A Letter From ABA Board President Robert Sindelar

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    Dear Fellow Booksellers,

    Since I last wrote to you, I’ve had the good fortune of attending two fall regional trade shows — my own region (PNBA) last week and the SIBA show last month. While those events were significantly different in a number of respects (much more music and “y’all’s” at the Southern show than in the Pacific Northwest) there were a couple of elements that I found very present at both.

    Booksellers of the Next Generation

    At both shows I was extremely impressed with the number of younger booksellers (well, at least younger than me) who were passionately engaged in the topics of the conference and in finding collaborative ways to make their businesses better.

    At SIBA, I stumbled upon a rogue (read: not on the conference agenda) group of author event managers brainstorming about ideas for future education sessions and ways to work together in communicating best practices to self-published authors. Attending the diversity workshop at the SIBA show, I was able to listen to and learn from a number of younger booksellers who offered inspiring perspectives on what inclusiveness means to them and their stores. At the PNBA show, my observations were a bit closer to home. We brought a number of younger staff from each of our three stores to the show this year. Seeing the educational sessions, the author events, and the books at the show through their eyes recharged my bookseller batteries in a way that was desperately needed, especially following a week of especially depressing stories in the national media.

    What I saw in all these interactions were people who grew up in a completely different bookselling and retail landscape than I did, and, yet, who are just as enthused and motivated as any booksellers I’ve known about what our stores can represent and achieve in each of our communities.

    Plus, two of my favorite new author voices came from recommendations from this next generation of booksellers: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (Two Dollar Radio) is some of the most dynamic writing about music I’ve ever read. The way Abdurraqib ties the artists, concerts, and music culture he is covering into current events can make you care about music you have never even heard. And I was a late comer to the October #1 Indie Next List Pick, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf), which is the kind of debut that only comes once in a great while — a truly original voice that is as urgent as it is entertaining. (I can’t write a letter to booksellers without recommending a book or two.)

    You CAN Teach an Old Buyer New Tricks

    Between the backlist sessions that ABA presented at the regional shows this year, as well as other buying-related sessions, I had a number of opportunities to interact with buyers from other stores. Each one of the conversations had me repeating the same refrain: “If you looked at the Indies First offers from publishers a few years back and decided they were too much work for not enough pay off — YOU NEED TO LOOK AGAIN.” (The all caps is me talking slowly with great emphasis, not me yelling — I would never yell at you.)

    The Indies First offers currently on BookWeb.org are dramatically different from the offers that appeared when this program first began. ABA has continually asked individual publishers to improve their terms regarding discount, dating, and allowing multiple orders through a generous ordering window as we go into our busiest selling season starting with Small Business Saturday — changes that, in the long run, are beneficial for both bookstores and publishers. There are close to 20 trade publishers, a national wholesaler, key distributors, and more than 30 university presses with genuinely great deals this year.

    More than one seasoned buyer came up to me after these sessions and said, “That was me you were talking about. We haven’t looked at these deals in years. But I just looked at these and they are huge! Thank you for mentioning this to me.” (Obviously I’m paraphrasing here, and clearly more than one person could not have said those exact words, but you get the picture.)

    Nominations are Open

    I’d like to remind everyone that the nomination process for the ABA Board of Directors is now open. A description of the process, Board member duties, and qualifications that make one eligible for nomination are here. You can nominate the smartest, most talented, and most engaged bookseller you know. Or maybe that person is you. You are welcome to nominate yourself as well. The Board serves the ABA membership at its best when the Board is made up of a wide representation of the greater ABA community. Participating in the process by nominating a bookseller (a colleague or yourself) is a great way to get new voices into the conversation.

    On a very sad note, two weeks ago I travelled to New York to attend the funeral of Alison Greene, the wife of ABA’s CEO, Oren Teicher. It was a beautiful tribute to an incredible woman. I know that Oren is very appreciative for all the support over the recent weeks from his industry friends and colleagues, and I wanted to convey his appreciation for all your thoughts and good wishes.

    In closing, please remember that I always enjoy hearing from members about any issues they have regarding ABA business. Always feel free to reach out to me at rsindelar@thirdplacebooks.com.

    Robert Sindelar
    President, American Booksellers Association
    Third Place Books
    Lake Forest Park and Seattle, Washington