by Toni L.P. Kelner
I spent yesterday at NEIBA, the trade show for the New England Independent Booksellers Association. This is an outing I've been enjoying once a year for over a decade. My husband Steve and I always volunteer to work at the Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of America booth, and some years sign and give away books, too. Plus we get to wander around taking notes about the books coming out, and picking up ARCs and other giveaways. As our daughters Maggie and Valerie have gotten older, it's become a family event. We always look forward to it. But this year, it was kind of depressing.
First off, it's always a bit daunting for a small fish like myself to see how many, many books I'm competing against. Thousands of books are released every month, many with great fanfare, ecstatic reviews, huge print runs, and fancy binding. Even if I just limit it to the mystery field, I saw new books by Fellow Femme Charlaine Harris, Robert Crais, Louise Penny, Archer Mayor, and Charles Todd. Dennis Lehane's much-anticipated anthology Boston Noir is coming out any minute, and includes a story by Femme Dana Cameron. It's enough to make me feel invisible.
But that's a perennial personal issue. The more meaningful observation was how quiet the show was. This year the trade show was only running for one day, instead of the traditional two, and I expected the place to be hopping. Nope. In all the years I've been going to NEIBA, it was the smallest excuse for a crowd I'd ever seen. What in previous years had been long likes for free books from attending authors was no more than a trickle, and I saw big stacks of autographed books by incredibly talented, popular authors that nobody picked up.
I don't know why that was. Obviously, the economy is still in the tank, and this was a new venue for NEIBA. (In years past, it's either been in Boston, MA or Providence, RI.) Plus we're lost a lot of the indie bookstores that would be likely to send people to the show. And of course, there are the various doom-n-gloom predictions about the book biz: e-books are taking over, the big box stores are taking over, nobody reads anymore, and so on. I imagine much more knowledgeable industry observers will be be diagnosing the situation. All I know is that it was depressing.
There was good news, too. Maybe attendance was low, but the booksellers there were still excited about finding good books to sell, and several of them said mysteries were a huge part of their business. In talking to the ever-charming Doug Mendini, sales director at Kensington, I learned that attendance and activity at SEBA was great, which was good to hear. Best of all, publishers are still in the game swinging, bringing out excellent new books and doing their best to bring them to booksellers.
I had some encouragement on the personal level, too. I did give out almost all of the copies of Curse of the Kissing Cousins from the case I had brought to sign. I chatted with a lot of booksellers, one of whom is interested in hosting an event for me, and met some new writers. I passed on some industry gossip, and picked up more. And I picked up some wonderful books to try--including Boston Noir with Dana's story.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign was going on behind my back. Literally. While I was signing books at the SinC/MWA table, Maggie and Valerie were sharing a chair behind me, reading the books they'd picked up. In the middle of a trade show filled with distractions, they were reading. Even though they had Nintendo DS games, sketch pads, and iPhones available, they were reading.
And isn't reading is what NEIBA is all about?