In progress: A roundup of Regional Bookseller Association holiday gift catalogs & top picks

There are nine regional bookseller associations around the country, and the bookstores within each region team up each fall to put together their own holiday gift catalogs.  These catalogs are great for the bookstores in the region to promote books that might not get the same exposure in the big chain stores, and they frequently feature books of regional interest or published by local publishers.  Of course, they're also great for book lovers everywhere to use as a starting point for their gift giving or wish list making.

I thought it would be useful and interesting for my3books' readers to get a look at the various holiday catalogs from around the country.  Most of them are either downloadable as a big lump PDF or in small pieces.  You'll find links below to the regional associations' web sites and to the direct downloads (or online viewable editions, if downloads aren't available).

 

PNBA - Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
The PNBA represents bookstores in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.  Their main catalog page has links to downloads of individual pages for different categories.

SIBA - Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
SIBA represents over 300 bookstores in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and Mississippi.  Their main catalog page has lots of information, including a link to launch an online version of the catalog.

GLIBA - Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association
Representing bookstores across the Great Lakes region of the US - Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio with member stores in other adjacent states.  Their 2009 catalog is available as a PDF download.

 

MBA - Midwestern Booksellers Association
The MBA is the association that represents bookstores in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, as well as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  You can download the full PDF of their 2009 catalog here.

NCIBA - Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
The NCIBA, obviously, represents booksellers in Northern California.  Their main catalog page has links to download the cover and a list of the titles featured in the catalog.

SCIBA - Southern California Independent Booksellers Association
As with NCIBA, the SCIBA is the home base for Southern California booksellers.  Their catalog has not been unveiled yet - that's their placeholder cover above.  Meanwhile, here's a list of the titles that will be featured.

MPIBA - Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association
The MPIBA covers a vast swath of the country's mountainous midsection – over 250 indie bookstores in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.  Their 2009 catalog is viewable in parts here.

NAIBA - the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
Spread across the mid-Atlantic region of the country, member bookstores are to be found in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington DC.  You can download their complete 2009 holiday catalog here.

NEIBA - New England Independent Booksellers Association
Member bookstores in NEIBA hail from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Their 2009 holiday catalog is downloadable here.

"Put quality first; don’t get greedy."

The world of books seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis right now. Isn't it great?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalsextant/ / CC BY-SA 2.0 The publishing industry may be on the precipice of doom - we just don't know where our livelihood and our passion is going.

But whatever your own personal take might be on where publishing and bookselling is going in the future, the one great aspect to this whole wave of nervous self-regard is that everybody's got an opinion, and everybody's got someplace to let their voice be heard. There are a lot of pundits out there, prognosticating about our future.

When I wake up in the morning, and make my way to the desk with coffee in hand, it's easy for me to think that I work on the side of the angels. I represent a whole raft of independent publishers, university presses, poorly paid but insanely creative authors, etc. I sell their books to (almost exclusively) independent bookstores. When I'm not selling to indie bookstores, I'm calling on a few larger companies based in my territory, and I'm working to convince those big guys to give the up-and-coming publishers and authors a shot. Once I'm done patting myself on the back, though, the cold reality of bookselling right now can be a bit scary.

But here are a few thoughts that help keep me centered as I work with my booksellers and talk to my publishers:

  • I know that words certainly aren't going anywhere. If anything, there're going to be more words than ever before. Words are what we do. It's not bound packs of paper or shiny discs or packets of bits. The question is, which collections of words are going to be free and which ones will be worth paying money for?
  • You'd have to be pretty clueless to witness the rise of online self-publishing, blogging, citizen journalism and the whole social media whirl and continue thinking that everything is going to continue on the way it did 50 years ago or even 25 years ago. Some people's profit margins are going to be clipped but good.
  • It's a truism in bookselling that you keep an ear on what your customers are asking for and special ordering. That's how you know where your store's holes are. Likewise, how can you not pay attention to the sections that aren't selling because of fundamental changes in the business? That's the fin in the water - you get out of the water on that beach and find a safer beach.
  • I know I'm not the only one with this perspective, but I think everybody's excessively freaked out about e-books right now. Instead of trying to hash out the one perfect solution and the one industry standard before we all move forward in lockstep, I say let a million flowers bloom. I want a chaotic blur of different options, e-readers, file formats and marketing strategies. Let the market speak and we'll see what works best.

