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Trade Show Commonplace Book: Author Events

So much happens at a book conference or trade show. For me, keeping a digital commonplace book has become a personal as well as professional habit. Long after a BookExpo or Winter Institute or fall regional bookseller conference has ended, I want to be able to call up quotable moments that could easily have slipped away, memory (mine at least) being the sieve it is.

This is particularly true of the education sessions, where attendees participate in detailed conversations about pertinent topics. There are so many excellent "big picture" takeaway quotes from these sessions, offering perspective on this crazy business we've all signed up for. Ya gotta save some of them.

Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, Mike Onorato, Lynn Rosen, Megan Edwards, Mark Sedenquist

Consider, for example, the BookExpo education session "Making Indie Bookstore and Library Events a Win-Win-Win," which was moderated by Mike Onorato, executive director of publicity at Smith Publicity, and featured Lynn Rosen, co-owner of Open Book Bookstore, Elkins Park, Pa.; Megan Edwards, author of the Copper Black mystery series; Mark Sedenquist, publisher of indie press Imbrifex Books; and Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, marketing manager & book publicist at Smith Publicity.

While the discussion leaned more toward bookshops than libraries, some excellent points were made about hosting author events, including:

Sedenquist noted that Imbrifex authors are advised "that when they go to book events we want them to introduce themselves to as many booksellers as possible. So that for nonfiction books, they're recognized as an expert in the field.... If they're a fiction writer, their personality should be apparent because those booksellers will handsell the books long after the author is gone."

Although selling her books is "always at the back of my head," Edwards conceded that "I can't just walk into a room and say that's what I'm there for. Perhaps it's obvious to everyone, but I do like getting to know people, meeting people who already know about and like my books and interacting with them. And I love getting to know booksellers and actually these days just visiting independent bookstores and chain bookstores all over the country is just a delightful way to be a tourist."

She also put in a plug for her home indie in Las Vegas: "We have a fabulous independent bookstore that has become a tourist destination. You wouldn't think that Las Vegas would be a place where readers would come, but this store is really worth the visit. It's called the Writer's Block.... So I really like all of that interaction, and then of course the residual effect afterwards of my books selling better and in more places across the country, which builds on itself. If I've done a good job, maybe I'll get invited back for the next one."

Speaking as a bookseller, Rosen agreed with Edwards that book sales are an important part of author events, but not everything: "We like to think of ourselves as creating conversations and community around the books. So if we're creating an atmosphere, if we're bringing people in, and they're enjoying something and they're part of a literary activity then we feel like we've accomplished what we set out to do. We're always balancing an event with book sales versus an event that's sort of a marketing tool; that's just getting new customers into the store, even if they're not buying something that night."

As a former social media manager for two indie bookstores in the Philadelphia area, Smith Publicity's Thatcher said she "felt that the social media content--newsletter content, website content--that you get from an event can be worth the event even if you only sold five or 10 books. There is some cynicism around author signing events. People are questioning that a lot, and I like to point out that there is the national reach of that hashtag for your book. That if you are promoting the signing the best you can online and in social media, the reach is much wider than just that city where you're hosting the event."

The big question had to be asked: What if an event happens and nobody shows up?

"I'm always so afraid I'm going to go and there'll be nobody there," Edwards confessed. "And it has never happened, but I will say that one time there were two people there. But that's okay with me. It's still an event. And you might modify how you present everything or interact with the two people who are there, but you can still have a great event. And it can still achieve all the other things that can go with a great event even if the room isn't full."

Thatcher said she loved "hearing an author say that it is their responsibility to get people there. As a bookseller and also as a publicist, I've had a lot of authors feel like that's perhaps someone else's job. I try to give them the perspective that the bookstore is doing you a favor. They're hosting you in their space. They're doing a lot of marketing, but we like you to do an equal amount of marketing."

Rosen posed some questions of her own: "What's in an event for the potential attendee? What do you have to offer them? For me, that's really important in planning our events.... So I try to think about what people want. Way back when I was an editor at Ballantine, my boss said, 'People don't buy books because they need them. They because they want them.' So I want to think about what people want out of our events."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3281


IBW Celebrates #BookshopHeroes

ndependent Bookshop Week is currently underway in the U.K. and Ireland, with more than 400 indies celebrating #BookshopHeroes, a theme that has been an entertaining and inspiring way to showcase not just the bookshops, but individual frontline booksellers.

