SEBA Trade Show Equals Sunshine, Exhibitors, Booksellers, and Authors

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The 2002 SEBA Fall Trade Show brought over 1,000 booksellers, exhibitors, authors, and others in the industry to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for three days of professional development, networking, exhibit aisle marathons, author interaction, and even a busman's holiday to a South Florida bookselling landmark.

On Friday, September 20, Books & Books of Coral Gables hosted a welcoming reception for SEBA attendees. The weekend also marked the 20 anniversary of Books & Books, and owner Mitchell Kaplan and his colleagues were themselves kicking off a concurrent weekend of events to celebrate two decades of bookselling. In early December 2000, Books & Books moved across the street to a new space -- a 1920s Mediterranean Revival-style former doctors' office building that was completely renovated. [See story]

There was a luminous moon over Miami, as Kaplan welcomed attendees in the bookstore's open-air courtyard, noting that "I can't tell you what a thrill it is to have all of you here tonight." A highlight of the evening was the recognition of the winners of the 2002 SEBA Book Awards. This year SEBA could boast of two Pulitzer Prize winners -- Rick Bragg (nonfiction winner for Ava's Man) and Doug Marlette (fiction winner for The Bridge). Both writers thanked independent booksellers for their support and handselling efforts. "I can not thank you enough for putting those books in the hands of people who read them," said Bragg.

However, the most moving moment of the evening came when Max Reinhart, the husband of children's book winner J.J. Reneaux, author of How Animals Saved the People: Animal Tales From the South, accepted the award for Reneaux, who died in February 2000. "J.J. would be particularly happy and grateful," Reinhart said, "this represents the ultimate reward to her."

The SEBA Awards are sponsored by Baker & Taylor, and B&T's Bill Preston noted to booksellers that the company was especially pleased to support an award from independents, who "promote [the] values of reading, education, and personal involvement in their communities."

There were a number of panels and professional development sessions at this SEBA show, ranging from selling sidelines and graphic novels to making the most of co-op and reaching out to reading groups.

ABA presented a panel on succession planning, which featured booksellers Perry Tanner of Atlanta's Chapter 11 Bookstores, and John Barringer, of Charlotte, North Carolina's Park Road Books. ABA also offered booksellers an update on new developments in the Book Sense program and an introduction to the new ABA Book Buyer's Handbook online. While ABA COO Oren Teicher cautioned booksellers at the succession planning session not to "expect that just because someone else has done something in a particular way that you're going to be able to xerox a solution… Every story is different," he and the panel's booksellers offered suggestions on analyzing business value and strategies on how to affect a transition. [To review the main points of the panel, click here]

The bookstore bottom line is never far from attendees' awareness at a regional trade show, and well-attended panels on graphic novels and sidelines spurred discussion on both subjects on the trade floor. Gayle Shanks of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, moderated the panel "Selling Sidelines Successfully." "I tried to convince [booksellers] that sidelines are going to help make them more profitable," she told BTW. Koen Vice President of Merchandise and Marketing Sally Lindsay noted, "Word of mouth on graphic novels was great after the panel."

Hearing the bullish growth statistics in the category, many booksellers hit the trade floor motivated to scope out more information regarding publishers, distributors, and titles. Koen is preparing a new catalog for graphic novels, and booksellers reported good meetings regarding the category with Diamond Comic Distributors, Ingram, and others. Stephen Hammill of Tampa, Florida's Inkwood Books, said he believes that graphic novels encompass "not just superheroes and magic -- there are works with real stories and real people." With this in mind, Hammill said that, a few months ago, Inkwood created a graphic novel section in the store, to both showcase this growing market and to attract younger readers to the store.

Booksellers stayed busy on the show floor. Andrea Gillean of Andrea's Bookstore in Palatka, Florida, told BTW, "I've worked hard, but it's been a good show." Not only had Gillean connected with exhibitors -- leaving orders with many -- but the store had also won $1,000 from exhibitor Bookazine and a signed Robert Bateman bird painting from Random House, and, because of a check-in error had also received a free night's stay from Marriott. Among the winners of various show contests was Books at Stonehenge Market in Raleigh, North Carolina, which won the color printer being raffled to stores that brought in a photo to the ABA booth of their Book Sense 76 displays. Co-owner Barry Johnson said that the display has developed into a customer favorite. "People come in and recognize it," he said. "They notice these titles are not the same books they see elsewhere. We use the 76 and promote off it all the time."

