ABA President Robert Sindelar’s First Bimonthly Letter to Members

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Dear Fellow Booksellers,

I’ve been back in Seattle for almost a week after an extremely full week at BookExpo, and I wanted to get out my thoughts and feelings about what I experienced there before the kinetic motion of day-to-day bookselling pushed it too far back in my mind.

BookExpo — A Change in Direction

For years, from a bookseller’s perspective, BookExpo (formerly BEA) has been shrinking. Some of our favorite smaller presses stopped coming. The people in publishing we work most closely with stopped coming out on the floor and began having meetings behind black curtains. And there seemed to be hordes of people on the floor whom we didn’t recognize grabbing every stray galley available. The sentiment among many booksellers was that the show had begun to lose its meaning for many in our membership. While not all of that changed this year, I noticed and participated in a significant step to turn that tide (many thanks to ReedPOP and Brien McDonald for listening to booksellers and taking steps toward making the show relevant again).

Here are some notable featured moments:

Wednesday’s Full Day of ABA Programming

ABA staff worked very hard to have a full and significant day of programming for booksellers. It started with “Meet the Editor” in the morning, where booksellers were assigned to arrive at publishing offices all over Manhattan (and Brooklyn) to meet with editors. This was my third year participating in this event, and I get something out of it every time. I was lucky enough this year to visit my friends at Seven Stories Press. While I’ve known Dan Simon for a little while now, getting into their offices and meeting the rest of his team, hearing how they work, what they look for in acquisitions, how they decide on a print run, and about the titles they were most passionate about, gave me a much deeper appreciation for the excellent work they do there. I heard a bookseller who went to the New Directions offices say, “It was like meeting One Direction for me!” Best quote of BookExpo.

Meet the Editor was followed by the Celebration of Bookselling Lunch (moved from its typical slot during show hours to the day before the show opened), which is always one of the great events of the week. That was followed by the Adult Editors’ Buzz panel. Over the next two days, many booksellers were talking about the books they heard about there (My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent won the prize for the book I heard the most booksellers raving about that week). Then booksellers were able to participate in Publicists Speed Dating. My events manager and I went table to table, reconnecting with colleagues we’ve worked with before and meeting new faces (we got a lot done in those two hours).

Overall, the booksellers I spoke with had a full, meaningful, and productive day on Wednesday. ABA will continue to make that pre-show day more and more significant for the bookseller experience. One piece of feedback we got was that we could have notified people earlier and more clearly about how much there was to do that day, so they could arrive in New York City early enough to participate. We will work on that for next year.

Thursday and Friday at the Show

My experiences on the floor this year were more meaningful and significant than I’ve had in years. One event that really stood out was the Editors Hour at the Penguin Random House booth (many thanks to Ruth Liebmann). Rather than walking through the booth and not seeing anyone I recognized, the booth was full of editors that I had met or had always wanted to meet. Spending an hour on the floor chatting with Kate Medina, Gerry Howard, and Bill Thomas was one of the highlights of my entire week. I am hoping we can convince other publishers to coordinate with ABA to create a schedule of events like this on the floor for next year.

Town Hall and Annual Membership Meeting

These were the best-attended Town Hall and Annual Membership Meetings that I have witnessed at BookExpo in years. My sense is that the continuity that we have created by having Town Hall at Winter Institute as well as at BookExpo, coupled with ABA’s formal reporting to communicate what has been done to address issues brought up at previous meetings, has allowed the membership to feel a bit more engaged with ABA and in touch with what is being worked on behind the scenes. This kind of transparency and ongoing communication is something I am committed to continuing and enhancing as we move forward.

Diversity Task Force

On Friday afternoon, I spent three hours with nine other booksellers as part of the ABA Diversity Task Force, which was created after the Town Hall at Winter Institute earlier this year. This was a pretty incredible meeting. This group brought so much courage, honesty, and respect to the table that day, along with a clear determination to find actionable items that fit within the ABA Ends Policies to ensure sustainable inclusiveness in our bookselling community. I will be making a full report on the suggestions and recommendations of that group to the ABA Board when we meet in July for our summer Board meeting. After that and a few more conference calls with the Task Force, I will report back to the membership on the next steps the group will be taking. If ABA members would like to offer suggestions to this group, they can reach out to any member of the Task Force or directly to me.

Final Thanks and Welcome

This BookExpo marked the end of Board terms for Matt Norcross (McLean & Eakin Booksellers) and John Evans (DIESEL, A Bookstore) as well as the end of Betsy Burton’s (The King’s English Bookshop) term as president of the ABA. Matt and John served the ABA membership for six years each and Betsy for eight. I feel privileged to have had the chance to work with, learn from, and get to know all of them. I know I speak for all of you when I thank them for their passion, their hard work, and their service.

And while I will miss all three of these colleagues, I am extremely excited to welcome our three newest board members: Christine Onorati (WORD), Kenny Brechner (Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers), and Bradley Graham (Politics and Prose). The little time I got the chance to spend with them last week assured me that we have some great, fresh eyes joining our group.

Thanks for reading this. If at any time you have a question, suggestion, or comment about ABA, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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