"Happy Independent Bookshop Week 2018!" Books Are My Bag tweeted. "We're celebrating the booksellers that work so hard in the bookshops across the UK and Ireland--they deliver a huge amount to their communities and their high streets. They're our #BookshopHeroes."

BAMB also noted that last weekend Erica Jones (@bookshopblogger) was "embarking on one of the biggest, if not *the* biggest #bookshopcrawl of all time."

In her wrap-up blog post, "Bookshops, home to real-life super heroes," Jones wrote: "You don't have to visit 12 bookshops in three days, but letting bookshops inspire you to visit new places (in the real and imagined world) is definitely a recommended experience--and one that will make you a bookshop hero too."

This year's festivities have been further enhanced by the variety of ways booksellers incorporated branded superhero capes from Quarto and IBW aprons from Nielsen into their social media outreach. Among the IBW #BookshopHeroes highlights:

Griffin Books, Penarth, South Wales: "This year's Independent Bookshop Week is all about #BookshopHeroes!"

Lindum Books, Lincoln: "Bookshop superheroes were in evidence yesterday as we started celebrating Independent Bookshop Week in earnest! Our caped crusader wanted to retain his secret identity though."

White Rose Books, Thirsk: "There's #BookshopHeroes then there's our Sue-per Hero!"

Mostly Books, Abingdon: "#BookshopHeroes #IBW2018 What a bunch of legends."

Warwick Books, Warwick: "#BookshopHeroes #ibw2018 Super hero powers... specialist knowledge of graphic novels, kids books, crime thrillers and the #warwick area... and also dressing up!"

Rickaro Books, Horbury: "A bookshop superhero flying around the shop today."

Ruth Concannon (customer): "My #BookshopHeroes are @ByrnesBooks [Galway], the hardest working booksellers in Ireland and the best Craic as well. They also put up with my mad schemes and terrible puns for two whole years #saints."

Alligator's Mouth, London: "The first Alligator's Mouth #BookshopHero is... Helen! She is wearing the #IBW2018 Apron of Destiny with pride. As you can see, she is the ultimate Bookshop Girl."

Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh, Scotland: "It's our Michael's 58th birthday today! An honorary lighthouse keeper he brings us such joy we nominate him as our #IBW2018 BookshopHERO!..."

Padstow Bookseller, Padstow: "To celebrate #IBW2018 the shop has donned it's cape and is looking 'super' this week!"

Haslemere Bookshop, Haslemere: "From the newest member of staff to the longest standing, Thursday's #BookshopHero is Sue! Sue has worked in the shop for over 15 years and during this time has been involved in countless school events and community projects--she's a brilliant ambassador for books! When she's not in the shop Sue is out walking, birding and spotting butterflies."

Cogito Books, Hexham: "A huge shout out for our #bookshopheroes bookseller and book group guru @MacCallumHilar--an avid reader with extensive book knowledge and her wonderful way with people is always delivered with a smile!"

Tales on Moon Lane, London: "Alphabetizing... now that's a job for #bookshopheroes. Hang on, where does that McCall Smith go?"

IBW was not just about celebrations, however. Last week, Booksellers Association president Nic Bottomley, owner of Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, spoke at the House of Commons during a World Book Day launch reception. A true #BookshopHero, Bottomley cited the "massive disparity" in U.K. business rates, noting that one branch of Waterstones in Bedford paid 60 times as much as the Amazon distribution center in the same town.

"This isn't sustainable. Intellectually, morally, or for the bookshops involved," he observed, adding that as "a first step and as a matter of urgency we would ask for a business rates exemption for bookshops. Business rates dispensation has been given to pubs in recognition of their community value.... Booksellers bring both community value and cultural value to their towns, at a heroic level. And they should be given the same exception. I urge all Parliamentarians to support our representation that we should be given the same business rates concessions as our pubs."

This week, the Booksellers Association upped the ante by calling upon readers, authors, agents, publishers along with the general public to sign a petition urging the government to give bookshops the same business rate discount as pubs. Thus far, it has garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

Nigel Roby

Nigel Roby, owner and CEO of the Bookseller, enthusiastically endorsed the petition drive: "It cannot be right that the rates structure penalizes small local bookshops over giant, global corporations selling online. The BA's proposal is a sensible, achievable way of at least partially redressing this gross imbalance.

