Reflecting on ABA’s Winter Institute 2019
On January 13th, when my POD was full and my lease was up, I packed my subaru with the essentials, my two dogs, my five chickens, and some clothes, and I headed east across the country. For January the weather was unremarkable; a little chill and some fog, but nothing crazy. For the three day, 30 hour drive from Colorado to Florida, I downloaded three audiobooks from LibroFM. An American Marriage was a powerful story about love, wrongful imprisonment, and how people continue to grow dynamically throughout their lives. My heart wrenched and I kept changing whose side I was on. Barracoon was an interesting anthropological conversation between Hurston and Cudjo, who in 1927 was the last living former slave. Honestly, the preface was as interesting as the main event, and the whole piece was short enough to be engaging despite its scholarly feel. Lastly, Where the Crawdads Sing was probably the best book I “read” in 2018. The story touched on poverty, love, and the true meaning of education. If you like Tara Westover’s Educated, you’d like this too. The mystery and legal proceeding part of the story wasn’t as developed as I would have liked, but I still thoroughly enjoyed every second of this book.
My last audiobook ended just as I entered Saint Petersburg, and just like that I was back in my hometown. I love audiobooks for making the time fly! I only had a few days to check out my new home before I turned around and headed back out west. Less than a week after arriving in St. Pete, I boarded a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute. This was a gathering of 700 booksellers from over 380 independent bookstores for four days to learn everything possible about the bookselling industry. On Tuesday I attended a Paz Institute workshop on How to Open a Bookstore. In one day, at a very high level, they covered everything from cost estimating to bookstore design to book ordering -- very helpful for a newbie like me! Throughout the rest of the week I heard authors speak about their work, spoke with publishers about their favorite upcoming titles, and went to a dozen sessions from time management to combining books and bars! I even got to tote home a small boxful of ARCs (advanced reading copies that the publishers give out to drum up hype for their books).
I was so impressed with the vibe at Winter Institute. Everyone was SO nice and willing to talk about any part of their business I was interested in. They shared their secrets with me!!! Where else does that happen? Independent bookstores are a rare breed and they want to see each other succeed, and that feels so special. A highlight for me was being paired with Nicole Sullivan, founder and owner of BookBar in Denver, Colorado, as my mentor. I lived right down the street from BookBar and frequented it regularly, and it was the success of Nicole’s shop that led me to want to follow in her footsteps and create my own “book bar” in Saint Pete! Here I got direct access to her as a resource and mentor and really got to dig in about what makes BookBar such a gem!
Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, spoke to us about her new book Brave, Not Perfect, where she encouraged all of us to take risks at the expense of doing everything right. That theme persisted throughout the meeting as booksellers are frequently brave as they take on brand new challenges based on all the hats they must wear at any given time. We also heard Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, talk about becoming a writer, the politics behind her book, and her plans for future work. I took no notes during her time because she was so intelligent and quick witted that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Hanif Abdurraqib graced us with a reading from his book, Go Ahead in The Rain which demonstrated his unbelievable insight into trendy music and pop culture and how it’s in direct conversation with the often heavy current political events that influence it and its followers.
Over the course of those 4 days, I ended up with 25 pages of scribbled notes, a handful of new, lifelong friends, and a mind full of ideas. Owning a bookstore is not easy. Booksellers wear about a million hats, doing everything from marketing and sales to book keeping and toilet cleaning. To prepare me for the task at hand, speaking with the many successful booksellers about how they make their businesses profitable was invaluable -- in short it’s just a whole lot of hard work. All that said, I’ve never been around a more uplifting group of people who really, truly enjoy what they do every day, and I can’t wait to follow suit!