14th Annual Winter Institute Highlights Indie Resurgence as New and Veteran Booksellers Come Together [5]

The American Booksellers Association’s 14th annual Winter Institute will come to a close this evening after drawing a record number of booksellers, publishers, authors, and international guests to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Approximately 700 booksellers from 387 stores joined more than 150 authors [7], 120 publisher partners [8], and nearly 50 international guests who traveled from as far as Colombia, New Zealand, and Sweden to attend ABA’s largest educational event.

An opening reception on Tuesday, January 22, at the Hyatt Regency kicked off the institute, which continued with three full days of programming, including keynote presentations, educational sessions, the ABA Town Hall, and the very popular Author Cocktail Reception.

ABA CEO Oren Teicher, in welcoming the packed crowd of booksellers and publishers, noted that stores in all 50 states were represented at Wi14, and that 200 booksellers were attending their first Winter Institute.

“This moment has actually become one of the highlights of the entire year, to look out at this audience of booksellers from all over the United States,” said Teicher, who went on to thank Shelf Awareness for sponsoring the opening reception, as it has done since the first gathering 13 years ago in Long Beach, California, as well as lead sponsor Ingram Content Group and the growing roster of large and small publishers.

Prior to the opening reception, booksellers gathered in the Albuquerque Convention Center’s La Sala for Ingram’s “Indies by the Fireside,” where they chatted with colleagues, enjoyed hot cocoa, and perused a number of titles on display.

Educational offerings lured many booksellers to the classroom for Small Business Management Seminars on staff management and human resources, strategic in-store merchandising, and used bookstore operations, as well as for the Paz “Introduction to Retail Bookselling” workshop and the IndieCommerce Institute.

Those who ventured out had the choice of day trips to the Acoma Pueblo or to Santa Fe, or downtown walking tours. Arcadia Publishing supplied authors to provide fun and educational insights for each tour, and booksellers were invited back to the Arcadia table at the convention center to explore customized assortments of local-interest books as part of the YourTown partnership program [9].

The evening closed with a performance by The Bookshop Band [10], an English folk singer-songwriter duo touring bookstores in the U.S., and an afterparty at the Hotel Andaluz hosted by the National Book Foundation, Lit Hub, Bookselling Without Borders, Archipelago, Catapult, Counterpoint, Europa Editions, Graywolf, New Directions, New York Review Books, Other Press, and Soft Skull.

Wednesday, January 23, opened with a keynote presentation from author and Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani [11], who talked about the importance of taking risks and being fearless, rather than pursuing perfection.

ABA Board President Robert Sindelar, in his opening remarks, commented on the incredibly rich cultural heritage of New Mexico. In honor of the local tradition of beginning meetings and events with a blessing, Sindelar introduced Native American poet and potter Max Early, author of Ears of Corn: Listen (3: A Taos Press), who delivered several poems, including one that spoke of the power of perseverance in the context of art and pottery.

Recognizing the theme of perseverance in Early’s poem and its pertinence to bookselling, Sindelar noted that Winter Institute “is an event that, at its core, is about idea sharing and professional development. We begin that sharing process each year by assigning first-timers to Winter Institute to a mentor,” he said. “The amazing thing about this conference is that at some point over the next couple days, we all will have the opportunity to be a mentor and a mentee. To teach and to guide and to be taught and to be guided.”

Sindelar also gave a shout-out to Denise Chávez, owner of Casa Camino Real Book Store and Art Gallery [12] in Las Cruces, New Mexico, who worked with ABA staff and the Diversity Task Force [13] to coordinate a Winter Institute book drive to collect Spanish-language books for refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In between numerous education sessions — topics included selling international and diverse books, hosting A+ educator nights, lowering your cost of goods, programs and partnerships to empower women, maximizing and marketing pre-orders, and more — booksellers learned about new and upcoming titles during the Rep Picks lunch, attended one-on-one meetings with the IndieCommerce team, and visited the Galley Room, the MPIBA Hospitality Suite, and the brand-new Quiet Room, which offered a respite from the busy halls of the convention center.

Essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib [14] took the stage in the Kiva Auditorium on Wednesday afternoon to deliver a keynote presentation in which he read excerpts from his upcoming book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, and spoke about music sampling, reading, and his experiences in indie bookstores. Afterward, booksellers and publishers gathered to discuss matters of mutual concern during the Bookseller-Publisher Focus Groups.

The evening concluded with a cocktail party hosted by Ingram Content Group, at which Winter Institute attendees donned festive bandanas that featured the names of all the stores at the event, and Scholastic’s YA Fest Afterparty, where booksellers met authors Jennifer Donnelly (Stepsister), Lamar Giles (Spin), Sabina Kahn (The Love and Lies of Rukhsana), and Bill Konigsberg (The Music of What Happens).

Booksellers grabbed seats early for the Thursday, January 24, keynote featuring author Margaret Atwood in conversation with Erin Morgenstern [15]. Atwood reflected on her long and prolific writing career, including the success of The Handmaid’s Tale, and offered a small but significant insight into its upcoming sequel, The Testaments.

In his opening remarks, ABA CEO Oren Teicher took the stage to congratulate booksellers on another strong holiday sales season. “The year-end data, which many of you have heard us report, was up nearly five percent for 2018. And given the strength in recent years, the compounded growth in sales amongst America’s indie bookstores has been 7.5 percent,” he said.

