Over the past weekend, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association held its annual Spring Gathering in San Francisco, and American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher was there to hear booksellers' concerns and feedback.
The ABA's relationship with Kobo was one of the first topics to come up, and Teicher said the ABA was aware that many booksellers are unhappy with the e-book vendor, and he reiterated that the trade association is trying to impress on Kobo the need to promote the content as well as the reading devices--and promote them both a lot more. But, Teicher explained, the Toronto company--which is a major player in e-books in Canada, France and other parts of the world--is also aware of how hard it is to brand e-book readers in the U.S., given that "Nook spent $27 million in the fourth quarter and still lost market share."
More than anything, Teicher said, the ABA views its relationship with Kobo--though it may not result in huge e-book sales per store--as a means of retaining customers for ABA member businesses. Christie Olson Day, owner of Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, said that her store is reaching a tipping point with its Kobo program. "It's a small amount of money," she said, "but it's money we're not doing anything to earn and that's delightful."
Among the other subjects brought up by multiple booksellers was the desire to impress on New York publishers the necessity for warehouses in the West so that booksellers there can get books quickly and remain competitive. Booksellers also noted the increasing amount of books arriving damaged, particularly those coming direct from the printer.
At the rep picks session focused on spring and summer titles, Ty Wilson from PGW/Perseus used the opening of baseball season this week to spotlight two titles: for kids, Smarty Marty's Got Game by Amy Gutierrez (Cameron), who is the in-game reporter for the San Francisco Giants; and for adults, 1954 by Bill Madden (Da Capo), about the year when Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in 1947 finally had a wider effect on the game, with a roster of black players that included Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks.
Wilson also mentioned the Fridays at Enrico's, from Counterpoint, the novel Don Carpenter was working on when he died (which Jonathan Letham finished), about the group of writers who met at the North Beach landmark every week in the 1960s. Another Counterpoint title to note, said Wilson, is Distant Neighbors, edited by Chad Wriglesworth, which collects the correspondence between Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry.
Wendy Pearl from Penguin Random House--who once famously said she'd eat a galley if a book she loved did not become an Indie Next pick--named Troika by Adam Pelzman (Amy Einhorn/Putnam) as her pick of picks. It's told from the alternating viewpoints of a Russian orphan immigrant to the U.S., a Cuban stripper he meets in Florida and another character Pearl could not divulge. The rep declared, "Every chapter is a gem." She also touted The Untold by Courtney Collins (Putnam), whom Pearl said lives up to her comparison as an "Australian Cormac McCarthy." The novel, set in the 1920s, is about a horse thief trying to escape her lover and the law; the story is told by her dead infant child. Oh, and it's based on a true story, "except for the infant child narrator part," Pearl said.
Random House rep Ron Shoop said, "I never thought a day would come that I'd talk to a group of booksellers about a business book I loved," but Essentialism by Greg McKeown (Crown) really helped him understand how to prioritize in a new way. Ruth Reichl's first novel, Delicious!, is set at a magazine that is "remarkably like Gourmet," Shoop said. And "if your reading has been too vanilla lately," Shoop recommended The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (Knopf), set in the 17th-century New World, which features a triangle involving a Canadian Jesuit priest, a Huron warrior and an Iroquois girl. And Shoop predicted that, like his previous surprise bestseller, The Dinner, Herman Koch's new novel, Summer House with Swimming Pool (Hogarth), will be the "book to pay your rent" this summer.
HarperCollins's Jim Hanky said Francine Prose's new novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, is about "a really sexy period in American expat history" and "would light up the bestseller list." Hanky likened the new Greg Iles, Nachez Burning, to Denis Lehane's leap as a writer with Mystic River. The Bees by Laline Paull (Ecco) is about a worker bee with extra DNA; Hanky described it as "part Animal Farm and part Game of Thrones." And also coming from Ecco is Tom Robbins's much-anticipated memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie.
Simon & Schuster rep Cheri Hickman kicked off her picks with a memoir that is "of another category" for its honesty: Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse, author of the novel The Madonnas of Echo Park. Laura McBride's debut novel, We Are Called to Rise--she was a featured author at the NCIBA reception--was getting lots of buzz from early readers like Marion Abbott from Mrs. Dalloway's and Calvin Crosby of Book Passage. "Please just read 30 pages," said Hickman. "It's unputdownable." Hickman wrapped up with All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a title that got plenty of buzz at Winter Institute.
Consortium indie rep at Karel/Dutton Lise Solomon told attendees he gave a glowing blurb to Invisible Beasts by Sharona Muir (Bellevue Literary Press). She also focused on two titles from Enchanted Lion Books: The River by Alessandro Sanna--"as much a lovely art book as a children's title"--and Macanudo by Liniers, an Argentinian comic strip artist recently featured in the New Yorker. Solomon enticingly described the novel Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night by Barbara J. Taylor (Akashic), set in a coal-mining town in 1913, as "one of those sit on the couch and don't bother me" reads.
On the kids' side, Dandy Conway from Random House touted Jean Reagan's How to Babysit a Grandma (she previously covered grandpas). Other in-house favorites include Poor Doreen by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Alexandra Boiger, about a happy fish who never quite realizes that tasty dragonfly is actually bait; and Jenny Offill's Sparky!, a picture book about a pet sloth. Like Disney's Frozen, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee is a retelling of The Snow Queen. In YA, Conway reminded attendees that We Were Liars by E. Lockhart got a lot of attention at Winter Institute, but Conway said she couldn't say much more without spoilers.
Chronicle's Anna-Lisa Sandstrum used her talent for understated hilarity as she read the topic-starter suggestions for eight-year-olds from What to Talk About by Chris Colin and Bob Baedeker--it's not a kids' book so much as about how to start a conversation with anyone anywhere. Sandstrum also had booksellers laughing when she presented the parenting guide This Is Ridiculous This Is Amazing by Jason Good (the father of two small boys). Switching moods, she read a letter Gandhi wrote to Hitler from Letters of Note, an unusual historical compilation by Shaun Usher.
And sometimes you learn something new about a rep at these sessions, like when Ingram's Beverly Fisher claimed, "I'm definitely a mermaid wannabe," as she spoke about The Mermaid Shoes by Sanne te Loo (ages 3-8; Lemniscaat), which is about a girl who finds swim fins at the beach and decides they're her mermaid shoes. The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water, a picture book by Gemma Merino (Northsouth), Fisher noted, is a charming ugly duckling story wherein a crocodile discovers he's actually a dragon. In nonfiction, Fisher highlighted two titles: Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro by Phil Gaimon (VeloPress) and Do Disrupt: Change the Status Quo, or Become It by Mark Shyler (Do Book Co.). Though the latter title is geared for new businesses, Fisher said it's a must-read for every bookseller tired of hearing "but we've always done it that way." --Bridget Kinsella