So where do indie publishers fit in this scary new world? And my beloved indie bookstores? This is the great part. There will always be niches where scrappy publishers with new ideas can thrive. And I believe that there will continue to be a portion of the publishing world that continues to need retail space to reach their customers - no matter what format those stores are selling.

And I'm not the only one thinking like this. I read a few articles and blog posts tonight that got me reviewing my own place in this business, and wanting to try to express my own thoughts on this.

I came across this post at the New Yorker's Book Bench: Rise of the Indie Publisher. That's where I got the quote that headlines this post - "put quality first, don't get greedy."

Forgive me if I hear an echo of Michael Pollan's foodie manifesto from the New York Times in 2007: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Maybe we need our own crystalizing manifesto for reinventing publishing?

The NYer blog post links to indie publisher Two Dollar Radio's Eric Obenauf and his column in the Brooklyn Rail, called The Revenge of Print, that circulated widely earlier this week on Twitter. One of his main points is that big conglomerates are going to be in trouble, but "there is space for print not only to exist in modern society, but to thrive, if undertaken on a realistic scale."

Eric discusses a number of indie publishers who are currently operating in the shadow of the major conglomerates, yet are actually achieving "the mission for book publishers and print media at large should be to create a product that is irreplaceable and indispensible."

From Eric's column, here's a list of some indie publishers who are operating on what he calls a "responsible scale": Europa Editions, Seven Stories Press, Bellevue Literary Press, Akashic Books, Soft Skull Press, Melville House, and City Lights.

I would add more names to the list of exemplars: Arsenal Pulp Press, Feminist Press at CUNY, Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, Small Beer Press, Copper Canyon Press, Dzanc Books, Soho Press, McSweeney's Books, Milkweed Editions, Exact Change, Tin House Books, Unbridled Books and upstart little guys Busted Flush Press and Exterminating Angel Press.

Other voices that are helping me to make sense of the future: Richard Nash. Booksquare's Kassia Krozser (especially this piece).  Kat Meyer & Charlotte Abbott (Follow The Reader). I like to read Bethanne Patrick at The Book Maven.  Check out Quartet Press from Kat & Kassia & Kirk Biglione. Pablo Defendini, web producer for Tor.com, is doing really creative online publishing and marketing for Macmillan.

What else?  You know I'm all about the rich connections that social media is helping us build.  Richard Nash notoriously epigrammatized himself at BEA when he said that "Twitter will not save publishing" but if you want to be inspired by its potential to help publishing, take a look at what Unbridled is doing with their own Twitter account, withtheirstaff, and their authors (Masha Hamilton, Jason Quinn Malott, Elise Blackwell, Colin Dickey, Edward Falco, Emily St. John Mandel, Eric Barnes, etc.) I don't think there's another publisher with a greater proportion of their authors taking part in the great Twitter conversation with booksellers and readers.

We're all trying to find our way through this muddle - and with books coming from great indie publishers like those mentioned above, and social networking tools like Twitter to help us find our way together - I'm feeling pretty OK about the future of publishing and bookselling.

my3blogs: links to 3 great posts about bookstore life

It's true - I do not read just books. In fact, I can blame a great many of my uncompleted books on my online reading. There's nothing shocking in that statement, as it's probably true of a majority of my3books' readership. As the technology gets better and friendlier, it gets harder to ignore that siren call and go back to the books. I'm a diehard Google Reader user, and I frequently add longer online documents to my Instapaper queue for reading later on the iPhone.

