A Hurricane of Biblical Proportions Couldn’t Keep Them Away: Steve Moss attends his first SIBA Discovery Show
Booksellers, authors, publishers, and industry exhibitors from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama (Roll Tide), Louisiana, Virginia, and of course Florida, descended on the spectacular Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor Florida, just north of Tampa, for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2018 and its “Make Your Mark” conference.
As a first-time attendee and a Reba and Dave Williams Scholarship Fund beneficiary, I was joyfully overwhelmed with not only abundant southern charm and hospitality, but by a completely packed and extremely well-organized schedule of events including readings, movies, dinners, lunches, exhibitions, lectures, author panels, and bookstore tours, as well as workshops and industry-themed meetings designed to maximize the efforts of what our industry is all about.
I found myself with writer’s cramp, checking off in my show directory all the events I wanted to be a part of.
Innovation engineer and whiskey maker Doug Hall started things off for me with his “Driving Eureka! Problem Solving with Data Driven Methods and the Innovation Engineering System” workshop. Forcing participants to think outside the box in approaching industry as well as personal challenges, I found this to be an instructive and valuable hands-on workshop, training people to get to a new idea quickly by mapping out their strategy in an easy to grasp methodology.
A tour of the area’s Independent bookstores followed, with stops at the historic, impressive Oxford Exchange, an all-purpose, on purpose, bookstore, coffee shop, restaurant, meeting and event venue, all housed in a 100+ year old building. One of the many wonderful meals of the week to come was served in the restaurant there, with the gracious folks from Baker & Taylor picking up the tab.
On to Inkwood Books, a quintessential bookshop in downtown Tampa, with a knowledgeable and friendly staff, they welcomed us with open arms. I picked up a couple of merchandising ideas there, so if any of the staff happens to stop by my shop, they’ll be recognizable.
Next stop, Mojo Books and Music. This is a time machine of a place, harkening back to the bookstores of my youth, shelves filled floor to ceiling with books, the bookcases sheer weight being supported by wooden shims, actual LP record albums, music CD’s, and a nostalgic display of posters in one of those old time racks you can leisurely flip through. I wish I had budgeted for the signed first edition of “You’re Only Old Once,” by Dr. Seuss they had displayed under glass, but I settled for a store t-shirt and a Blade Runner movie poster. The bus ride “home” was narrated tour guide style by Arcadia Press author Mark Muncy who, as the author of Freaky Florida, filled us all in on some of the more odd histories and mysteries of Florida. I’ve lived in Florida all my life and even learned a few things!
SIBA started off with a bang, or should I say, a Bragg, Thursday morning, with 2019 Pat Conroy Legacy Award Recipient, Rick Bragg. I’ve known Rick for years from his appearances at my store, and he is always on point, a deliberately measured storyteller, and downright hysterically funny fellow. What a treat to see him honored, and to hear his perspective and recollections of Pat.
Various classes, lectures, workshops, escape rooms, and author readings filled the next few days, along with marvelous breakfasts, lunches and dinners, always with an author or authors and most of us attendees seeking out our areas of interest; in my case, seeking out new roads and discovering new interests, as well as meeting and forming alliances with other booksellers, vendors, and publishers. I got a few good pointers from a class involving AV, which is one of my specialties, but I’m always open to learning new ideas. I didn’t get involved with the “Escape Rooms,” as I would probably still be there, but I understand they were great fun.
It’s also worth mentioning, that all the accommodations and events were housed on the same site so everything SIBA had to offer was within easy reach of anyone walking. Taking advantage of the free shuttle buses provided was also most appreciated for those not used to the 90+ degree temperatures. Wherever we were, we were made as comfortable as possible.
Workshops with titles “Maximizing Pre-Order Campaigns,” “Is Profit a Dirty Word?,” and “Inventory Management,” proved to be invaluable tools for those not normally attached to this part of the business. Events like “The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness,” “Okra Picks and Their Authors Unite,” and “From the Frontlist to the Bestseller List” proved insatiable to those who love this part of the business. There really were too many great and helpful events to list effectively here.
Sadly, a couple of events were cancelled or abbreviated due to the nasty Ms. Florence, but again, she didn’t stop us from making the most out of all that was presented with quality and quantity. With workshops and lectures ranging in duration from 20 minutes to 4 hours, there was always something going on for everyone.
