On Thursday, May 29, over 300 independent booksellers from around the U.S. converged in Los Angeles for the ABA Education Day, which included ABA's first annual "What Are You Reading Lunch." The day's numerous sessions were packed with prospective, novice, and veteran booksellers alike, each looking to enhance their bookselling skills. According to comments from a number of booksellers, the programming did not disappoint.
Dan Hutson, of Newsstand International in Charlotte, North Carolina, was one of over 60 booksellers attending the budgeting and financial monitoring session led by ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz. "That one session was worth the price of attendance [at BEA]," he said. "It was really outstanding. The tools Avin provided are going to make an amazing difference in our store."
The day began with concurrent sessions on Budget & Financial Monitoring, Technology, Time Management, Marketing, and a large-store seminar that focused on staff and payroll issues. Throughout, the day was marked by avid note taking, numerous follow-up questions, and intensive peer-to-peer networking. Programming reflected the diversity of the country's independent bookselling community, as stores participated in small group discussions that dealt with staff productivity, integrating used books and remainders into stores' inventory mix, and marketing Web sites. There were also special programs for children's and African American booksellers.
Educational Panels Highlight a Busy Day
The day got off to good start with the panel "Technology as a Bookselling Tool." The in-depth session, moderated by Tom Allen, general manager of Stacey's Bookstore in San Francisco, was a casual one, with much interaction between the panelists and attendees. Other panelists for the session were ABA staff members Bill Cunningham, technical project manager; Len Vlahos, BookSense.com director; and Jeff Wexler, director of information services.
The technology panel began with a discussion about how booksellers can utilize instant messaging. "It is an incredibly powerful tool, and it's free," Vlahos told attendees. "It is one of the ways we communicate with customers on BookSense.com." However, Wexler warned, while instant messaging is extremely effective, it is a "totally insecure communication tool," not suitable for the transmission of credit card information.
The panelists also discussed what kind of Internet connection booksellers should use. The general consensus was to employ some type of high-speed connection, as opposed to a dial-up connection. "My recommendation is that you get a type of Internet access that is on 100 percent of the time," Wexler said. Allen concurred, and noted, "[Baker & Taylor's] Title Source and [Ingram's] ipage do not work well with a dial-up connection."
Panelists also discussed how to get the most out of ABA's online resources, including the booksellers' forums on BookWeb.org, ABA's Book Buyer's Handbook online, and BookSense.com.
During the session, one attendee noted that it was no longer a choice as to whether booksellers should incorporate technological tools into their operations. "You need these tools in order to survive. You don't have a choice unless you want to be a Mom-and-Pop and make only a $100 a week -- or go out of business."
The importance of building personal relationships with customers was stressed by all participants in a marketing workshop moderated by ABA Marketing Officer Michael Hoynes.
"It's all about getting to know the people," stressed Jack Mitchell, master clothing-retailer and the author of Hug Your Customers (Hyperion). Extraordinary customer service need not be expensive, said Mitchell, who gave the memorizing of patrons' names (and the names of their spouses and children) and the sending of handwritten notes as examples of "simple little things that make 'em say, 'Wow!'"
Harry Beckwith (What Clients Love: A Field Guide to Growing Your Business, Warner Business Books) reinforced Mitchell's message, saying: "We buy a service for the relationship, for the feeling we get.... We don't just buy a book; we buy the person selling it." Beckwith estimated he himself spends over two thousand dollars a year on books. "You want to know how to sell me a book?" he asked the booksellers in his audience. "It's very simple, two words: 'Hello, Harry.'"
Once your business is up and running, urged Tom Ehrenfeld (The Start-Up Garden, McGraw-Hill), take the time and courage to step back and evaluate how to change it in order to better serve customers. Don't be like some online or big-box outlets that know "the price of everything and the value of nothing," Ehrenfeld said -- but do learn from field trips to other retailers to see how to improve your own business. "Like the new stores [that] Apple is opening in malls: I go to one of those, and I just want to stay there all day!"
Time management was the focus of a seminar led by David Allen, president of the David Allen Company and author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Penguin) and the forthcoming Ready for Anything: Productivity Principles for Work & Life (Viking). In his presentation, which booksellers described as both very helpful and entertaining, Allen began by defining the productive experience as one in which a person is "in control, relaxed, focused, inspired, and getting things with a system to maintain the process." He introduced booksellers to what he described as the five phases of mastering workflow: collecting things that command our attention; processing what they mean and what to do about them; organizing the results; reviewing them as options for implementation; and then doing them.