“In addition, as you’ve probably also heard, we were delighted last year to welcome 96 new indie bookstores [16] in the United States as well as a significant number of stores transferring to new owners, and all of that data shows significant improvement over 2017,” Teicher continued. “We know that every store in every part of the country isn’t seeing that growth, but we at ABA are committed to doing everything we can to ensure the continued vitality of the indie bookstore channel.”

Teicher also reiterated ABA’s commitment to bringing Batch, the U.K.-based invoicing system, to the country this year. “We remain convinced that anything that we can do in cooperation with our publisher partners to create a more efficient bookselling channel is at the heart of what we as an association can do,” he said.

The day continued with education sessions on publisher event grids, developing leaders in your store, using ABACUS as a budgeting tool, building successful relationships with publishers, and the Open Discussion Project [17], which aims to promote civil conversation among left- and right-leaning individuals through book clubs held at independent bookstores across the U.S.

At the annual Winter Institute Town Hall meeting, booksellers spoke up about a number of issues, including the desire for health care options for bookstore employees, the need for access to startup funding, struggles with minimum wage increases, and more. See a full report about the Town Hall meeting in this week’s issue of BTW [18].

Booksellers also attended the second round of Rep Picks, heard from the latest authors in the Indies Introduce program and the booksellers who selected them, and visited with the 33 vendors at this year’s Consultation Station [19]. Publishers Weekly also announced the 2019 Bookstore and Sales Representative of the Year finalists; see who’s in the running in this week’s BTW [20].

The Author Cocktail Reception was once again a hit among booksellers, who lined up to snag signed copies of books from authors such as Wally Lamb, Dana L. Davis, Ali Benjamin, Harlan Coben, Armando Lucas Correa, Holly Goldberg Sloan, Jerry Craft, Christian Robinson, and more.

“I am so honored to be at the 2019 Winter Institute,” said Shaunasee Holder of A Novel Experience [21] in Zebulon, Georgia, who received a scholarship from the Binc Foundation to attend Wi14. “I came here with the two owners of my store, and I’ve learned a lot as an educator and as a bookseller. Now, I can take things back, like how to create an educator’s night and how to sell to schools to help boost revenue in the store, and also to help our tiny school system in Zebulon.”

“My favorite part [of the event] had to be listening to Margaret Atwood and Reshma Saujani,” added Holder. “I love Girls Who Code, and I have the books in my classroom. I always push my female students as hard as my male students. This has been an eye-opening experience for me.”

Deanna Bailey has worked as a bookseller at Story on the Square  [22]in McDonough, Georgia, for five months and was attending her very first Winter Institute and very first bookselling conference ever. “There’s a lot of information that’s useful, and it was really interesting to learn about the industry. It’s been really good to talk to other booksellers, to publishers, to authors. I like that no question is a dumb question,” she said.

One session she felt was especially helpful was “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” about planning author events, communication with publishers, finding a rep, and writing reviews on Edelweiss. Bailey also said she was looking forward to seeing even more diversity and representation among publisher staff and booksellers at Winter Institute in the future.

Following the reception, booksellers joined the National Book Foundation for a screening of Raoul Peck’s award-winning documentary on James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro.

On Friday, January 25, the final day of the institute, booksellers began the morning by hearing about upcoming titles from some of Winter Institute’s additional publisher sponsors, then met with those publishers for further discussion during Publisher Office Hours as well as with small and mid-size publishers for informal conversations during Meet the Presses.

The day’s education sessions included managing a multi-location business, mixing bookstores and bars, thriving as a new bookstore owner, planning for store longevity, and creating dazzling in-store displays.

Featured events included a conversation among past ABA presidents Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops [23] (Naperville, Illinois); Betsy Burton of The King’s English Bookshop [24] (Salt Lake City, Utah); Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books [25] (Coral Gables, Florida); Gayle Shanks of Changing Hands Bookstore [26] (Tempe, Arizona); and Michael Tucker of Books Inc. [27] (San Francisco), as well as a Salute to Authors of New Mexico with Denise Chávez (The King and Queen of Comezón, University of Oklahoma Press), William deBuys (First Impressions: A Reader’s Journey to Iconic Places of the American Southwest, Yale University Press), Anne Hillerman (The Tale Teller, Harper), Layli Long Soldier (WHEREAS, Graywolf Press), Mary Oishi (Rock Paper Scissors, Swimming With Elephants Publications), and Douglas Preston (The Lost City of the Monkey God, Grand Central Publishing).

Following the Winter Institute debrief, in which booksellers talked with colleagues about their educational experience and set goals for the coming year, booksellers headed to the Kiva Auditorium for a lively mariachi performance and to see Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the hit true crime/comedy podcast My Favorite Murder and authors of the forthcoming Indies Introduce pick Stay Sexy & Dont Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide (May 28, Forge Books).

Stay tuned to upcoming editions of Bookselling This Week for coverage of the final events at Winter Institute as well as for in-depth coverage of ABA’s numerous Winter Institute education sessions. In addition, as part of an ongoing effort to make educational programming available to all member booksellers, ABA will post videos of keynote presentations and education sessions on BookWeb in the coming weeks; watch BTW for details.

Liz Button [28] and Emily Behnke [29] contributed to this report.

Special thanks to Two Cats Communications [30] for providing many photos for this report.