"This concession could help more bookshops to continue and just may provide the extra incentive for a new shop to open. The cost to government is minuscule, but the benefit to high streets, struggling with closures, could be significant. What would legislators prefer, yet another betting shop on the high street or a bookshop that supports the community?"

#BookshopHeroes: Maybe Superman is actually a disguise for Clark Kent.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3276


On Stage at BookExpo 2018

Something different. That's what I look for every year at BookExpo (or, before that, the American Booksellers Association Convention, and then BEA). Although I search, that "thing," that bit of magic, almost always finds me instead. To be more accurate, what I actually do is wait for it to find me. The star-struck new bookseller who went to his first ABA Show in Miami in 1993 still, decades later, wants a little taste of the magic as a complement (Or is it an antidote?) to all of the business as usual.

This year, the "thing" I couldn’t resist was the theatrical nature of BookExpo, with its nucleus located near the Theatre Communications Group booth, nestled among the other publishers in the Consortium Book Sales & Distribution aisle.

Suzan-Lori Parks at BookExpo

On Thursday and Friday, I kept being drawn back to the booth, first for signings by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (100 Plays for the First Hundred Days) and then Tony Kushner (The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, October), whose landmark play Angels in America is currently in revival.

I returned once again to meet the creators of The Band's Visit, which I saw last December, not long after it had opened on Broadway. I was deeply moved and entertained by this gem, adapted from the compelling, funny/heartbreaking 2007 film about an Egyptian band stranded overnight in a small desert town in Israel. (I could not, however, have predicted it would go on to sweep the Tony Awards last Sunday.)

David Yazbek and Itamar Moses

"You saw it when it was fresh," joked David Yazbek as he signed my copy of The Band's Visit: A New Musical at TCG's booth. Yazbek composed the music and lyrics for the production and was appearing at BookExpo with David Moses, who wrote the book.

It was only a moment, but it was a moment. 

A few years ago, I considered the idea that BookExpo fit under a definition of theatre proposed by legendary British producer/director Peter Brook in his book, The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate: "I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged."

Tony Kushner

From my early days as a bookseller, I understood that handselling is performance--sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, always passionate--and the bookstore sales floor is a stage set. BookExpo is Broadway-scale handselling. Setting it in New York City enhances the production values, as does staying at a hotel within walking distance of the theater district.

I mean, really... the Javits Center's exhibition hall during BookExpo literally had an Uptown Stage, Midtown Stage and Downtown Stage. The connection was further enhanced when the creators of Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen took to the Downtown Stage to discuss  Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel (Poppy/Hachette).

The Downtown Stage was also the setting for the theatrics of BookExpo's high moment of drama (or comedy or tragedy, depending on your political leanings), when former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared after bomb-sniffing dogs had "secured the premises" while stern-looking folks with earpieces and, in at a least one case, dark sunglasses, surveyed the audience. If anyone can convince me that scheduling former Secretary of State John Kerry at the same venue as the next event wasn't a conscious "act of theatre," I'd love to hear their definition of the word coincidence.

When the curtain finally came down on BookExpo, my next move was to see a play, as I often do for a post-show encore. This year it was the incredible revival of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf (who both won Tony Awards) and Alison Pill.

I thought again about Peter Brook's "act of theatre" concept, as well as something Glenda Jackson told author Mary Gordon in a March New York Times interview. During the '60s, Jackson had been directed by Brook in Marat/Sade. She recalled that working with him "was like coming across an oasis in the desert. Like all great directors, he creates the kind of world in which everyone's responsible for the whole play. That sense of the total being greater than the sum of the parts is very, very strong in Lear."

