It’s no terrific secret that operating an independent bookstore is a tough gig. Even before e-books and Amazon, there were Barnes & Noble and Borders to contend with. But recently, with the tablet revolution in full swing, keeping the doors open to a small, curated inventory of new and used books has been particularly difficult. This might not be evident in the Twin Cities, where stalwarts Magers & Quinn, Birchbark Books, Boneshaker, and Micawber’s seem like standbys, and where new or upgraded shops like Common Good Books, SubText, and the almost-open Moon Palace Books crop up at a regular pace. The rest of the Midwest should be so lucky: nearly every issue of Publishers Weekly bemoans another fallen ally.
By all accounts, this dwindling has been evident in recent iterations of the Heartland Fall Forum (formerly MBA). Attended by representatives from independent booksellers across the region, the Forum is a place for publishers and book-related goods manufacturers to showcase their products, hoping to win some interest and distribution. But as fewer and fewer independent booksellers could afford to make the trip, the show seemed to be losing its impact.
So this year, they did something different: last week, the Depot and Renaissance Hotel in Minneapolis was the site of the inaugural Heartland Fall Forum. Rather than having two separate regional trade shows, the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA) and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLIBA) combined their events and have agreed on alternating host cities–next year’s will be in Chicago. The result? A well-executed, well-attended, and altogether successful event.
Booksellers from at least twelve states were on hand to peruse upcoming titles, discuss marketing and sales techniques, and get the scoop on which books will be getting the biggest push next spring. Several major publishing houses were in attendance, including Harper, MacMillan, Penguin, Random House, and Norton. But the local publishing scene was well-represented as well, with Twin Cities staples Coffee House Press, Graywolf Press, and Milkweed Editions showing off their exciting spring catalogs and recent titles.
I was on hand as a representative of Rain Taxi Review of Books, helping spread the word to publishers and booksellers about the Twin Cities Book Festival next week. The primary difference between the Heartland Fall Forum and the Book Festival, of course, is that the Festival is a public event, while the Heartland Fall Forum is open only to publishers, booksellers, and registered media. (LitSeen.org, I will be clear, was not registered media; I’m pirating this report to you from beneath Rain Taxi‘s cloak.)
The Forum officially began on Wednesday, October 3rd with an opening reception featuring local literary heroes Hans Weyandt (co-owner of Micawber’s books in Saint Paul and editor of Read This!, Coffee House Press’s new anthology of book recommendations from booksellers across the country), Garrison Keillor (A Prairie Home Companion, owner of Common Good Books), and Louise Erdrich (author and owner of Birchbark Books). On Thursday, exhibitors and participants were invited to a ticketed breakfast wherein Justin Cronin (The Twelve), Peter Geye (The Lighthouse Road), Christina Schwartz (The Edge of the Earth), and Emma Straub (Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures) signed books, nommed with attendees, and likely spoke a bit as well. Thursday also included the heavy portion of entertainment: panels on bookselling strategies, trends in the book-buying world, and the “wouldn’t-be-a-book-conference-without-it” discussion on bookselling in the digital age. Thursday evening, keynote author Tom Perry (Visiting Tom) helped celebrate the winners of the Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards (Chad Harbach, Cheryl Strayed, Todd Boss, and Loren Long, in their respective categories).
I’m sure the Wednesday and Thursday programming was terrific, but I can’t say because I wasn’t there. The only portion of the Heartland Fall Forum I experienced first hand was the exhibit hall on Friday: an ice-skating rink-sized pavilion filled to the gills with galleys and gizmos, free swag, and handouts galore. I spent the bulk of my shift spreading the word about Rain Taxi and the Book Festival, and became adequately roused about a few books coming up in the next quarter: Eduardo Halfon’s The Polish Boxer, for one, and Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely for another. Also an exciting development: Coffee House Press will be re-releasing Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station with new cover art.
Mostly, it was an excellent chance to hear from people outside of the Twin Cities, but also interested and invested in literature, just how impressive our community is in terms of publishing, bookselling, and all-around lit-love. Across the Midwest and beyond, everyone knows we’ve got something special happening here, and we should feel lucky to be a part of it. I know I do–and if you’re looking for a simliar thrill, come check it out for yourself next weekend (shameless plug) at the Twin Cities Book Festival.
Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the left and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!