The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Tradeshow: A Report from the Frontlines

By Karma Bennett of Ulysses Press

Authors of Stuff Hipsters Hate at the NCIPA Trade Show

At the NCIBA trade Show you meet lots of interesting characters. You will meet printers who want to print your books. You will meet photographers offering stock photos. You will meet authors, and their escorts and publicists. You will meet sellers and journalists and distributors. The opportunities to flex your networking muscle are multifarious. If you are lucky you may even snag a chat with that increasingly rare wonder, the buyer or proprietor of an independent bookstore.

Of course, the NCIBA being a gathering especially for independent booksellers, you do see them wandering about. But they are like precious butterflies; one cannot simply rush over, scoop them up and regale them with the magic of next season’s list. Should an independent bookseller glance curiously at one of your cookbooks, the debate you’ve been having with a member of the CA Authors club about the value of social networks will come to a standstill as both of you catch your breath in anticipation. It’s like waiting to see if a bee will pollinate a flower—will your title be the book they fall in love with, and handsell to consumers and book clubs, as these indie folks are famous for?

It happens. Not one but three reps from Books Inc come by my table. I finish chatting up a fellow only to realize as he’s walking away that he works for one of my favorite bookstores (Modern Times). I gush, belatedly.

But it’s not like it used to be, as everyone is quick to point out. Even young publicists will tell tales of how much more crowded the show was only five years ago. It’s not as though the trade show lacked the ability to draw them, as many of the booksellers I spoke with had driven a long way for the show.

The best chance to mingle with a gaggle of independent booksellers is at the cocktail party on Thursday. Free wine and hors d’œuvres are a fine lure to get all those booksellers in the same room and the wall-to-wall sunset is a nifty bonus. There was a free book provided of literary tattoos. It was a great conversation starter, though I wonder how many other publicists would have given out free books if they’d known it was an option. I’m also a fan of the cookbook sampling, and not only because it puts a long line of eyeballs in front of my booth.

Speaking of booth location, I’m always surprised that there are less than ten publishers occupying the independent publisher’s row. A table there is a bargain and I think at an event dedicated to individual proprietorships more of us should be proudly there representing the indie badge.

Overall, I’d say the event was well-managed and the volunteers were courteous and helpful. Lack of Internet and cell phone reception was a pain, but out of their control beyond choosing a different location. The signing I’d arranged for Stuff Hipsters Hate was well-announced and we gave away more than a few books. I’d say the most popular signing was the local cheese monger who brought samples (Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge). This year there were no dedicated signing areas, which I preferred as it kept all authors equal. It also meant that to meet the author they had to come by the booth, where other friendly titles stared back at them. The only thing the show lacked, the NCIBA could not provide—droves and droves of independent booksellers, flush with cash and hungry to expand.

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