Allen concluded his presentation by describing a system of "Black Belt Management" that a successful time-manager needs to implement "to maintain a center of gravity, no matter what's ahead."
What Are You Reading Lunch
During a day of spreadsheets and management dictums, booksellers focused over lunch on the heart and soul of their businesses -- books. At 30 tables of approximately 10 booksellers each, attendees met for the first annual "What Are You Reading Lunch," where they pulled out notebooks and pens to share their favorite titles.
At one table, Carla Cohen of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., discussed three upcoming Grove Atlantic titles, two novels -- The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman and The Deafening by Frances Itani -- and an upcoming nonfiction title, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle.
Tom Campbell of The Regulator in Durham, North Carolina, praised a Harcourt nonfiction title Scout's Honor: A Father's Unlikely Foray Into the Woods by Peter Applebome, "the last person you would ever think would get involved in the Boy Scouts." And Janet Lund of The King's English in Salt Lake City encouraged those at her table to read a children's title, Wishes for You by Tobi Tobias, illustrated by Henri Sorensen (Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard). "It has such a wonderful flow -- you just want to embrace it."
An Afternoon of Programming for Children's Booksellers
In a well-attended, fast-moving, three-part program that lasted over two hours, children's booksellers were treated to an intriguing look inside the creative process behind young people's literature, and were given an advance look at some of next season's most exciting children's titles.
Author Chris Crutcher and editor Virginia Duncan began the well-run event by sharing some of their collaborative secrets -- and e-mails -- from their work together, most recently on Crutcher's memoir, King of the Mild Frontier (Greenwillow). "It's always mysterious to me, why [Chris] would trust me" to edit his work, Duncan said. "Mysterious to her?" Crutcher replied, praising "the absolute beauty of an editor" such as Duncan, "who just 'sees it and says it.'"
The centerpiece of the event was a 75-minute session in which two-person teams from several publishing houses gave rotating 15-minute presentations at booksellers' tables, highlighting forthcoming titles of special interest. Among the books featured were: Kevin O'Malley's Straight to the Pole (Walker), Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, a two-part "epic novel" with a one-million copy print run for each volume (Scholastic); and Li'l Dan the Drummer Boy, a newly discovered picture book written and illustrated by the late Romare Bearden (Simon & Schuster).
Capping the afternoon was an engaging, often hilarious, presentation by Esmé Raji Codell (Educating Esmé and How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, both from Algonquin), whose slide-show tour of her personal world and creative process led into a bravura reading of passages from her first novel, the Book Sense selection Sahara Special (Hyperion).
African American Booksellers Conference
The African American Booksellers Conference (AABC), organized by Clara Villarosa of Hue-Man Bookstore in New York City and Emma Rodgers of Black Images Book Bazaar of Dallas, began with a luncheon featuring authors Walter Mosley (Fear Itself, Little Brown), Nalo Hopkinson (The Salt Roads, Warner Books), Michele Andrea Bowen (Second Sunday, Warner Books), and Regina Louise (Somebody's Someone, Warner Books).
The luncheon was followed by the keynote address presented by Renee Poussaint, co-editor with Dr. Camille O. Cosby of A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak (Atria Books). The session began with a videotaped message from Cosby, who introduced attendees to the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP), which is an effort "to tell, preserve, and disseminate worldwide, the first-person stories" of African American elders, who are at least 70 years old.
Poussaint, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and executive director and co-founder of NVLP, then entertained and inspired booksellers who enthusiastically embraced the idea of preserving the stories of their elders. Poussaint explained how the "extraordinary voices" captured in A Wealth of Wisdom "can tell us who we are as people can tell us who we can be." Among those interviewed for the book were Andrew Young, Dick Gregory, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, and Coretta Scott King. She also noted that the books flies in the face of today's fascination with youth and "celebrates age," adding that the stories can be used as a learning tool "to create the leaders of the next generation."
The book will be published in November, but details of the project, which enlists hundreds of college students to record the elders' histories, are available on the NVLP Web site (www.visionaryproject.com).
The keynote address was followed by a workshop introducing new African American titles from Hyperion "Jump at the Sun," Amistad/HarperCollins, BET Books, One World and Strivers Row, Doubleday/Harlem Moon, and Kensington Books.
AABC programming ended with a reception, which was preceded by a session led by Carole Horne of the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on inventory management.
Watch tomorrow's Live From BEA for more from the show, including the winners of the Book Sense Book of the Year Awards and more.