Live from the NEIBA Show

Kenny Brechner -- September 21st, 2017

On the same principle that leads us to select the freshest catch of the day off a seafood menu, it is time for a little live reporting from the 2017 NEIBA fall conference that began on Monday. I started the show off with the The Publisher Pick Nic, NEIBA’s rep speed dating marathon. The first rep to approach the table was my stellar Norton rep Suzette Cianco. Suzette had a terrible fall from a horse recently and it was wonderful to see her back in the saddle.

Another person who was very much in high form was my pal Vicky Titcomb of Titcomb’s Book Shop, seen below leaping on some irregularities in a free freight offer that was being presented. Seeing Vicky in action was like witnessing Diogenes lashing out after finally spotting an honest man and then discovering suddenly that he was mistaken. The rep assured us that the matter would be attended to straightway!

Some other things I learned from the reps were that…

“Not all miracles should be performed.” (Nikki Mutch, Scholastic)

“It’s much more cool to be nice.” (John Muse, SImon & Schuster)

(And in the we’ll never really know category) “Anne Fadiman would have been the right person to write about Clifton Fadiman even if she wasn’t his daughter.” (Ben White, Macmillan)

After the Pick Nic I needed to get ready for my ABA presentation on maximizing backlist which I did along with the ABA’s resplendent Senior Programming Officer Joy Dallanegra Sanger and my fellow Board member Annie Philbrick. They both did a stellar job. My primary contribution came in the form of relating a deep personal observation I had made on the long drive down to Providence that morning which provided a cogent analogy to the Backlist stock offers we were presenting on. Here it is.

Despite always bringing packets of instant oatmeal when I travel to a hotel I usually forget to bring a spoon. This leads to the following scenario. One wakes up in the morning, pours water into the mini coffee maker, puts the oatmeal in a cup and turns the machine on, feeling good about both life and self. Then it hits like a thunderclap. There is no spoon. The oatmeal is already too thick to drink. Soon thereafter one is found in the desperate position of trying to bend one of the plastic coffee cup lids into an ungainly scoop.

That’s just how it is with our backlist buying. We all consume great quantities of backlist, but we don’t make use of proper utensils when doing so. Publisher backlist stock offers are what we should be remembering to use. When we neglect to take advantage of them we are garnering our backlist with a plastic lid and not a proper spoon. As I mentioned earlier, deep.

That evening I had the opportunity to go out to dinner with Cherise Wolas, author of the sensational debut novel The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, and Tillie Walden, author and illustrator of the terrific graphic novel memoir Spinning. It was an unusually fun dinner, partly due to its having broken the mold of the traditional author dinner’s structure. Authors are usually rotated to successive enclaves of attending booksellers, but our game Macmillan hosts, Ellen Pyle and Ben White set things up like a regular meal. The two author sat directly across from each other in the center of the table, where ¬†they could actually talk to each other, a shocking but amiable development. Everyone just settled in and talked away.

Topics like what unacceptable things our parents did with our stuff after we left home, the ribald suggested title of the memoir we were egging Ellen Pyle to actually write, train travel in Europe and Asia, the persuasive power of our waiter who had induced almost everyone at the table to order a Kona steak, the creative use of sending oneself emails, the vagaries of human interplay in various forms and settings, and oddball tattooing stories, were all on the table along with a great meal. Honestly I didn’t need extra incentive to promote these two books but nothing could have been more calculated to affirm my drive to get behind them than this companionable, frank and humor-filled meal. Fun!

The next morning began with the children’s author breakfast which also marked the 30th anniversary of NECBA, the New England Childrens Booksellers Advisory Council,. The four founders of NECBA, Carol Chittenden, Terry Schmitz, Suzanne Sigman, and Bina Williams were all on hand to be honored. Huzzah indeed. My dear friend Carol is in the picture at left demonstrating that her face blocking reflexes are still formidable.

What did we learn at the breakfast? Matt de la Pena and Loren Long (Love) discussed love’s developmental arc from pure simplicity to buoyant, resilient affection expressed in moments of difficulty, transition, and reflection, a journey from cute bunnies to steadying expressions of support.

Next up Justina Ireland (Dread Nation) held forth on interpreting books which “simultaneously nurtured and murdered your soul,” Huck Finn being the exemplar of that. Holly Black closed things out revealing that politics has seeped even into a conversations held during her elfin ear modification procedure done overseas. Though these were rather divergent observations both Justina and Holly shared a feeling of strong obstruction with identification with the world as it is be that zombies as an ironically living metaphor of racial oppression, or throwing over humanity in favor of the fae.

From there the show floor beckoned. One wonderful and very occasional thing which happens at trade shows is a chance to meet in person a sales representative that one has known and worked with over the phone for more than 20 years but never met in person before. My fab Ingram field rep Marsha Wood had brought my equally stellar telephone rep Frank Domenico to NEIBA with her. It was so much fun to meet him in person after 20 years of phone calls! I was a bit surprised to encounter him in the flesh, but manged to keep my countenance flat-lined, as you can see to the right,

What was the best swag at the show, you ask? There can only be one answer. The Uni the Unicorn bags from Random House. Obviously!
Finally, Wednesday morning began with the author breakfast, which was both edifying and entertaining at the HMH table where I was seated with Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco. Sherri and John were there as the author and illustrator of Big Machines, the nonfiction picture book biography of legendary picture book author-illustrator Virginia Lee Burton. Authoring and Illustrating a picture book biography of a legendary picture book author-illustrator obviously presented some unique challenges but the Rinker-Rocco team not only succeeded, but grew as artists themselves from the experience.

I told John and Sherri that I was going to take a surreptitious photo of them. Not sure what went wrong.

Threading the complexities of Burton’s legacy both in her art and in her life. the book was well received by those family members, neighbors and colleagues who strongly remember Burton. Big Machines captures Virginia Lee Burton’s firmness of character, the unyielding driven, dynamism that made her a living extension of the big machines she brought to life in her classic books such as Katy and the Big Snow¬† and Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. Great stuff and a good way to kick off the last day of what proved to be an all-around excellent regional show.

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