4 Days in Memphis

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Mural in Memphis, TNVisiting Memphis fulfills a giddy fantasy for anyone who loves rock ‘n’ roll and the blues. And barbecue, jazz clubs, and history, especially of the civil rights movement.

Can I confess how excited I am to see Graceland?

The pleasures of Memphis are many, and the perfect backdrop for the pleasures and indulgences of ABA’s 2018 Winter Institute (“Wi13”). Whether you are going for one day or four, prepare yourself for piles of books, barbecue, and the blues. Get ready also for the sight of hundreds of book-people swarming downtown Memphis. And be prepared to nod to your fellow institute-goers at one of the six hotels that booksellers will be staying at as indie bookselling takes over the city.

We all can’t do it all, so I offer this overview to help you navigate the days, and to highlight some of the fun things you won’t find printed in the Wi13 program. And here is a Memphis-themed Spotify playlist to set the mood as you read.


We used to call the day before the Institute’s opening keynote a “pre-day,” which always struck me as impossible given the space-time continuum, so I’m pleased that we now call it “Day 1.” Wi13 will be hard enough for the time-challenged.

Badges7:30 am to 9 pm The ABA Welcome Desk is an event unto itself this year. It is being personned by newish member relationship managers Elizabeth Roberts and Daniel O’Brien, with help from a cast of ABAers. Liz and Daniel are a wonderful team and awfully nice to boot, and lucky for you that you’ll meet them when you pick up your Wi13 badge—with personal pronouns and table and room assignments noted—and program. Look for the desk in the Sheraton on Monday. We move to the Convention Center Ballroom Foyer on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and convert into the Ask ABA Desk.

[Note for folks attending the Paz Workshop and the IndieCommerce Institute on Monday: Your badges and welcome bags will be waiting for you in the assigned session room. You can stop by the Welcome Desk during the course of the day to see what else is cooking. Anyone else needing a badge on Monday will find it at the Welcome Desk.]

First Timer ButtonBooksellers will receive Candlewick’s special edition Wi13 welcome bag, packed with a journal (thanks, lead sponsor Ingram!), party invites, a trolley map, suggestions for local stores to visit, and a few more treats. Dig in the bag for a special BTW pencil to help you take notes like a pro. First-timer attendees can grab a button to add to your Wi13 badge bling. More about bling later.

Befitting a Southern welcome, Hachette has arranged for a photo stand on Monday, which will be located right near check-in. Revive your travel-weary self with a vamped selfie! Props will be supplied. (Sorry, no sweet tea.)

But that’s not all—accompanying the photo booth, indeed stationed near the Ask ABA desk all four days of the Institute, will be the perfect place to vamp, confess, exclaim, declare, and harangue, all anonymously. In honor of the March 2018 publication of Notes From a Public Typewriter (GCP), a collection from indie bookseller Michael Gustafson (Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI), Hachette is supplying Wi13 with its very own public typewriter! And like at Literati, everyone is invited to sit, think, and create—anonymously. Output will be shared on a very public bulletin board, so no trolling allowed.

We won’t spoil all the surprises at the Welcome Desk, but come prepared to share your favorite must-read books. Later this year Workman Publishing, the folks who publish the 1,000...Before You Die collections, will be publishing the one we’ve all been waiting for: 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. Workman is curious about bookseller choices and there will be postcards on hand to collect them. What books would you handsell to the world?

Wall outside Graceland8 am to 4:30 pm and 9 am to 3:45 pm Two bookstore and cultural tours depart from the Sheraton. One tour heads to Square Books in Oxford, MS, and one travels the Delta to Turnrow Books in Greenwood, MS. Square Books owner Richard Howorth and general manager Lyn Roberts designed and organized a very special trip to Oxford; Turnrow owner Steve Iwanski mapped out routes and arranged for special guests for the trip to Greenwood. We are tremendously grateful for the hard work they put into these trips. Were there only room for us all, but both tours are sold out. Send pictures, please, you lucky people on the bus!

9 am to 5 pm The IndieCommerce Institute is filled to capacity this year, but if you’d like to improve your web presence or have an IndieCommerce or IndieLite site, drop by Room 201 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and chat with one of the IndieCommerce specialists. The whole well-oiled IndieCommerce machine—Phil, Geetha, Scott, Ryan, and Chanthee—will be in Memphis. Hours are in the program.

10 am to 4 pm No bookseller’s education is complete without a full understanding of basic finances, including P&L, cash vs. accrual accounting, and how to manipulate a spreadsheet like nobody’s business. ABA CFO Robyn DesHotel has been presenting the Principles of Bookstore Finance Seminars at various ABA events over the last year, and we encourage all operations people to attend, somewhere, somehow. There are just a few slots left at Wi13, so email Robyn if you’re interested. First come, first served.