Koen's Lindsay said, "It's been a great show -- we've seen a lot of first-timers and real prospects." Allison Reid and Susan Capron at the University of Georgia Press exhibit said that the show had been very productive. "We've had very busy traffic, especially on Saturday, and we wrote a lot of orders," said Reid. Capron, the press' sales manager, added, "I've been able to put a lot of faces to names, which is really important, and which isn't always in the cost-benefit analysis." However, Priscilla J. McWilliams, publicist and special events coordinator for the University of Alabama Press, said "it's been slower for us than normal. I guess when you look at the economy it's been good, but not as good as in previous years. But we've made a lot of good contacts." Other exhibitors, too, noted that traffic appeared down, but many agreed with Simon & Schuster's Brian Kelleher, field sales director for the children's group, who said, "We've definitely seen first-timers."

SEBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell said that 30 percent of SEBA's core member bookstores attended the show. "One hundred and fifteen-plus stores met and talked and ordered from 115 exhibitors representing more than 266 companies at over 300 tables," she said. More than 26 percent of the bookseller attendees were first-timers and new members, and, Jewell said, "That is the largest number of first time booksellers SEBA has ever hosted at a single trade show." Overall, there were over 470 booksellers in attendance, 480 exhibitors, over 215 authors, a dozen librarians, 25 media representatives (include trade and such national press as USA Today and Associated Press), with a total attendance of over 1,200. Jewell said that "over 40 percent of booksellers in attendance were from Florida, but we also had booksellers attend from as far away as Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, and Missouri."

At the SEBA annual meeting, association president Jerry Eidenier of Gothic Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina, reported to members on the association's activities over the year, focusing especially on how SEBA was reworking its governance model. Among the actions taken were to restructure the SEBA Board of Directors from 11 to five people and to begin a reworking of the association's bylaws. Board member John Barringer explained that the process would ensure that "the board is freed up to do what it ought to be doing, which is 'thinking,' rather than directly managing" association operations. "I honestly believe that with a little bit of patience you are going to see a tremendous change in your organization," he said. Board Member Michael Fraser of Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati, reported to members that SEBA's net assets had grown from $344,000 to $435,000 during the last fiscal year.

Authors are a major attraction for any trade show, and SEBA's events featured many. [For a full listing, click here] Mary Jane Reed of the G.J. Ford Bookshop & Cafe in Saint Simons Island, Georgia, noted that she and colleague Jeanne Young were thrilled to have had the opportunity to sit with Pat Conroy (My Losing Season, Doubleday) at the SEBA Supper on Friday night. "It's great to be able to talk to the authors for a little bit and to get to know them as a person," noted Young.

On Saturday, SEBA sponsored a "Moveable Feast of Authors," where authors moved from table to table at the event. Author Les Standiford (Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Building of the Railroad That Crossed the Ocean, Crown) told BTW that he enjoyed the evening immensely. "It was fun -- but it was also work!" he said. "I met more people in a shorter amount of time than I have in my life."

And after a busy day on the trade floor, Tim Dorsey, author of, most recently, Triggerfish Twist (Morrow), and Ace Atkins, author of, most recently, Dark End of the Street (Morrow), were headed out for a little mystery writer R&R: visits to Fort Lauderdale spots associated with writer John D. MacDonald's fictional PI Travis. The itinerary, Dorsey told BTW, began at Slip F-18, Bahai Mar, where McGee lived on his yacht, the Busted Flush, and would end at Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Marina, at the revolving roof-top bar that MacDonald's novels immortalized.

Even as the exhibitors began to break down their displays after the show closed on Sunday afternoon, the prospect of tapping SEBA's trade show resources were not over. This year, the association is launching a "virtual trade show," available to SEBA core members at the association's Web site, The web-based resource will feature online video of show events, a "virtual trade show booth" for exhibitors, listings of show specials, and the opportunity to place orders (for more information on SEBA's virtual show, click here). "People who would not have a chance to go to a trade show will be able to see the authors and other events that they wouldn't have seen otherwise," said Jewell. "And they will be able to place orders even after the show has ended in Fort Lauderdale." -- Dan Cullen