A Letter From Outgoing ABA Board President Robert Sindelar

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Dear Fellow Booksellers,

As I am confronting the end of my term as president of the American Booksellers Association next month and writing my last letter to you in that capacity, I’ve begun to reflect on my last six years on the board and these last two as president. Here are some questions bookselling and publishing colleagues have asked me and I have been asking myself:

Q: What surprised you the most being on the board?

A: How much I didn’t know. All the booksellers joining the board are successful leaders and business people. You join because you think you have a lot of it figured out and can share that knowledge with others and improve the overall organization. I have learned so much in these past six years on the board. The kind of learning where previously you didn’t even know what question to ask, or that there were questions to ask. Volunteer work like this is, at its best, a perfect balance of a humbling and enriching experience. I’m grateful to have had my share of both.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A:The current moment feels incredibly important to me and makes me extremely proud to be part of this organization. As I have been speaking with many booksellers and publishers over the last week, sorting through the aftershocks of the Baker & Taylor announcement, I have gained yet another level of appreciation for the value of ABA. Hundreds of stores across the country have been getting books solely from Baker & Taylor. Many had their websites powered by a Baker & Taylor product. ABA’s ability to swiftly step in to talk to publishers and other wholesalers about the needs of these stores and provide tools, resources, and education to these booksellers has created a bridge for these stores to maintain and even improve their businesses. I can take almost no credit for these achievements, but knowing that my work and the work of the rest of our board — as well as our predecessors on the board — has had some hand in enabling the incredibly talented ABA staff to do this important task is immensely gratifying.

Q: Are you going to miss it?

A: Absolutely. The past two years serving as president have pushed me professionally in a way I couldn’t have anticipated needing or wanting to be pushed. As I have mentioned to many of my colleagues, leading a group of leaders is a skill unto itself, and I have been fortunate to have had the challenge. The friendships and professional relationships I’ve developed these past years will continue to be the cornerstone of my bookselling career. I’m going to miss spending such quality and productive time with such a smart group of people.

Q: Would you stay on if you could?

A: Absolutely not. As much as I’ll miss my board colleagues and the ABA staff, I am truly looking forward to getting back to my family and staff, both of whom have been immeasurably supportive during my board tenure. Plus, two years is plenty for one person’s opinions and ideas. ABA is extremely well served by having new smart booksellers rotate through their various committees and board positions.

I am still processing so much of this and have another full month of work ahead of me before I pass the baton to the incoming president, the amazing Jamie Fiocco from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

One critical role I will continue to be involved in, even after my term as president has ended, is the search for the next ABA CEO. (As you know, Oren Teicher announced his upcoming retirement earlier this year.) That search has just begun. Jamie Fiocco and I are co-chairing the search committee and have a tremendous amount of confidence in the rest of our search team and the search firm we have hired. Our goal is to have a new CEO hired by early to mid-fall 2019.

One of my last duties as president will be to preside over the Town Hall at BookExpo later this month. Town Hall is certainly one of the things I could add to my list of things I am most proud of, as well as something I will miss. Having an open, transparent, and welcoming forum for our members to speak their minds has been at the heart of many of ABA’s best initiatives over the last few years. I look forward to seeing many of you there and hearing what you have to say. I am also looking forward to the wealth of ABA programs at the show. I always look forward to the Meet the Editor event on Wednesday and was thrilled to see that ABA added an editor speed dating on Friday — I’ll be at both.

Last Question:

Q: What are you going to do with all your time?

A: Undecided. Here is the working list:

  • Spend more time with family
  • Read more books
  • Get back in shape
  • Long-term strategic planning for Third Place Books
  • Write a play (or two)

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about ABA matters, please feel free to reach out to me.

All the best,

Robert Sindelar
Third Place Books
Lake Forest Park and Seattle, Washington