Without Love There Are No Books: Highlights of the Fall NEIBA Conference

Josie Leavitt -- October 5th, 2012

Once again New England booksellers gathered in Providence, R.I. for our annual conference. The first day was full of conversation, education, and warm greetings from bookselling friends. The show began on Wednesday with the plenary session, that found me unable to take notes as John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, requested that everything he said was off the record. It’s a pity, because I found his talk and subsequent Q&A to be quite interesting, and sadly with my middle-aged memory and lack of notes, I can recall very little of it, which I’m sure makes him quite pleased. I can say, that I found him to be quite engaging. At one point, he hooked his thumbs on his jean’s belt loops and looked very much like a cowboy about to swing the double doors of the saloon open and brace for a fight.

The workshops that day were extremely informative. The Social Media session had most of the participants leaving somewhat overwhelmed yet galvanized to just do more. My biggest takeaway was to be authentic and work hard to find the Flying Pig voice. Sadly, this means, and this was supported by all the panelists, that only or two people should be updating the Facebook page. So, more work for me and Elizabeth, but a lively Facebook page seems to be a critical thing for a 21st-century store’s success. Many spoke about using Twitter. I’m sorry, I know many folks love Twitter, but I know what my days look like and there just isn’t room for tweeting.

The publishers in the room all said that bookstores should “like” as many authors as they can (and authors they actually like) and then tag the authors and publishers in any posts that include that author. This produces a chain effect of notification that goes through the publishing company from the author to the editor to the publicist, etc. And this can only help a bookstore.

The second session was Staying on the Publisher’s Radar. This session supported the Facebook tagging comment. The best way to make sure publishers notice you and your store is the let them know you’re reading and enjoying their books. This is so simple. It’s not enough to get a galley, love it, order books and put up a shelftalker in your store. The publishers, especially the editors who sit in offices many stories above the ground, love to hear what booksellers think of their books. The more contact you can have with them, the more galleys you’ll get and the more they’ll think of you when other similar books come out.

One point they made repeatedly was to nominate favorite books for the IndieNext list. This was huge, and not something I do very often. Wendy Sheanin of Simon & Schuster had a great idea: write your store shelftalker after you read the book, regardless of when it’s coming out. Then send in your shelftalker to the publicist, your sales rep, and then send it along to Indiebound. Brilliant. And simple.

The Thursday morning breakfast was unbelievably good. All day, that’s practically all anyone was talking about. James Dashner set the tone by being funny and talking about how books saved him and shaped him. He was like me at 12, reading everything by Stephen King. His new book, Infinity Ring #1,  is for middle grade kids and he says it combines his love of history and time travel. Kids should really love this.

James was followed by Dennis Lehane who was promoting his new book Live By Night. I have to confess, I love Dennis Lehane. I have loved his books since the Prayers for Rain came out. I was lucky enough to be seated at his table and was surprised at how lovely and accessible he is. He looked like one of his characters: white t-shirt, hoodie, and a sport coat. He was hilarious, funny enough to be a stand up, and he gave 10 reasons that he became a writer. They ranged from his massive family telling stories and lies because folks were loose with the truth to make a better story. What he said that resonated the most with a room of booksellers was: bookstores and libraries are the reasons he became a writer. “Libraries say that you matter just as much as anyone else. Books have the power to give voice to the voiceless and that you matter.” I doubt there was a person in the room who felt differently.

Lisa Genova began by swearing and saying, “Who organized the lineup?” She had no reason to worry about her spot in the lineup – she was great. Her new book,  Love, Anthony, is about autism and she felt enormous responsibility to tell the truth about it. Her nephew is autistic and it was very important for her to remind readers that autistic kids are still worthy of our dreams. She did not want to write this book, but the book was ready for her and she wrote it. She shared some laughs with Dennis about when her Boston accent comes roaring back, and it was very funny to see. I loved that she told us she writes at her local Starbucks which is in a Stop and Shop, so she’s been writing in the produce section for years.

Junot Diaz, who was there to talk about his short story collection, This is How You Lose Her, brought the house down. He swears like a sailor and anyone who drops the F-bomb at nine in the morning is my kind of guy. He started off by saying, “That introduction was the shit.” And off we were. All the authors were so funny this year, and that was such a lovely way to start off the day. Junot spoke about the enormous amount of love that goes into books. “Without love there are no books.” There is faith and trust along the journey to get a book into someone’s hands. He grew up in a house without books. His immigrant family demanded that he work, so at 10 he got a paper route and would often read the paper. It was then that he saw a classified ad for FREE BOOKS. He called, and tried to figure out how to get these books that a woman thought were worthy of being passed on, not thrown out. It was the one time in his life that everything worked out: his scary-crazy brother helped, the shopping carts they borrowed from the store weren’t confiscated before he got the books home, and he got the books. There was superb coordination of love for him to get those books. We were laughing and wiping away tears.

This was a metaphor for what we as booksellers and publishers do. It’s all about love. And that’s a great reminder and lovely way to start the day.


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