5 pm to 7 pm Greetings all comers to the Wi13 Welcome Reception! Whether you’ve just arrived in town or have been on a bookstore tour, in a workshop, or at the Used Bookstore Forum (1 pm to 4 pm), make your way to the historic Cadre Building for the best party of the year. The Cadre is just a short trolley ride down Main Street, or, if you’re near the Sheraton, hop on the Wi13 shuttle, running every 15 to 20 minutes between 4 pm and 7:30 pm.

It’s tough to go to a party where you don’t know anyone, so check BookWeb.org first for the lists of booksellers and publishers who are attending Wi13. Recognizing even one name can help us bookish introverts. And if you see someone with a Wi13 First-Timer button looking wan, do say hello!

TIP for Scholarship Recipients: Arrive at the Cadre by 4:30 pm to meet and thank your generous patrons! Look for the special area in the back of the hall, up the stairs. We really, really, really suggest you make the effort.

Image of cloudsLast August, my colleagues Greg Galloway and Matt Zoni and I paid a site visit to Memphis on, as it happened, the day of the solar eclipse. Memphis was not far from the predicted path of totality. Our convention bureau rep found the last pair of eclipse goggles in Memphis for the three of us to share. Around 2:00 pm we found ourselves at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel. The museum, not five minutes by foot from the Cadre Building and easily reachable by trolley, is an innovative, enthralling, and memorable place. At 2:20 pm we went out to stare at the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot when the moon slowly began moving across the sun. I took the picture on the right. It was a stunning moment. Plan to visit; I can’t promise you a similar celestial experience, but 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, and your experience is sure to be unforgettable. Show your Wi13 badge and receive a $2 discount.

Painted Guitar10 pm to 11 pm Just one more quick one back at the Sheraton…the Young (and ageless) Professionals After Party is sponsored by Lit Hub/Book Marks, Typewriter Rodeo (Andrews McMeel), and the National Book Foundation, with help from the regional bookseller associations. That’s a lot of support from a lot of places for the young booksellers who bring energy and enthusiasm to Winter Institute and to our industry. If you’re awake, come on by and wrangle one of the rodeo hands into writing you a free poem!

If you find yourself with time on your hands while in Memphis, it’s worth a cab ride to see the fabulous Stax Museum of American Soul Music. (Not open on Monday, however.) In addition to giant guitars, there is more music memorabilia there (including Isaac Hayes’ superfly gold-trimmed Cadillac) than, well, probably anywhere other than Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland!


6:45 am to 7:15 am There will be private Friends of Bill meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Check the program for location.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Pamela Paul7:45 am to 9 am The meaty days of Wi13 begin! The opening Breakfast Keynote, Sarah Jessica Parker in Conversation with Pamela Paul, will set the stage for all the love-of-books talk to come.

[Note: Mentors and mentees will be meeting just before the keynote, at 7:30 am in Ballroom A&B at their assigned tables. Check your badge for details.]

9:20 am to 10:20 am Booksellers, did we tell you about the homework? Give some thought to this question for the Bookseller Discussion Groups: What is one challenge and one opportunity for your business over the next year? Publishers, you will have some thinking time, too, at the session designed just for you, ABACUS and Bookstore Finances.

10:20 am to 7 pm If you remember to pack anything, make sure it is your pre-printed FedEx shipping labels and FedEx account number! Yes, forget about clothes or shoes, Wi13 is about books, and there will be hundreds of them in the Galley Room, thanks to the more than 90 Wi13 publisher sponsors! The PartnerShip/FedEx Shipping Desk will be ready for business on Tuesday. Hours for the Galley Room and Shipping Desk vary for Wednesday and Thursday, so check the program.

To sign up for the PartnerShip program now and receive the ABA member discount, email Keith Korhely. Keith tells us that FedEx is charging a $5 per box surcharge for the onsite service. Oh well, at least you won’t be cabbing around looking for the closest drop-off point.

Because people are staying in multiple hotels and “running back to the room” may not be an option, there will be complimentary coat racks and a baggage check at the Convention Center in the Grand Lobby beginning Tuesday.

10:40 am to 11:40 am The first set of breakout sessions follows bookseller discussions. Three days, six education blocks, six session choices per block...that’s a lot of numbers! And choices: From Bookselling 101 options to Advanced Education, the range of topics and depth of presenters in 2018 is truly extraordinary. In the first block alone you can learn about social media, merchandising, how to inspire literary citizenship, hear a conversation between ABA CEO Oren Teicher and Pamela Paul, and for those who pre-registered, “Do Less, Then Obsess” with Morten Hansen. (Not a bad overall life philosophy!)

