Last weekend, the Burlesque Press team took cars and trains to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend the book-selling conference hosted by SIBA, The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.
We had come to promote our authors current and future, as well as the 2015 Hands On Literary Festival. It was my first time at a conference for booksellers, rather than one focused on writers or scholars, and I enjoyed the change of pace.
At SIBA, the air felt a lot happier than at a writers-focused event like AWP, because there was less existential dread. At a writers’ conference, it’s not completely clear what one is supposed to be doing — network, certainly, but to whom? — and this leads to anxiety. Whereas, at SIBA, everyone seemed to have a clear role. Booksellers were looking for good books to stock and authors to bring in for events; authors were trying to get their books stocked in shops; publishers wanted booksellers to take interest in the books they had released. Three simple roles.
As a result, everyone seemed happy, understanding of their purpose at the event.
We writers hate the feeling that our work is being judged by whether it will make money; therefore, attending an event like SIBA is valuable because it shows one the anxious calculations on the other end of the industry, the methods and pitches that editors and marketers use to guide books into bookshops; the logic that leads booksellers to order a book and try to sell it.
Another wonderful quality of SIBA was the large number of great books given out. Some of these were available for free, given away by sales people inside the book fair. Others were incorporated into the various meals that one could choose to pay for: every lunch and dinner that weekend began with four or five books being handed out to every attendee, and we ate our baked salmon, caesar salad, and pecan pie listening to each book’s author introduce their work.
At one lunch, we saw Padgett Powell introduce his new collection, published by the brand-new Catapult.
One highlight for me was an encounter at the Penguin booth. The sales rep listened to me talk, asked me what I liked in fiction, and on that basis recommended I read this book, which I have since begun, and already love:
She then said, “I have a present for you. It’s the only copy we packed, and I’ve been waiting for the right person to give it to. Here you are.” I gasped; my eyes got teary; we embraced.
And yet, still, SIBA could be a nervous time. Eva Langston, book blogger extraordinaire and contributing editor to Burlesque Press, wrote about these worries and hopes on her blog, The Garden of Eva.
I had a hard time explaining myself this weekend. “So, where’s your bookstore?” I was asked on more than one occasion, often as a free book was being shoved into my hands.
“I’m with a small press.” I’d flip over my nametag, which was almost always facing the wrong direction.
If you’re an aspiring (or established author), you should read her post to find out what why a publishing event like SIBA might be right (and also daunting) for you:
I nursed a cider and imagined myself up on that stage. Somehow I knew I wouldn’t get there with either of the two middle-grade novels I’ve written. When I imagined myself up there, I saw myself talking about a book of mine that I haven’t even written yet.