But then I got hired by HB’s. It was a little late to register, but one advantage of having the former store manager working at NCIBA is that she can add my name to the list and make sure I could attend the show. This morning I was bounce-in-my-seat excited as I drove up to San Francisco.
One small disappointment: neither of my new bosses would be attending, so there wouldn’t be anyone to introduce me to other booksellers. Not that I’m not perfectly capable of talking to other people on my own, but it does grease the wheels a bit when you have a mutual acquaintance. But alas, my boss was ill and couldn’t leave her house.
The morning kicked off with Augusten Burroughs, the keynote speaker. I’ve enjoyed several of Burrough’s short essay collections so I was looking forward to his talk. He hadn’t prepared very much. His introductory remarks lasted all of five minutes, and then he opened the floor to questions. Crickets chirped as under-caffeinated booksellers struggled to think of questions to ask. Burroughs was only scheduled to speak for half an hour, but goodness, it felt longer. At the back of the room was a stack of autographed ARCs of his upcoming memoir Lust and Wonder. I made sure to grab one on the way out.
Most of the day was dedicated to education sessions. The first one I went to was the Small & Academic Press Rep picks. I really enjoyed this panel last year, so I was thrilled that I was able to attend again. The reps were given four categories: Timely Title, Something Out of the Ordinary, Must Have on Your Shelf, and My Fall Favorite. Many of the books weren’t quite appropriate for my bookstore, since our inventory is child-focused and the majority of the university titles were for adults. But I definitely saw some books that I wanted to read. Every Last High is a memoir written by David Kazinsky, the younger brother of the Unabomber. It talks about his family – growing up with Ted, realizing that your brother is a terrorist, and coping with the aftermath. It sounds absolutely fascinating. The book comes out in January, but the rep said he’d have ARCs at his booth so I made a mental note to hurry straight to his table.
Another series of books that intrigued me was the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury Academic. Each small-format book focuses on a particular topic – drones, waste, hotels, refrigerators, etc – and explores it in great detail. Biographies of objects, essentially. It sounds like such a cool collection.
Some of the books might not appeal except to a very particular demographic. One that I saw that I really liked was a series: iPhones for Seniors Quicksteps, iPads for Seniors Quicksteps, etc. It broke down the use of these objects in an easy to understand format that older readers would be able to follow. I know a lot of people (my mom, my mother-in-law) who would greatly benefit from such a book, but they would probably be too proud to ever purchase one. The rep suggested having a grandchild give the gift at Christmas while an adult gave the actual device so that the family could learn how to use the technology together. Not sure if that would work with some of my thornier relatives, but it is still a really good guidebook.
After the Rep Picks, I wanted to go charging down to the sales floor to start ordering books (never mind that I don’t have the authorization) but it wasn’t open. I could either pay $30 to attend an Author Buzz lunch or go off-site to find food. Since none of the authors were ones I’d read before, I met up with my friend Deb and we ended up sitting in a Chinese food buffet. It was great; so much stinky ethnic food that I’m far too lazy to cook myself. I probably shouldn’t have eaten so much, though; it made it really hard to stay alert during the afternoon panels.
The afternoon kicked off with a panel on using Edelweiss. Edelweiss is an industry website that helps publishers connect with bookstores to facilitate ordering and requesting author events. It also helps booksellers share thoughts on titles, both internally at a store and with the greater community. It’s a useful website, I’m told, but it’s intimidating to start using. The panelists from the session were all from large bookstores or bookstore chains, so in the end their talk was not very helpful to a store like the one where I work. I could see the application potential; I just had no better idea of how to implement it at the store level than I had before the panel.
Luckily, I had no problem understanding the next panel. “Engaging Your Audience Through Social Media: A Conversation with Austin Kleon” was incredibly useful, since social media is going to be part of my job at Hicklebee’s. He talked about some of the things he does to promote his personal brand, which is interesting since Kleon’s an artist and his books encourage creativity and sharing of your creations. He also gave examples of good social media practices, and things that can hurt a brand (or at least won’t help as much as you think it might). The main point that he reiterated again and again was that social media isn’t a sales tool but a community tool. It can help define who your bookstore is and keep your name present in the community’s minds, but it very rarely leads to a spike in sales. That’s not the purpose.
