Last year, I attended the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s annual tradeshow on behalf of Girl Friday. I moderated a panel on building book communities and sat on a second panel about reading and influencing. Last year was my first time at the conference and I was amazed by the sense of community. Here were folks from Northwest booksellers and libraries big and small—along with sales reps from publishers of all sizes—and everyone seemed to be friends with each other. This was the book community as its best. I’ve attended a number of writers’ conferences with GFP over the past couple of years and while they’re a lot of fun, the atmosphere is entirely different. Many of the attendees at those conferences are writers hungry for contact with agents, publishers, and anyone else who might shepherd their work to the top of the proverbial pile. I love talking to fellow writers at any stage, but this dynamic often creates an unfortunate atmosphere of “us and them.” (Note to aspiring writers: if you think that foisting your manuscript on an unsuspecting agent when you see them a conference is an effective strategy, be advised, it is not.)
This year I attended the conference as an author with my effervescent Simon and Shuster sales rep Christine. I spent the bulk of Saturday hanging out by the S&S booth chatting with booksellers and librarians about Losing the Light and signing galleys for folks to add to their overstuffed totes. One bookseller told me she brought a tiny bag with what she needed for the trip, and her biggest suitcase to cart books home in. Getting a haul of free books just never get old.
Not long after I arrived I was introduced to a bookseller from Powell’s (the mecca of Northwest bookstores) and found myself in the transcendent moment of being asked, for the very first time, to sign a copy of my own book. I signed many more copies throughout the day, and by the time I left, had exhausted my supply of galleys.
Chatting with booksellers and library folks throughout the day, I heard many incredible stories of all the creative ways they interact with their communities. There were tales of book clubs and French clubs and pairings with local restaurants and wineries. One owner of a small bookseller told me about the older gentleman who comes into the bookstore each and every day. “We sent him a card when his cat died,” she told me, “we were so sad for him.”
I thought how lucky the communities that these bookstores belonged to were to have them. That sense of community and knowledge—not only of the books they carry but of their particular patrons—is something that can never truly be replicated online. As easy as it is for readers to purchase a book they want with the click of the button, helping them figure out which book they want is more complex than ever. In our ever-expanding world of reading options, the flood of content we all contend with, the presence of a trusted source to place something in our hands and say “read this” has never been more crucial.
Long live the bookseller.
Andrea Dunlop is the director of social media and marketing at Girl Friday Productions in Seattle. Her debut novel, Losing the Light, goes on sale February 23, 2016 but is already available for preorder. This piece was originally posted on her blog at andreadunlop.net.