I said earlier that BookExpo is Broadway-scale bookselling. I'll amend that statement. The real magic of the show--those "moments" like mine at the TCG booth this year, and yours elsewhere--happen when individual players, whatever our role/job description may be, find ways to become "responsible for the whole play."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3271


Audiobooks as 'Empathy Delivery Devices'

"I often say that books are these really handy, wonderful empathy delivery devices.... And at a time like now, when I feel we could use empathy more than ever, the fact that you can just stick these wonderful empathy delivery devices in your ear and go makes me profoundly grateful." --Gayle Forman

June is Audiobook Month, a season launched annually with the Audie Awards gala in New York City, followed the next day at BookExpo by the Audio Publishers Association's Author Tea, where this year's featured speakers were authors Laini Taylor, Jason Fry and Gayle Forman, along with actress/writer Kathryn Hahn.

Laini Taylor, Kathryn Hahn, Gayle Forman and Jason Fry

"The main thing I love about audiobooks is that I'm an author who reads aloud as I write," said Taylor (Strange the Dreamer, Hachette Audio). "The music of the language is so important to me that I read it out loud to myself. And I'm a perfectionist, so by the time I've finished a book I'll have read it something like 8,000 times.... For me the great gift of an audiobook narrator is that I can hear it anew and it can come alive for me again. It's a selfish thing. They can bring my book back to me. But as a civilian listener of books, they are ways of squeezing more stories into my life. I listen to them with my daughter. They're such a gift."

Noting that she is "somebody who truly loves audiobooks," Forman (I Have Lost My Way, Listening Library) agreed that it is "amazing to hear your work translated in this different way." As a listener, she gravitates toward "the kind of big, chunky nonfiction that, since having children, I have been unable to concentrate through. It's fantastic."

It is as a parent that audiobooks have changed her life. Although one of her daughters is a voracious reader, the other "has a harder time with reading," Forman said. Last summer, however, in preparation for a family trip abroad, "I took a leap of faith and I bought about 10 different audiobooks. I bought the entire Jason Reynolds collection, Wonder, some Jackie Woodson, Sharon Draper, loaded them on, crossed my fingers. And over that summer she listened to these books over and over.... The surprising thing was that when we came home in the fall, suddenly she wanted to listen to chapter books read out loud.... And so now, three nights a week, I'm upstairs reading to her."

Describing himself as "probably the biggest newbie in the room, but also as a really enthusiastic convert," Fry (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Random House Audio) confessed that his first experience with an audiobook occurred just two days before the event on a drive to Boston with "my new pal Sylvain Neuvel's book Sleeping Giants as my inaugural audiobook. I had such a good time. It was wonderful. And it got me thinking as I passed these hours in really good company with Sylvain's book--What took me so long?"

As he considered the different reading experiences, Fry came to believe "the secret is that the eye can take in so much. The eye can fill in the blanks and jump and assess things all at once. The ear is really dependent on each word one at a time, carrying its own weight. The ear is the really musical editor.... I'm the newbie in the room, but I can't tell you how much fun that all was and I'm just so excited that there is a giant world is now open to me and I'm very glad to be a part of it."

Although not a regular audiobook listener, Hahn (My Wish for You, Scholastic/Orchard) said she'd been thinking about a scene in the film Lady Bird where the mother and daughter "are listening to The Grapes of Wrath and they have that big plastic thing with all the cassettes. That brought back such memories of being in the station wagon with my mom and hearing her swear trying to organize the tapes back in the box, with some tapes having their labels rubbed off because they'd been checked out of the library so many times. And there was a lot of Anne Tyler we were listening to.... But there was that sound of the written word, that sound of language, of having a weight to it, that I'm sure somehow informed me wanting to be an actor"

"The Eternal Question" inevitably came up near the end of the program: Is listening to an audiobook reading?

Forman readily took up the gauntlet: "I got into an argument with somebody recently who said you can't call it reading. That it's not right. And I understood what they were kind of saying you're being a stickler about words, but is it not reading if you're reading a book with Braille? Do you have to read a book with your eyes? And the issue I had with this person was not that they were saying what is reading, but they were suggesting that audio was less. I'm so used to defending audio like I'm used to defending YA as equal to. So, I'm happy to say, you do read books on audio."

"I feel like it's that same autonomy," Hahn agreed. "It's yours, what's in your head, what you're seeing in your mind. It's that autonomy of story."

And Taylor added: "I think you're still having to do all the work of translating those words into images in your brain.... To quibble with that does seem petty."