There were a lot of really good sessions this afternoon. I was really disappointed to miss “The Long, the Smart, and the Wordless: The Challenges of Handselling Picturebooks” and the Children’s rep picks, because both topics would have been hugely beneficial for me. There was just too much good information to choose from!
I also enjoyed the Children’s Author Tea again this year. Normally, the event is hosted by my boss, but since she was unable to make it a last-minute substitution was made. Luckily, Summer Laurie, the woman chose to take her place, is incredibly smart and talented. You’d never know that she was stepping in for someone else. She did an absolutely fantastic job. There were four speakers: Dav Pilkey, Katherine Applegate, Christian Robinson, and Rebecca Stead.
I was a guest of Random House, so I was able to sit at Rebecca Stead’s table and chat with her. The only problem was that I had been told that the guest would be Jennifer Nielson, so I had prepared for the tea by reading Nielson’s latest book and familiarizing myself with her older titles. I didn’t know anything about Rebecca Stead. I was mortified. We chatted about Stead’s family briefly, and then other booksellers took over the conversation, but I still felt terrible that I hadn’t prepared properly. (But not my fault - I was given the wrong name and the wrong book to study up.)
I have not been a fan of Captain Underpants. Well, that’s not fair. I’ve always found the silly names of the books a bit repellent – “The Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot”? - so I’ve never had the urge to read one. But Dav Pilkey’s so much fun to listen to! While he talked he played video clips of him drawing, and he read part of an upcoming graphic novel to us. He also talked about his struggles in school growing up, and how that has influenced his writing. Pilkey’s an engaging, original writer and after listening to him I may need to reconsider my stance on his extremely popular series.
Following the trend of invisible friends, Katherine Applegate’s new novel Crenshaw introduces a very scientifically-minded boy named Jackson who is disturbed when the invisible friend from his childhood, long forgotten, suddenly returns. Jackson’s family is going through hard times with little money for rent or food, but that doesn’t explain why a giant cat named Crenshaw who likes purple jelly beans is here. The book sounds really interesting, and I can’t wait to read it.
There’s a charming picture book called Leo: A Ghost Story that’s just come out and has been selling pretty well since we’re leading up to Halloween. The illustrator, Christian Robinson, talked about the book illustrations and why they turned out in the style they did. His talk was a little disorganized – he usually speaks to elementary school students but he hadn’t done anything to change his talk for an older audience – but at the end, he offered to create a coat of arms for someone in the audience. One of the reps from Scholastic was having a birthday today, so she was chosen, and he drew a new coat of arms for her up on the stage. It was quite sweet.
Rebecca Stead’s talk may have been last, but in many ways it was the most poignant. She talked about her writer’s journey, which was very interesting. She had loved writing when younger but she decided to become a lawyer when she thought it wouldn’t be practical to be an author, but after her children were born she was able to return to writing. Her new book Goodbye Stranger focuses on friendships and how they evolve in middle school.
After the talks were over, we were able to pick up books at the back of the room, the newest title from each author/illustrator. So I really don’t have an excuse to not read Captain Underpants because I now own an autographed copy. The Discovery Show floor was now open, so I walked through the rows, making mental notes of where the different publishers were located and thinking about my plan of
However, I couldn’t linger too long as I had a publisher’s dinner to attend. The invitation had originally been extended to my boss, but since she was unable to go I got to represent HB’s. It was a bit of a challenge to find the place – I am terrible at navigating San Francisco – but once I arrived I was so much fun. There were four or five other booksellers from all around the Bay Area, including the head of Books Inc. (!!!) and it was such a pleasure to get to know them and learn a bit about each of their stores. The dinner was put on by Jimmy Patterson’s new imprint, and his sales manager and marketing manager were there to talk about his upcoming books, his bookstore grants, and some of the other projects Patterson’s got in the pipeline. It was actually quite interesting. I haven’t been a fan of Patterson’s writing, but I have huge respect for him as a person for both his amazing productivity (even working with cowriters I’m continually amazed by how many titles he manages to put out each year) and his dedication and support of independent bookstores. I’m happy to sell the work of an author that so many people enjoy, and learning about his new projects makes me really excited for the upcoming year.
And this is just the FIRST DAY. I get to go back to NCIBA tomorrow, too! So exciting.