if you know a smart, engaged, passionate bookseller, please, by all means, nominate them. But if you are that bookseller, don’t wait for an invitation. Nominate yourself. We’d particularly like to see some nominees from the middle to western parts of the country.

If you think you might be that bookseller but need to learn a bit more about ABA and the greater indie bookselling world, we’d love to have you on the Booksellers Advisory Council. I get to appoint a few new booksellers to that committee each year. If you are interested in being considered to join that group, please e-mail me.

Indies First Offers

The wealth of publisher offers that are currently available for not just Indies First/Small Business Saturday but much of the fall season is truly impressive. Last year I told buyers, “If you haven’t looked at these deals in a few years, you should look again.” The same holds true for this year. The ease of using so many of these offers has changed dramatically and many can be used multiple times. So, yes, it is in your store’s best interest to take advantage of some of these deals as they will impact your bottom line.

But that’s the selfish reason to do it. The other reason, as eloquently relayed to me by a very smart bookseller from the NCIBA board, is that when we all participate in programs like this we have the opportunity to remind our publishing partners of our collective muscle. And every time we flex that muscle, and do so well, it gives our publishing partners yet another reason to get creative with us as to how we can continue to do business together in smart, efficient, and beneficial ways.


This summer, ABA put together a task force of 22 stores to attempt to gain some traction in helping indies capture some of the pre-order market. Was there delight in their participation? Well, not at first. Most stores were skeptical (they’d tried it once before and it didn’t work, they don’t have a good internal mechanism for tracking the sales, etc.). But by the end of the test, the results told a different story. While having strong success on some individual titles, many stores reported that their pre-sales in general went up during the test, meaning that the messaging/marketing to their customers about pre-orders reminded customers simply that they can order books from their local indie. The other piece that many stores reported was that while getting the internal pre-order process set up in their store (coordinating POS with website with social media with in-store signage, etc.) was a bit of work up front, once it was done, it became easy to plug new titles into the program.

Overall, the program was a big success, but it is clearly only the beginning. The pre-order campaign is about curbing consumer behavior. Consistent messaging to our customers that the most exciting forthcoming books are easily available from independent bookstores, often in the form of a signed copy or with a free giveaway, will continue to keep our stores in the front of our customers’ minds whenever they are thinking about books.

So, with this as well as the Indies First offers, yes, participate for your store, but participate for all of us, too. These are both great examples of where we are always stronger together.

I hope the fall season finds your stores well and that you find many reasons to delight in your staff, your customers, your author events, your school visits, your book fairs, and your reading pile. If you need some help remembering what we should be finding delightful, Ross Gay will help you out.

I always welcome hearing from any of you. Please feel free to contact me anytime.

Robert Sindelar
President, American Booksellers Association
Third Place Books
Lake Forest Park and Seattle, Washington