I agree, but look forward to next year's cogent answers to that question. Maybe we should create an anthology of responses. Could be an audiobook, too.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3266


Studs Terkel Listens to a Bookseller

Next week at BookExpo, we'll be talking about forthcoming titles and the future of the book trade, but for a moment let's consider the past, in the form of 5,600 hours of interviews Studs Terkel conducted for WFMT-FM from 1952 to 1997. The first installment has just been made available to the public.

Nobody listened to us better than Studs did.

In the archive I found a 1968 interview with the late British bookseller Una Dillon, founder of Dillon's University Bookshop in London. Listening to her talk about launching a bookshop 80 years ago became my unusual, if strangely appropriate, way to prep for BookExpo.

"I was a bookseller from about 1938," Dillon recalled. "I had an itch to own something of my own. It was a very rash thing to do because I gave up quite good job prospects. My father gave me £600 (about $800). I borrowed another £200. And with £800, I started to be a bookseller, which looking back on it seems to me quite mad.... I had a tiny shop, which I ran myself with one half-time person near the University of London because that was my idea. I thought they weren't being served with books enough in that area apart from our friends Foyles in Charing Cross Road, which is a good way away.

"So I settled down in this little shop. We went through the war in it. We got bombed on one side, moved across to the other.... And then in '56, the University of London bought some shop property just around the corner from where I was, and they wanted a big bookshop there. And they asked me if I would amalgamate with another local man. It would have been very good because he had all the knowledge, and I had perhaps the more fashionable side. But he didn't want it. So that fell through."

Dillon opened the store in 1956, in a small area on the ground floor. The location is now a Waterstones.

After further inquiries elsewhere, the university "had to come back to me," Dillon said. "We started with a staff of about four, and I left it two months ago with a staff of 103. So, you can imagine; in 11 years that was terrific growth."

Dillon attributed her success partly to location: "It is a wonderful position right in the heart of several of the colleges, opposite the student's union. Also I think because I like students, I like the people, we wanted them. The atmosphere I hope has been one of welcome, you know, and a bit of warmth all the time. And I was lucky."

Although many of her colleagues complained that students during the late '60s no longer purchased books, Dillon countered: "I say this is absolutely wrong. There are a few of course who will never buy a book all their lives. They're not that type. But from personal experience, I've seen them in that shop, for instance, at lunch time. They're like round the honey pot in the paperbacks department.... They do buy books, and I get rather annoyed with the way that people run them down. I think they're an inquisitive generation. They want to know."

Her approach to bookselling will sound familiar to us: "A bookshop is not, to me, a supermarket. It's not somewhere where people go in, look round and pick up a book. There must be quite an amount of personal service in it, I think. Even if you don't have much time to talk to customers.... But it's something about the approach to customers. I think it's terribly important. And I think the danger is we're losing this here. You have people say, oh this is terribly extravagant waste of staff. Why don't you turn it into a great self-service store? All right, but to me that's not a bookshop."

Terkel wondered if the personal approach in retail generally was dwindling. "It is disappearing," Dillon replied. "I'm afraid, in a sense, it comes down to economics again, that if you're going to have personal service in a shop you must have the right people, the right type of staff, and you must let them have the time with which to be a bit personal. I think it can be done, but there are people in the trade who are almost against it and say it's an absolute waste of time and money and everything. Turn it into a great supermarket and let people look after themselves.... I don't mean to say you should worry people. I don't like as soon as you go into a shop somebody rushes up to you. It's very bad. You let people wander about.... You must like your customers, I think."

Her analysis of corporate threats to small business ("the trend of the times") echoes through the decades as well: "After all, it's the same trend you have in the last of the small grocers, in the domestic hardware stores. They're disappearing. I know why, because they can't afford to keep going. And it's all going into the hands of the big supermarket; and of course, you have the book departments within stores. Some of them are very good but it isn't the same to me as a bookshop."

She was prescient. Dillon's University Bookshop's Gower Street location is now a Waterstones branch featuring Dillons coffee shop. But I think she would have enjoyed the current indie bookstore renaissance. When she died in 1993, the Independent's obituary described Dillon as "a generous and kind person, with a personal gracefulness, but she also had a residual toughness that enabled her to succeed in what was then still a man's world of bookselling." Her spirit, in every sense of the word, will be my guest at BookExpo.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #3257

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