For today, though, I'm going to embrace the online reading I've been doing and call out a few favorites. I have always subscribed to my share of book blogs, and the blogs from bookstores that I sell to and shop in, but I've noticed that since I started writing my3books, I'm paying closer attention to the bookstore blogs. I'm being more mindful of them. I'm paying closer attention to the ideas coming from my booksellers, and I'm more cognizant of the potential for sharing knowledge.

So here we go. Three really interesting blog posts from three smart blogging booksellers.

The Green Apple Core
- Looking at the art of shelftalkers

The stalwart San Francisco bookstore Green Apple Books was one of my favorite places to spend a weekend afternoon when Laura and I lived in the Bay Area. Since we don't live anywhere near SF at present, and my trips there are increasingly scarce, I've really been enjoying the posts from the various Green Apple booksellers who write for the blog. Besides helping me remember the flavor of a great bookstore, The Green Apple Core does a great job of covering both the books they love and the inside baseball kind of subjects about how they do their bookselling work.

A case in point is the ongoing series of posts about The Art of the Shelftalker (part 1, part 2, part 3). Why these shelftalkers? Who spends this much time writing and decorating such wonderful little cards? What alchemical magic made these books bestsellers at Green Apple? Read and find out.

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Left Bank Books' co-owner Kris Kleindienst's blog
- Why booksellers should visit NY publishers on their own time.

As publishers' sales reps, we spend a lot of time with bookstore buyers and owners. Kris is one of those buyers that I love spending time with. Kris and her co-owners and booksellers at Left Bank Books work as hard as any booksellers that I've met, and they all seem to be in constant motion. They opened a second branch of Left Bank earlier in 2009, and now those booksellers are shuttling back and forth, staffing both stores!

Kris's post this week was about the trip she and LBB events coordinator Danielle took to New York to talk to publishers about the latest developments in the world of Left Bank Books. Many bookstores make trips like this, making sure that the publicists and marketing folks at the big publishing houses are aware of their existence, pitching their events capabilities, their local connections in the community, and their recent successes. For any store that wants to attract authors and put on a serious, sustained program of author visits, this post is a must-read.

And if you need any further inducement to visit Left Bank Books next time you're passing through St Louis, click here to say hello to the downtown shop's new store kitten, Olive.

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Next Chapter's Reading Copy
- Another perspective on in-store displays

At first, this might seem to be excessively self-referential, because the above link will take you to a recent post on the Next Chapter Bookshop's blog that refers right back here to a my3books post about Paco Underhill's Why We Buy, among other books.

But Rebecca's post at Next Chapter's Reading Copy is a rebuttal to Underhill's case against overly elaborate in-store displays. The Next Chapter staff have arranged the center of the bookshop around a core of tasty book displays that beckon customers to examine the featured books more closely. Some of the displays are quite elaborate, while others keep it simple - a nicely curated selection of books that work together on a theme.

Not every bookstore staff has the resources to spare to put together Joseph Cornell-like constructs, of course, and all we can do is try to find the best balance every day. But if nothing else, read the post and take a look at their pictures of the different theme displays. Maybe you'll be inspired to try something new today?

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Post your own suggestions for smart and useful bookstore bloggers in the comments.

Constraint and mindfulness

In my first few years as a sales rep, I used to write love letters to my booksellers.

I sent them with the ARCs of particular books that I loved and was trying to give a little extra push. I was on Carl Lennertz's mailing list when he was Mr. Handselling at Random House, and I consciously followed in his giant-sized footsteps: a great read + a passionate note. The only difference in my mind was the scale of the operation.

I've always worked as a sales rep for small to medium indie presses, and distributors of those indie presses - so the ARCs that I have to work with are always at a premium. Because of my publishers' limited resources, I had to carefully choose which booksellers would receive each of those galleys. I would ramble on passionately for a half-page about the author and the book, print out a dozen copies of the letter, tuck one into each ARC, and pop them into mailers.

Each time that I came across a book that I loved in this way, I would mentally walk down the list of bookstores that I sold to and choose the buyers or frontline booksellers who would be most likely to love that book like I loved it. It became a kind of ritual for me - a mindful winnowing of my stores to just the perfect stores and booksellers to make the pitch to.

