"My guess is you're here because you love books or are homeless or are dating someone who loves books," said author Randy Wayne White (Gone) during the SIBA Supper last Friday at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show in Naples, Fla. He was talking about the critical importance of stories--found ones as well as lost ones: "If you have the calling to write; if your clients have the calling to write, I urge you to answer that call, to have them answer that call."
He described storytelling as an absolute necessity "to anchor one's life in the world" and called upon his audience to get their grandparents to "write three honest pages about themselves. If we don't write it down, we're lost."
The SIBA show is a storyteller's theme park. Here's a story: Frazer Dobson and Sally Brewster of Park Road Books, Charlotte, N.C., told me they were introduced to one another a decade ago at SIBA. How did they celebrate the 10th anniversary of that first meeting and their subsequent marriage? By attending this year's SIBA show, of course, where Frazer, who is a rep for Como Sales, spent his time telling booksellers stories about Workman's new list; and Sally, as emcee of the Taste of HarperCollins Breakfast Saturday, observed that storytelling is "the best way to sell books. A story sells a story."
We have a courtship story, so how about a birth story? Also at the breakfast, Mary Kay Andrews (Savannah Blues) called SIBA's show the place "where I think I was born as an author. We start one place and our stories come round full circle."
During the show's Kick Off Lunch, Michael Morris (The Man in the Blue Moon) told the story of a "trunk tour" he and his wife embarked on several years ago to promote his first book, A Place Called Wiregrass. "Remember the movie Coal Miner's Daughter where they're riding around eating baloney sandwiches and looking for radio towers?" he asked. "Well, we were eating Subway sandwiches and looking for SIBA stores. This is like coming home to me." Morris also noted that he'd been born into a family who "weren't readers, but they were storytellers."
That theme was echoed by Stephanie McAfee (Happily Ever Madder), who said because her family owned a trucking company, she'd learned much about the world when she was young through what she called "CB news," which was "broadcast" to her town when the "truckers picked up stories from all over the country and brought them back... embellished."
William Joyce (The Guardians of Childhood), whose Oscar-winning short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was screened during the SIBA Supper, recounted the nightmarish time after Hurricane Katrina struck, and one redemptive moment when he spotted a child intently reading a book in a stadium packed with 18,000 displaced people. "This is something that is more powerful than technology," he said. "People need stories."
When Nicki Leone, SIBA's website administrator and newsletter editor, and programmer Ian Oeschger presented a "demystifying e-books" education session, they explored alternative and "hyperlocal" storytelling possibilities for indie booksellers, advising indies to create their own e-stories.
Whether it's the history of an ancient graveyard in town or a guide to area restaurants, "there are dozens of e-books that you could create and sell yourself," Leone said. "One of SIBA's goals is to help people develop this hyperlocal option. There's a ton of stuff you can create without needing to be a rocket scientist and you can sell it."
Oeschger, who envisions indie booksellers "becoming book creators as well as book promoters," demonstrated how this could be achieved using Calibre, which he described as "kind of disruptive in a good way in the e-book market."
While noting that "if you thought you could sell your own annotated version of Moby Dick you are free to do so," he also emphasized the advantages of a more regional focus: "Aren't we all in the business of creating hyperlocal content?"
Maybe in the end we are the stories we sell and tell. Ask Cliff Graubart, who described himself during one panel as "a bookseller first, a publisher second and I've always had a table at SIBA. I always had a fantasy of walking around the show as an author." And so he was last week, talking about his new collection of stories, The Curious Vision of Sammy Levitt.--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #1827.