According to Deb Leonard, the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association’s executive director, the secret to the first Heartland Fall Forum’s success was that she and Carrie Obry, her counterpart at the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, “took the best of both shows and created something unique.” Judging by the smiles on the faces of the show’s 770 attendees—364 of them booksellers doing business in 13 Midwestern states—mixing together GLIBA’s strengths in education and MIBA’s creativity with author events exceeded all expectations. The Heartland forum indeed turned out to be much greater than the sum of its many parts. If there was one word both exhibitors and booksellers used over and over in discussing the show with PW, it was “energy.”
“We’re so pumped to be here; the energy is amazing,” said Ruth Liebmann, Random House’s director of account marketing, one of a number of industry heavyweights from major New York City houses spotted at the show, held at Minneapolis’s Renaissance Hotel, housed in a converted 19-century train station.
The day of education was packed with both education sessions and bookseller roundtables, including several popular GLIBA traditions that impressed MIBA booksellers, such as the “Ideas That Work” common session and the “What’s the Buzz?” sessions, during which panels of booksellers talked up their favorite adult and children hand-sells. “At MIBA, the reps were doing it,” pointed out Demaris Brinton of Apostle Islands Booksellers in Bayfield, Wis. “You never knew if they really loved the book or they just wanted to sell it.”
The Authors Moveable Feast luncheon and book-signing reception in turn impressed GLIBA booksellers, who appreciated the opportunities to talk one-on-one with authors and receive signed copies of their books, including the 17-pound bags of books handed out at the luncheon. Another GLIBA tradition, the Quiz Bowl of literary knowledge, sealed the bonds forming between the two organizations when a team that included both MIBA and GLIBA booksellers won first place in a raucous competition that lasted late into the night.
“I’m a very happy camper,” GLIBA member and American Booksellers Association board president Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., told PW, even though her Quiz Bowl team had come in second place the night before. “We dovetailed very nicely. We’re using fewer resources, but having a greater impact with the bigger audience.” Sam Spiegel of Partners Distributing, headquartered in Holt, Mich., was one of 77 vendors at the show; last year 54 vendors were at MIBA and 40 at GLIBA. Spiegel took it a step further than Anderson, saying, “There’s more commonality between the two organizations than differences. They’ve merged the two shows; why not merge the two organizations?” It’s not a discussion that the boards of the two organizations are having, the two executive directors say, but they would like to streamline back-office operations in planning the next Heartland forum, including setting up a common bookstore database, to cut down on replicating pre-show marketing efforts.
Despite heavily hyped appearances by literary stars, like an opening reception featuring local celebrity booksellers Garrison Keillor and Louise Erdrich, as well as breakfast appearances by the likes of Justin Cronin, Patricia MacLachlan, and the married duo of David Small and Sarah Stewart, who live in Michigan and are especially beloved by GLIBA booksellers, show attendance was heavily skewed in favor of MIBA booksellers: 283 to 81 GLIBA booksellers, compared to 254 booksellers at MIBA in 2011 and 200 booksellers at GLIBA. The numbers might have been even more lopsided, but 25 booksellers each received $400 travel scholarships to attend, including 18 GLIBA members.
While the numbers of GLIBA booksellers attending was low, Leonard insisted that she was not disappointed. “It’s a long way for our booksellers to come. There’s that lake [Lake Michigan] to get around.” She and Obry both expect that the combination of word-of-mouth about this year’s show and a more central location for the members of both organizations, near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, will drive up next year’s numbers.
Despite so many more MIBA booksellers than GLIBA booksellers walking the exhibit floor, vendors who usually exhibit at MIBA professed satisfaction with the Heartland forum. “We’re meeting people we’ve never met before. That’s what we were hoping for,” Brett Waldman of Tristan Publishing in Minneapolis told PW. “And the good news is they’re excited about our books.”
The biggest challenge facing show organizers next year, Leonard says, “isn’t to make the second Heartland as good as the first, but to make it better.”