Since then, I've changed my ways a bit. I still keep track of which buyers like the literary fiction and which ones prefer thrillers, and I try to learn about the tastes & shelf-talking habits of the frontline booksellers. I have all their email addresses, so I can send out an email blast if there's breaking news about a particular book or author.

But now I hold my personal pitches for those special books in reserve until my sales call, so I can personally hand the book over to them and see if the book and the bookseller make the connection. It's a nice echo of the way I used to hand a book over to favorite customers when I was a bookseller. My favorite part of the job!

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I've been thinking a lot about ideas relating to limited resources over the past few months. We've all had to learn how to make do with less this year - to be more thoughtful of how we spend our time, our money, and our energy.

And that idea of working more mindfully - of working within constraints - keeps cropping up in the part of the publishing and bookselling world I inhabit.

Think of Twitter. I don't know if everyone writes their tweets this way - maybe some people are able to blurt out perfectly-formed thoughts that come in under the 140 character limit - but I tend to run long and then work to edit it down to a tidy epigrammatic length. Now that I've started up this blog after more than a year on Twitter, I'm retraining my brain to think in longer form posts instead of a series of blips.

Despite that 140 character limit, I've read and taken part in more interesting discussions about the future of publishing and about great books, and met more new friends than at the last five BookExpos. Much of the credit for that must go to the circle of publishing folks that I follow on Twitter, who get that it's much more conversation than series of billboards.

For another example, I would point you to two panels that got a lot of attention at the London Book Fair and BEA 2009: Canon Tales (at LBF) and 7x20x21 (at BEA). The idea behind both panels is "pecha kucha" - a series of presenters artificially constrained to 20 slides or images, each shown for just 20 seconds. I missed Canon Tales, but was there for 7x20x21, and it was the most interesting panel I saw in NYC this spring. Some of that interestingness came from the dark anticipation of the "tightrope walker wobbling", but mostly it was a result of this constraint - the speakers needed to focus their thoughts and winnow their words down to their essence. And because of the artful selection of the panel, I got seven creative new publishing personalities in the space of what might have otherwise been one long keynote speech.

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Likewise, I'm inspired by the curatorial choices that the buyers & owners that I work with make in their indie bookstores. They have acquired a solid sense of exactly which sorts of books will work in their stores and which will not. Their budgets and their smaller store footprints have forced them to develop the good habit of making careful choices. To try to talk them around those constraints is pointless - it's just selling them returns.

In keeping with the theme of my3books, I present three of my particularly mindful buyers/owners.

Daniel Goldin, the owner of newly opened Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, was my buyer at Harry W. Schwartz. For years, Daniel was one of my required first stops in the season cycle of selling. He would school me in exactly which pieces of information from my sales conference pitches were useless, and what information I was missing. I could go home from that sales call and do the research to make my presentations more effective. (Not coincidentally, Daniel was also the first person to introduce me to Pecha Kucha - he took part in one last summer.)

Kelly von Plonski, the owner of Subterranean Books in St. Louis, has crafted a fascinating blend of underground literature, art book haven, DIY crafter resource, and pop culture gallery. What kind of bookstore is this? The kind where my sales calls usually end with Kelly and I handselling each other the books that we're reading and I end up leaving the store with more books!

Heidi Schmidt has been one of my longest lasting bookselling friends - we met as young booksellers at Anderson's Bookshop - and she is now the manager and buyer at Town House Books in St. Charles, IL. Town House is situated in a beautiful old house in a historic district just uphill from the Fox River, but because of their particular "carriage trade" neighborhood and because of the space limits forced upon them by the building itself, Heidi is one of my most particular, most discerning buyers. There's just no talking her into books that don't fit the flavor of the store. As a result, the book selection at Town House is of the best quality - you could choose a book blindly from any shelf and confidently recommend it for your next book group.

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My favorite part of having this new blog? I'm back to writing love letters to booksellers.