NEIBA Conference, So Far

Josie Leavitt - October 13, 2011

Here’s a quick round-up of the what’s happened thus far at the annual New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Providence.
First off, I spent half an hour driving around downtown Providence trying in vain to find my hotel. Apparently, the Westin is not actually on my GPS. But a very kindly man told me to make three lefts and I would find it. And I did. Unfortunately, by the time I got checked in, dropped my bags off, I had missed the first 20 minutes of the plenary session: The Bookstore of the Future.
Perhaps it’s because I’m tired, but I didn’t find much that was encouraging about this panel. Gayle Shanks said it best,”We are all killing ourselves. What’s the next thing we need to do to stay alive. If you lose a bookstore, you lose culture.” It’s so true. One thing that folks said was helpful was buying an Espresso book publishing machine so inventory would never be a problem; we could just print what we were out of and we could compete with Amazon that way. Unfortunately, those machines are upwards of $100,000. I doubt there are many stores that can afford to buy that. One of the panelists suggested that 10 bookstores share a machine. A great idea in cities perhaps, but thoroughly unrealistic for rural stores.
The children’s dinner, was  of course, a lovely highlight. How nice it is to see old friends again. I often forget how much it means to me to see and commiserate with my New England bookselling friends. The speakers were wonderful: Loren Long, Ally Condie, and Brian Selznick. All three spoke about writing. Loren talked about drawing Snoopy on the kitchen floor, being encouraged by his non-artist parents who even held an art show for him in the house. When he was talking about his new picture book, Otis and the Tornado, he told a story about growing up in Missouri and there was a tornado when he was a kid. He worried that the book might scare kids who had lived through a tornado, but his editor said it would okay. Then when the book was in final production a tornado struck where Loren grew up: Joplin, Missouri was all but flattened by a massive tornado. A chill washed over the room when he said that. And he said he knew doing the book was the right thing to do.
Ally Condie was incredibly down to earth. She maintains her teaching license because she wants to be able to maybe one day go back to teaching high school English. Growing up and living in southern Utah has informed her writing in lots of ways. The setting for Crossed is a canyon near her house; the canyons provides a harshness and a lushness in one area that allows for a lot of plot points. Her brother, a marine biologist, helped her learn about fish and how to survive in the wild. She was talking about how each of the other speakers has touched her life and that of her three young sons. “I’m probably going to cry because I have three little kids and I’m so very tired, but books do for my kids what I can’t.” It turns out that her younger sons loved Loren’s version of The Little Engine That Could, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret  was the summer read-aloud for her eight-year-old son.
Brian Selznick started his career as a children’s bookseller in New York City, actually, which will endear him to me forever. His process for Hugo was having the theme first, then adding the structure. Wonderstruck, his new bestseller, started exactly oppositely – with the structure and then the theme. The book deals with deafness, and I was struck by the depth of his research into the subject. Brian said he was wary of writing about a minority that he was not a member of.  It took him three years to write the book. He shared some marked-up pages from his editor, whose comments sometimes extended to the back of the page. The blue pencil marks were extensive and I think we all saw how much work the writing was for him. The drawings were done and were great, and then he had to work on the writing; as he said, “Turns out the writing is really hard.” I think we forget that the writing is hard, even for people who make it seem easy.
Look for another show recap on Monday.

7 thoughts on “NEIBA Conference, So Far

    1. Stephanie Kilgore

      I have to disagree – Amazon and big box stores are only a click away. There is so much more to a bookstore than just books. There is an entire experience and world to be explored and treasured. You can’t get that from a click.

    2. Sarah v.M.

      Ed, that’s like saying we should close all the symphony halls because music is also just a click away. Where would we be if all of our cultural centers closed? Sitting at home in front of a terminal rather than socializing and sustaining local businesses? If that sounds good to you than you probably already buy all of your books and music online. But I wouldn’t miss browsing and buying at my local bookstore or hearing my local symphony live for anything.

  1. Diane Guscott

    But I think a bookstore is more than just a place to buy a book. It is a place to browse through the aisles and stacks of books, a place to smell the books, to pick them up and feel them, to look at the art within them. A bookstore is a place to talk with other book lovers about a great book you have read, to ask the advice of the bookseller when you can’t find that perfect book. A place where kids can page through a picture book, where they first learn that a book can take them wherever they want to go. A bookstore is so much more than a place to go to purchase a book. Just my sentimental opinion.

    1. Jan Hall

      Perfectly said, Diane. I would like to use your comment when I post a notice in the store before the Christmas season starts on recomendations for ebook device buying. i.e. not a Kindle.

  2. joe

    “we could just print what we were out of and we could compete with Amazon that way. ”
    This is not even remotely possible at the moment – and only Harper has made any nods in that direction…..while sounds great in theory – it remains an expensive idea that is most viable and should be looked at as a print shop business (self pubbing, etc)…but by the time you recoup the cost of the machine – the bookstore may have disappeared??….used books anyone???

  3. Pingback: Publishers Weekly talks about Ally Condie

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