Some authors who couldn’t make the trip due to various prior commitments or travel restrictions due to the storm were gracious enough to join us via video presentation; notably, Jarrett Krosoczka, who left the room speechless with his presentation of Hey, Kiddo. His heart-wrenching story of being raised by his grandparents, while his mother wrote him letters from prison, is on display for all to see in graphic novel form. Another highlight for me was the “Writing, Riding, Righting Historical Fiction” session with Amy Stewart, Jonathan Putnam, Signe Pike and Kristina McMorris. Another delectable dinner with a recipe from the book Southern Snacks by Perre Coleman Magness was served, along with readings by B.A. Shapiro, and Mary Laura Philpott was almost too much stimulation for the day. Almost.
Who would have thought Books would go with Bourbon? I’m sure the majority of our literary giants would not argue. The Southern Fried Karma and Blair Publishers event with “Books & Bourbon & Banter” took place in the cavernous Inverness Hall foyer with the theme of “Cultivating Artistic Voices of the New Millennium with a Southern Accent,” was well received.
Everywhere was a cornucopia of ARC’s, catalogs, pens, pencils, book bags, matchbooks, business cards, snacks, The Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), reps, and of course, Books & Books & Books. Trying to fill my numerous book bags with as much as I could carry for friends and colleagues back home, I must confess, a few choice signed first editions were now destined for my private library at home.
Did I mention southern hospitality and southern charm goes hand in hand with plenty of food? Doughnuts, coffee, cake, tea and snacks were in abundance and within easy reach for all. Every event, workshop and lecture was sponsored by, or presented by, or in cooperation with, SIBA, and Industry heavyweights Baker & Taylor, Arcadia Publishing, BQB/WriteLife, Blair Carolina Wren, Publishers Weekly, Bookazine, BINC, Harpercollins, Flatiron Books, Ingram Content Group, National Geographic Books, Andrea Thome, 83 Press, Penguin Random House, Southern Fried Karma, University of North Carolina Press, and The Reba and Dave Williams Foundation for Literature and the Arts.
The Friday night “Readers Supper” with the aforementioned Conroy Legacy Winner Rick Bragg was again a highlight, with Rick’s signature, off the cuff entertaining approach to storytelling. Unbelievably, I was seated at the same table with too-many-to-list-multiple-award-winner-and-prolific-author-legend, Walter Mosley, who gave one of his trademark remarkable readings. His latest, John Woman, is receiving the praise it deserves. Martha Hall Kelley, with her story of Holocaust survivors, The Lost Roses, was also a standout. Emcee Doug Robinson from Eagle Eye Books in Decatur, GA, did a great job as host.
The bittersweet after dinner movie, “The Bookshop” was the perfect denouement to the day.
Table after table of books filled with selections from the aforementioned publishing houses dominated Saturday, at least until “The Moveable Feast.” This was an actual feast of yet more food, as over 20 authors relocated from table to table to tell us their stories and allow questions and interact on a personal level with booksellers. We sat attentively listening and eating. I felt a bit conflicted for the authors as they had to rise and switch tables every few minutes to repeat what they had just imparted, but they seemed to love it.
SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell and Assistant Director Linda-Marie Barrett are to be commended for their organizational perfection and well-executed schedule of events at this landmark conference, as well as organizing the spacious and comfortable accommodations for all us attendees. I overheard nothing but positive responses from all those I interacted with.
I was back on the road home in the late afternoon, after having as many books as I could get signed by the authors, my car trunk packed with ARCs and ephemera, and my head swimming with everything that had transpired over the last 4 days. Rarely does one get afforded the exquisite pleasure of a literary experience such as this. Stories and ideas for stories, fondness for new friends and old, remembrances of authors known and newly discovered, coupled with thoughts of how I could improve my own bookshop’s ambiance, relationships with customers, and of course, sales, swirled around in my head. Crossing through the Everglades on my way back to Miami, with the soundtrack of the journey over the radio provided by Kenny Chesney, Phil Vasser, and Josh Wilson, I had plenty of positivity taking root, including the notion of someday writing about this experience and wondering perhaps about spending my retirement years playing golf at the immense Copperhead Course at the all-inclusive, self-contained, relaxing, Home of the Valspar Open, Innisbrook Golf Resort!
SIBA left its MARK on me!
See y’all next time!
Events and Store Manager
Books and Books
Coral Gables, Florida