Download the Wi13 app, and a word about session evaluations: We know it takes time to give thoughtful feedback, and we too often decline to “take the survey at the end of this message,” but consider what is at stake for ABA to continue to produce education based on the the real needs independent booksellers. Please make every effort to complete session evaluations while the experience is fresh in your mind.

OK, here are the easy steps:

1. Download the app. On your mobile device go to https://crowd.cc/s/19Qu0

2. Download AttendeeHub

3. Search for Winter Institute 2018

4. Sign in. You will receive a verification code from CrowdCompass in order to complete the process.

5. Create a profile if you want other attendees to find you and to use other cool features

All the session and special event descriptions are in the app! And by that, I mean that all the session and special event descriptions are only in the app. They are not in the printed program. Underneath each description is a section called Surveys, which is where you will find the evaluation for that session.

The app is the place to go for details, panelists, bios, sponsor lists, and the like. And you can read through the program and use the My Schedule function so you don’t forget where you want to go.

If you encounter any problems onsite, please go to the Ask ABA Desk for help. If you have questions before you get to Memphis, email ABA tech guru Greg Galloway.

Lorraine Hotel11:55 am to 1:55 pm Think of the Rep Picks Speed Dating Lunches—Day 2 is on Wednesday—like ballet, carefully choreographed performances that keep the dancers publisher reps on their toes. As an observer, I love the noise, energy, and precision timing. As a bookseller, you get all that and handselling tidbits, too.

Dan Pink3:25 pm to 4:25 pm After the second education block from 2:10 pm to 3:10 pm — with six more brand-new breakouts to choose from — the time is right to flock to Ballroom C&D for author Dan Pink. Pink, who has been at three previous Winter Institutes, will speak about his new book, When (Riverhead Books), and the science of timing, based on lots of new research. No more guessing as to when to schedule keynotes at Winter Institute! Or when to schedule breaks in the bookselling day.

Night time street scene in Memphis4:45 pm to 6:15 pm Bring your newfound perspective to the Bookseller and Publisher Focus Groups and take advantage of 90 minutes of face to face. To all participants: Share your needs and listen to theirs. Here is a list of possible topics to discuss.

6:20 pm to 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm to 10:30 pm When the hard work of the day is complete there will be two chances to let off steam with everyone else: First at the Ingram Drinks and Hors d’Oeuvres Open Reception and then at the late night Scholastic Meet and Treat After Party. Fair warning, you may be going to bed filled to the brim with….well, everything!

Why not walk it off down Beale Street, Home of the Blues, and the only street I know of that has its own webpage?


Junot Díaz7:45 am to 9 am Morning Keynote author Junot Diaz recently told BTW “I wouldn’t be where I am if not for independent bookstores...indie booksellers kept their faith in me.” I predict his talk will make for a memorable morning — so wake up and join everyone. There will be coffee!

Pop-up greeting card9 am to 5 pm With a two-hour break for lunch, IndieCommerce one-on-ones continue, and the Consultation Station—all 34 participants, from literacy groups to LovePop cards to POS vendors, and lots of new faces—will be ready for your questions. Check the program for hours and locations on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Binc Foundation logoFor the first time, ABA has chosen an official charity for the Winter Institute. Binc, which provides help to booksellers with all sorts of emergencies, from unexpected medical expenses to loss of household income to and elder care expenses, will be raising money for its programs through a “heads or tails” fundraiser. Purchase a “blinkie” pin for $20, or two for $35, and you could win a $500 gift card! Not too shabby. The pins will be sold at the Ask ABA Desk and at Binc’s table at the Consultation Station. We hope to light up the Institute so Binc can bring light to a bookseller in need. Check your Welcome Bag for details on how to play and win.

9 am to 5 pm The SIBA Hospitality Suite is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and since hospitality is a southern specialty it should be worth your while to stop by, put up your feet, and say hey, y’all. All regions welcomed.

9:20 am to 10:20 am and 3:40 pm to 4:40 pm You’ll notice that Wi13 break-out sessions are now an hour long. We’ve cut the time in response to bookseller feedback, and we think it will allow everyone to stay focused. There is a morning and an afternoon education block and plenty of all institute gatherings in between. Such as.….

10:40 am to 11:40 am Every year ABA conducts a Town Hall Meeting at the institute, and every year more and more booksellers step up to the mic to share thoughts and ask questions about the association, the industry, world politics, the challenges of retail, and more; anything any member wants to speak about. Many positive changes have resulted from topics raised at the Town Hall. Don’t miss it.


