I have just returned from the 2019 Heartland Fall Forum, the immensely successful regional show hosted by GLIBA (Great Lakes Independent Bookselling Association) and MIBA (substitute “Midwest” in the acronym and lather, rinse, repeat) in Cleveland. On the five-hour drive home (given the option, we drive in the Midwest, for the highways are clear and the scenery gorgeous), I drank a lot of coffee, and thought fondly of past regionals in the 17 years of my bookselling career.
I remembered attending my first GLIBA (rhymes with amoeba) meeting in Dearborn, Mich., leaving behind a five-month-old store in the care of my only employee, and recognizing just a couple of reps on-site who had patiently helped me write my opening orders at my dining room table with our labrador retriever resting her head on their knee, and kindly offering to burp my youngest baby between feedings, which seemed to be constant during every appointment. I thought about walking into that first keynote address dinner (who was Jacquelyn Mitchard, I believe) feeling starstruck and slightly incredulous that THIS was my new business, and these were my people. I thought about all those meetings since — first only GLIBA, then after my own board service, a jointly hosted fall event with MIBA. I thought about some of the memorable events of those years — and some pretty amazing people that contributed to them. I thought of all the years that our friend and ABA CEO Oren Teicher has traveled to join us — usually in the middle of a marathon journey of regionals — and how he always greets me with a hug and “CYNTHIA! So good to see you!” — the welcome of a true servant leader who then tips his head ever-so-slightly sideways as he listens intently to the issues you’re facing that year. He nods as he listens, not to necessarily agree with your conclusions, but to let you know that you are truly important, and he is weighing every word. (Oren, I am about to miss you intensely, but that’s the subject of another post.)
I thought about all the years in-between, and the many venues, faces, and events that we hosted and enjoyed. I thought about panels I have served on (who on earth ever thought I knew ANYTHING about time management???), introductions I have made for heroes in both writing and bookselling, and afternoons on the trade show floor when I have made a third (or fourth) trip down an aisle just to hug a regional author who is sitting at a signing table for the very first time. While BEA may be all glitter and celebrity, and Winter Institute is all about learning from 30,000 feet above our businesses, our regional meetings are part family reunion, part cheerleading session for the 4th quarter ahead, and all about our midwestern friends and neighbors in the business of story times and snow days, books and blizzards, lakeside summers and literary sojourns.
No matter what region that you call home, there are a couple of constants about the round of fall meetings, and I’m sure you will recognize these truths, whether this year is your first or 40th visit to a fall bookselling conference:
- No matter how well you prepare, you will forget something. For me, it’s usually business cards. (see: Prepping for Pittsburgh) This year, it was a file folder of oh-so-carefully prepared and printed backlist orders to turn in at booths… but my staff saved me with some last-minute emails and an early morning visit to the hotel business center. Also, no matter how many times you check the local weather app before you leave, you will underestimate the chill of a fall evening in a new city. Bring another jacket, and another pair of comfortable, dry shoes. (And pack the Advil. See item #4.)
- In spite of the forced-box-lunch punishment of the Rep Around Event, you will miss something if you skip it. This year, the highlight of that interminable lunch (other than the blonde brownie with butterscotch chips) was the impassioned pitch of Harper rep Jenny Sheridan, presenting the debut middle grade title Coo by Kaela Noel, due in March 2020.
“Ok, forget everything you think about pigeons, you guys. This book. This book — it is important” is a sentence I will hear in my head over and over, and led me to fish this title out of my tote bag as soon as I got home. Jenny is right. We will all be handselling this title over and over, and I expect that the finished book will sport an award sticker or two.
- If you can, get out of the venue. Locations for regional meetings are carefully chosen, and if this is a year that you find yourself smack dab in the middle of an urban community, go be a tourist. See the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit the Art Museum, or at the very least, pull a stool up to a local tap to and try the indie brew. Support your host city, and be a welcome guest, just as we encourage our visitors at home to do. Let’s be travelers, so that we can feel what it’s like to be welcomed guests.
- You will spend too much time at the hotel bar. Or maybe that’s just me. Actually, the time with colleagues and reps and new author friends may be the most valuable moments you will spend this year, with people who know your business, are invested in your success, and understand your challenges in ways that very few other colleagues can. Use that time wisely, for there will be few other bookselling moments as focused on your business, your profitability, and your soul.
- Bring a list of questions, goals, and challenges. This year, my list included an opportunity for two holiday pop-up shops (oh my goodness, you all will be coaching me through those), a new book fair account necessitating a change to our offsite POS system, and the “pick a color” quandary of repainting our event room (yes, I did bring the paint chip samples to the bar). I went to my regional with those questions tucked into my backpack, without a moment’s doubt that all my questions would be answered. This is the true value of bookseller regionals, in my not-so-newbie bookseller opinion. These events serve as our own personal coaching sessions, paid for in the price of a local IPA and an order of nachos.
So, my friends…. what did you learn this year? And who are your people? Let’s hear all about the riches of regional fall shows.