The four-day American Library Association Show in Orlando, Florida, in June attracted more than 25,000 people, including many acquisition librarians who came to attend seminars and look for new books to add to their collections. PMA had a good location near the main entrance; traffic in the booth was generally active and steady, and being there was fun, thanks largely to the PMA members who volunteered to help out and do book signings and demonstrations.
Working our booth at trade shows can give you a feel for the marketplace and some great firsthand information. And it also gives you the opportunity to network with and learn from other publishers while giving your own book(s) an extra little push.
As usual, the librarians at ALA seemed genuinely interested in products from independent publishers. Scores of librarians came to the booth on all four days to see the PMA display and tell us how much they appreciate the monthly mailings they receive from us. As one librarian put it, “I love them! They are so convenient. Independent publishers have the most unique products.” Some librarians gravitated towards the booth just because they saw the word independent and they were looking for something “special.” And many told us that they frequent our Web site and use our Resource Directory.
Hot tip from the show: When one roaming PMA member happened to sit down at a furniture booth to sign a copy of his book for a buyer, the furniture vendor asked him to stay and sign more copies. It turns out that this vendor (and maybe others too?) encourages authors to sign their books at his display to draw in customers.
What Librarians Wanted
ALA is primarily an information-gathering show, and librarians are, of course, the quintessential information gatherers. Some of them were very specific about their needs, and we helped them fulfill their wish lists with the books we had on hand at the booth.
Many librarians were looking for art, young-adult, and Spanish-language titles this year. Children’s picture books are always popular, of course, and so are audio materials.
The most interesting and informative parts of these shows can be getting the inside scoop from the librarians themselves. We met with public, school, college, corporate, and student librarians, and the common thread was a palpable love for books. And they want to hear from you. We asked them to tell us about the best ways to contact them, and this is what they said:
- Flyers and catalogs are preferred over postcards. Postcards can get lost and are hard to file.
- Send materials that accept annotations in pen. It is easier to take notes, circle ISBNs, etc.
- Speaking of ISBNs: Make them bigger. The ISBN is the tool librarians use to look up information and do their ordering. Don’t risk making that important number indecipherable.
- Just the facts, please. Flyers and the like shouldn’t be aimed to sway librarians’ opinions or sell them on a topic. Librarians are looking for facts and love bullet points. Tell them why your book would benefit their patrons and give specific examples.
- Don’t forget your wholesalers. Librarians order primarily from their favorite wholesalers. If you forget to mention yours, they may not have the time to find out who it is.
- Make suggestions to help with shelving. If you don’t know where librarians would shelve your book, consult your local librarian to find out. Then make the right location prominent at the top of your material.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that librarians are people with whom you have a lot in common. Like you, they love books and chose to work with them. Sounds like the stuff of a great relationship!
A View from the Booth
I had a great time working the PMA booth. My first visit to an ALA Conference, and it was a crash course in the marketing end of publishing (and only three blisters in two days).
One thing really struck me as I pondered the whole experience: As the larger publishing houses become more and more conglomerate and monolithic, the growth of groups like PMA (if there are any other groups like PMA!) becomes ever more important in providing titles to the reading public and information and outlets for small publishers (like me). What would the literary world be like if we only had Random House? It certainly has a respected place, but I think all of us are strengthened by the parallel growth of small-press outlets and awards.
I was also most impressed with the quality of the books presented by PMA. Seeing them was exciting, inspiring, and challenging.
Bick Publishing House