2:20 pm to 3:20 pm More than 15 new authors will be appearing at the Indies Introduce Authors and Booksellers Present...! The combination of passionate booksellers championing debut books is very moving, and goes to the heart of what authors love about indie booksellers, and vice versa.

Display of a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land.5 pm to 6:30 pm Our publisher sponsors know that many a breakout book has been introduced at Winter Institute, so deciding which authors to bring for the biggest Author Reception event of the calendar can be an impossible choice. But booksellers and their guests don’t need to choose: Get an autographed book from all 97 authors! Not to worry about your shoulders — there will be book bags at the reception and in the Galley Room.

Wednesday is a great night to explore Memphis music and food. I can personally recommend Central BBQ, which is across the street from the Civil Rights Museum and open until 9 pm, and Itta Bena, upstairs at BB King’s Blues Club, which is open until midnight. But ask a Memphis bookseller for the real deal, that little out-of-the-way place that no one knows about. Or that no one knew about….


7:45 am to 9:15 am Small and university presses take center stage for a good part of the day, beginning with the Small and University Press Breakfast. More than a dozen publishers will present picks from their upcoming lists. Usually a fast-moving and entertaining breakfast, this year we made time for booksellers to delve a little deeper during the Small and University Presses Office Hours (9:15 am to 10:45 am) at the back of the ballroom.

Sun Studio9:15 am to 12 pm and 1:30 pm to 5 pm Some of our favorite books come from the smallest of presses, evidence of an increasingly egalitarian book world. Meet the Presses is like a consultation station for extremely curated lists. Publisher reps are standing by and are happy for you to sit and chat!

9:30 am to 10:30 am The Wi13 education sessions are so varied; this block offers education on becoming a buyer, how to open a bookmobile, learning to brag about your good works, using SEO (search engine optimization) to build your business, and an idea exchange for tips on selling children’s books. Session descriptions (and evaluations) are in the Wi13 app.

10:45 am to 11:45 am This keynote address is scheduled for a bit later than previous mornings so that booksellers can be fully awake and well-caffeinated for the Morning Keynote With Amy Webb, who is a quantitative futurist and author. She will be talking about the “near-futures of artificial intelligence, automation, and content.” It’s actually fun and fascinating stuff! To prepare, watch Amy’s TED Talk on hacking online dating. (Spoiler alert: it worked.)

12 pm to 1:30 pm The final lunch event of the institute is a combo eating and Small Press Author-signing smorgasbord. Literally! Many small press sponsors have brought their authors to Memphis.

1:45 pm to 2:45 pm Get out your notebooks one more time for ABA education: exploring new business models, conducting staff meetings, courting the romance reader, offbeat events, emergency preparedness, and the cool-sounding Hacking Your Bookseller Salary with Jesse Mecham. ABA is recording (video or audio) a bunch of the education sessions and keynotes throughout Wi13 and will make everything available on BookWeb.org as soon as possible. Follow BTW for dates and details.

3 pm to 4 pm The last presentation of Wi13 is the Afternoon Keynote with author Gary Shteyngart. Gary graciously agreed to step in when Alberto Manguel was unable to make the trip. Shteyngart is always smart and entertaining, especially when sharing stories about reading, writing, and touring.

4:15 pm to 4:45 pm The Wi13 Debrief is a time to set your goals for the future based on what you’ve learned during the prior three days. Please do not to sit with your store-mates, or even with booksellers near you geographically; we want everyone to feel free to formulate their own ideas and plans without worry.

Elizabeth Acevedo, Charles Frazier, and Dar Williams5 pm to 6 pm The ultimate conference send-off awaits at the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour! What a treat: You will be in the audience for a live radio show that combines music and books, with Dar Williams, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Charles Frazier. The Bo-Keys and the Thacker Mountain house band, The Yalobushwackers, and will perform, too. Get a taste of Dar and Thacker Mountain now with this Spotify playlist. (Thanks, Gen de Botton!) Meet Dar, Elizabeth, and Charles at the book signing and Institute Closing Reception (6 pm to 7 pm) to end a wonderful afternoon.

Thanks for reading, and I hope your giddy fantasies come true in Memphis. Whatever will we do for a Winter Institute encore next year?

Safe travels and see you soon!

Meg Smith
ABA Membership and Marketing Officer

PS: For extra insurance that you won’t miss a thing, bookmark this page for an archive of all BTW Wi13 stories.

About ABA

The American Booksellers Association, a national not-for-profit trade organization, works with booksellers and industry partners to ensure the success and profitability of independently owned book retailers, and to assist in expanding the community of the book.

Independent bookstores act as community anchors; they serve a unique role in promoting the open exchange of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and creating economically vibrant neighborhoods.


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