During the weekend of September 7-9, the 12th annual meeting and trade show of the Southern Independent Booksellers Association took place in Naples, Florida at the Waldorf Astoria. The weekend was filled with meetings, major addresses, break-out sessions, socializing, and the trade show itself. It was preceded on September 6 by a special event on Marco Island run by Sunshine Booksellers, the only independent bookseller in Collier County. 

On Friday, the program was filled with fascinating sessions, usually 3 or 4 at a time. Attendees had to choose carefully. It began with the Industry Breakfast, hosted by Hunter H. Hansen, the Waldorf Astoria’s Area Managing Director. Talks and informal conversation focused on general business issues: building relationships, planning special events for one’s business, being part of the community, and staff education.

At 8:30am, the annual SIBA board meeting did the usual business of introducing the new board members, thanking the continuing and outgoing ones, and offering a state of the organization along with news about new initiatives of SIBA and the nationwide ABA (American Booksellers Association). The theme was one of modest growth of the independent bookselling industry in the face of the general malaise of the overall book industry (publishing in particular).

I chose to attend the 9:45am breakout session called “What’s Working?” that shared information about enhancing management of daily bookstore operations. The speakers, all bookstore owners, were Suzanne Harouff (Books Unlimited in Franklin, NC), Karin Wilson (Page and Palette in Fairhope, AL), and Doug Robinson. They presented information on effective techniques for generating bookstore traffic, ordering, invoicing, and recordkeeping. Doug demonstrated his security cameras at work, offering a live broadcast from those very cameras in is Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Georgia. He noted how revealed traffic patterns provided suggestions for making adjustments in bookstore layout.

During the same time slot, sessions were offered on “Website Profitability 101: Demystifying Ebooks,” “Candewick Celebrates Twenty Years: Great Ways to Capture and Keep the Kids Market,” and “Selling Maps and Other Cartographic Products in Bookstores.”

The 11-11:50am sessions were all author panels. One featured authors of children’s books, another introduced writers of books of mystery and magic, and yet another – which I attended – showcased authors who had also been booksellers. Most impressive here was the presentation by Maureen Lee, who spoke about her biography of African-American soprano Sissieretta Jones. The booksellers in the audience no doubt most enjoyed knowing about Wendy Welch’s The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Other presenters at this session were Peter Golden and Cliff Graubert.

The noon luncheon included additional author presentations, followed at 2:00pm by a “Meet and Greet” where attendees could pick up signed copies of books by author panel participants.

Five breakout sessions were offered at 3:00pm. Two continued with the business of ordering and invoicing; another showed how print-on-demand could be an asset to the independent bookseller as it allowed for exclusive product offerings. “Hear from the Agent-See Model.” A panel of literary agents drew parallels between their work and that of the independent bookseller. 

I attended the groundbreaking session “ABA Presents New ebook Options for Indie Bookstores.” ABA (American Booksellers Association) CEO Oren Teicher provided details about a new initiative, launched at this event, that would allow independent booksellers to engage in ebook selling through an arrangement with Kobo – the ebook digital reader and content provider, and Ingram, the distributor. This is a well thought out program that allows booksellers, at little risk, to hold onto those customers who are moving in the ebook direction. 

At the 4:10pm “Saints and Swimmers and Sinners” author panel, I encountered Erika Marks (whom I met again on Saturday at the Trade Show), Lisa Alther, Adam English, and AGS Johnson, who moderated. There were also panels on writing for kids and teens, and young adults (if there’s a difference between the latter two categories).

“Reps Picks,” at 5pm, brought a roomful of pick titles lauded by publishers’ representatives.

That evening included partying, networking, a supper with big-name authors (like Randy Wayne White and Jill McCorkle), and a “Ladies of the Late Night Readings” session featuring six authors.

Then it was Saturday! A breakfast sponsored by Harper Collins, a technology pavilion, a Jericho Press presentation, and the main course: the Trade Show exhibits. Here I filled up on books I’m likely to review; in particular, Florida authors and books on Jewish and Southern themes.  In the early evening, participants enjoyed “The Writers Block Party,” with games and competitions. Prizes were dinners with SIBA Book Award Authors.

Sunday: another breakfast, more exhibiting, more technology, and the early afternoon “Moveable Feast of Authors.” Robert Olen Butler and a couple of dozen other authors of some prominence were on hand.

Amy Hill Hearth

I got to sit down at the close of the conference with Amy Hill Hearth, whose latest book I will be reviewing: Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. This is a sure-fire bestseller.

SIBA is an extremely lively and effective organization. Its member booksellers are motivated and inventive. I only hope more book journalists take advantage of the opportunities SIBA presents to find materials for their articles and reviews.

I came away from the weekend with one question: How can collaborate with SIBA for the benefit of authors, publishers, booksellers, and readers? We’ll see.

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