A Letter From ABA President Robert Sindelar

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ABA logoDear Fellow Booksellers,

Summer in Seattle is coming rapidly to a close. The days have already started cooling off a bit, we saw our first rain in quite a while, and I’m starting to get e-mails about my kids’ back-to-school activities. As much as I’ll miss the gorgeous, long Seattle summer days (we had ABA’s board meeting here in July, so the board members can testify that I’m not exaggerating the beauty this city holds in its warmer months), getting ready for fall in the world of bookselling is always invigorating.

Looking at the September Indie Next List last week, I was reminded of what an amazing lineup of books we have to offer readers this coming season. Personally, I cannot wait to get Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner) into our stores at Third Place Books. It is a stunning novel that gets inside you — quick and deep. It is a novel for today as much as any I’ve read this year. As our country continues to be politically and ideologically divided (as evidenced again by the disturbing events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in reactions, protests, and counter-protests around the country this past weekend), some have found it hard to find space for fiction in their lives. Earlier this year, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead) proved to be a novel whose art brought unique and resonant meaning to readers. Sing, Unburied, Sing will do that this fall.

I am also looking forward to seeing a number of you at the regional trade shows this fall. I will be attending the SIBA and PNBA shows and hope to catch up with many of my colleagues in those regions while there. Below are a couple of items of particular note happening at fall shows, plus an update on ABA’s Diversity Task Force.


If you haven’t seen it yet, there is a very handy new link in ABA’s Book Buyer’s Handbook for publishers’ current and upcoming Backlist Offers (a BookWeb username and password are required to access the Handbook; e-mail info@bookweb.org for login information). There are some extremely great deals here from our publishing partners. Our job now as booksellers is to take advantage of these offers, to bring some of our favorite older titles back into the store and feature them. At the regional fall trade shows around the country, ABA will be presenting a session on how different stores have begun to feature backlist in new ways — through displays, newsletters, and other promotions that have made an impact on their bottom line. One of the things we do best as booksellers is share our success stories with each other (my best ideas always come from interacting with my peers). These backlist sessions will be a great opportunity to share titles and promotional ideas.

Full-Day Diversity Workshop

Here, I want to offer some personal testimony to the extraordinary work of Ilsa Govan and Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting, who will be presenting a full-day educational session on September 14, at SIBA in New Orleans, and on October 11, at MPIBA in Denver, titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Addressing Stereotypes and Creating a Welcoming Environment.”

I attended a three-part workshop that Hollins conducted in Seattle last summer. It was, to put it mildly, a powerful experience for me — one that continues to inform my thoughts and actions. It was also clearly a moving experience for almost everyone else in that room. It’s rare to see a large group of headstrong, self-assured, thoughtful, and well-educated arts professionals all slow down together and shift their points of view a bit.

Those of you who attended Children’s Institute this past spring in Portland got a chance to hear Govan give an incredible opening plenary session. She stayed on at the conference after that event and always had a queue of booksellers waiting to talk with her and ask her questions.

Having these incredible women at two of the fall shows is a great opportunity for ABA membership, and I hope those who can attend do. You’ll be glad you did.

Diversity Task Force

A number of members have asked to hear updates on the Diversity Task Force, and we are now ready to give our first report. As I wrote here previously, we met at the end of BookExpo 2017 in person and have had an additional conference call since then. I reported the task force’s recommendations to the ABA Board in July, all of which were unanimously accepted. This is the immediate work the task force is taking on:

  • Identify stores that come from diverse communities and that are not members of ABA, and reach out to them to encourage membership and participation.
  • Use the diversity survey from this past spring to address a number of member requests for educational resources.
  • Create a regular BTW column to address topics brought up by members in the diversity survey. (This means you will be hearing from the task force members themselves moving forward, and not just me.)
  • Encourage regional and national trade show panels to include diverse speakers and panelists in conversations on bookselling and industry topics. (The task force has volunteered to be a resource to offer recommendations as needed.)
  • Continue periodic conference calls with the task force leading up to Winter Institute.
  • Meet again in person at Winter Institute.

By Winter Institute, my hope is to be able to report on our progress on these agenda items as well as next steps. The task force can be reached at diversitytaskforce@bookweb.org.

I hope you have a great rest of your summer, in your stores and personally. If you have any comments or questions, please always feel free to contact me or any member of the ABA Board of Directors.

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