Highlights from the ABA Winter Institute

The American Booksellers Association's (ABA) annual conference, Winter Institute, celebrated its 14th year Jan. 22-25 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We talked to some Canadian booksellers and publishers who attended and asked them for their highlights from this year's conference. Here's what they shared with us:

Alana Wilcox, Editorial Director, Coach House Books, Toronto, ON

1. It’s funny that sometimes you have to go to Albuquerque to meet your fellow Canadians. It was a delight to finally meet Chris Hall from McNally Robinson! And to see Alex Snider from Queen Books too!

2. During the Meet the Presses event, our table was swarmed by enthusiastic American booksellers — some old friends and some new faces — eager to learn about our forthcoming books.

The lowlight? Maybe the prison I walked past every morning…

Melissa Bourdon-King, Owner, Once Upon a Bookstore, Kelowna, BC

Reshma Saujani’s keynote presentation about being "brave not perfect," I found to be extremely topical and relevant to me as a woman, a mother of a nine-year-old daughter, and as a bookseller in a quickly changing retail landscape. Prior to her talk, I was so worried about cultivating the "perfect" image and brand for my bookstore I forgot about the strength of my natural voice. Reading her book after hearing her speak helped remind me of something I already knew: being brave and genuine is so much more rewarding than being perfect.

My second highlight is from a dinner I went to with bookseller friends I made when I attended the Paz and Associates bookstore bootcamp. The five of us are all in various stages of opening our stores and the camaraderie and sharing of struggles and triumphs was particularly rewarding. We also shared murder stories over pizza, which was a sobering reminder of how lucky we all are.

Mary Giuliano, Director, Independent Retail Sales, Penguin Random House Canada

That’s a hard question to answer. I really enjoyed this year’s programming overall, but if I had to pick two highlights... no, I will pick five instead:

1. Spending group time with Canadian accounts but also being able to meet offsite after-hours with individual accounts and reconnect after the holiday sales period.

2. The preorder session was invigorating.

3. Having a one-on-one conversation with Oren about CIBA was good too.

4. Feeling reassured that we are on the right track and have the right priorities for our channel.

5. And, last but not least, was again seeing the spirit of generosity, collegiality, and problem-solving that exists among US indie booksellers.

Casey Platt, Publicity & Marketing, Biblioasis

Far and away, I think my favourite moment at Winter Institute was the party we threw with some other translation-focused/non-US-writing presses, UnAmerican Activities! Those presses being Transit, Restless, Open Letter, Two Lines, and The Mantle. I was truly heartened by the turnout and I think the interest speaks, perhaps, to how many of us look for programming outside of big names by the Big Five. Second, and it's not just one moment, but I just really loved being around people at other independent presses and stores. Living in Windsor, I'm not around anybody in the industry who's not also in our office, and it's enormously refreshing and energizing to be around folks in the same boat. I love Winter Institute! And am very excited for Baltimore next year.

Jessica Walker, Managing Partner, Munro’s Books, Victoria, BC

Aside from being in the company of 700 booksellers (which was the real highlight), I loved the chance to talk shop with a number of other bookstore owners who are in a similar position as me: taking over a long-established and well-loved bookstore with a great history. Our common mission is to be caretakers of these venerable institutions, respectful of the past while continuing to innovate and thrive in the years to come.

My favourite session was on how to be a highly effective bookseller — we're so excited about getting our schedules and calendars super organized in 2019! As retailers, we now juggle so much more in our daily schedules, from social media to event planning, so we need to take advantage of some of the wonderful tools available to us.

Chris Hall, Co-owner, McNally Robinson Booksellers, Winnipeg, MB

My top moments were the preorders session and meeting other Canadian booksellers.

Megan Byers, Owner/Manager, Livres Babar Books, Pointe-Claire, QC

The ABA is so great at creating an inclusive and supportive community for independent booksellers. Ideas and best practices are shared freely. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. It was incredibly inspiring. I want to try and bring some of that feeling and support to Canadian independents. Penguin Random House Canada hosted a dinner the first night for all the Canadian attendees. It was wonderful to chat and make connections with fellow Canadian booksellers. Great food, great conversation, and a great start for something more for Canadians.

The other highlight was the Hosting an Educators Night session. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while. I’ve done several presentations at conferences, schools, and libraries, but never one in the store. I now feel like I have some great ideas and a great strategy in place to put together a successful event.