Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Community of booksellers, writers, and readers

Last week while promoting Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road, I spent an afternoon at the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association's trade show in Colorado Springs. I didn't just sit in Portfolio Publications' booth and greet passers by, I grabbed a handful of brochures and walked the trade show floor, inviting booksellers to visit the booth and check out the actual books, as well as to take home the good swag Portfolio was giving out.

I'm not a sociable type. I do best with long stretches of solitary time--or at least time in the company of the only person I love to be alone with, my husband Richard. So walking a trade show floor and buttonholing strangers in order to sell them on my new book is something akin to the seventh level of Hell for me.

Except at Mountains and Plains. Booksellers are a community in the best sense of the word: they share common attitudes ("Eat. Sleep. Read." says the new promotional material from the national booksellers association), common interests (see the previous parenthetical remark), and common goals (well, yes, you could add "Sell books." to the litany above). And they're welcoming to anyone who shares their passion for words and stories.

I've been to Mountains and Plains' annual meeting in other years, usually to schmooze booksellers about whatever is my latest book. So as I wandered among the booths being set up, I not only saw familiar faces, I felt at home, among people who understand and love what I do. That's heady stuff for a loner practicing writing, a quintessentially solitary art that involves a heck of a lot of time spent in your head talking to yourself.

I had only been at the show a few minutes when Meg Sherman, regional book rep for W.W. Norton, spotted me and launched into the story of how she had been at The Book Train in Glenwood Springs the day after Jim Steinberg and I had our signing there for Colorado Scenic Byways. The store staff she said, had pulled out a copy of our two-volume set to show off the books. She recalled turning the pages and admiring the photographs, and then she said she looked at the cover and saw my name:

"Susan Tweit!" she recalled exclaiming. "Oh, I love her work!"

"It's such a brilliant idea," she said to me and to her companion, who I learned later was Susan Bhat, of Books West, Denver's indie book distributor, whose own booth prominently featured--you guessed it!--Colorado Scenic Byways. "The photos are gorgeous of course, but the atlas and road guide you can put in your car--it's just a brilliant idea."

What a great affirmation of our hard work and Jim's great ideas from someone who knows books, and sells a quality line--and doesn't make her living from praising or selling my books!

Later, zipping past the registration table, I spotted a tall blonde who looked familiar, except that I hadn't seen her in years. In fact, we only just reconnected via email a few weeks ago.

"Lisa?" I said, and when the woman turned around, her face lit up.


We hugged. It was indeed Lisa Dale Norton, author of Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Memoir, just out from St. Martins/Griffin. Lisa and I took a few minutes to catch up and appreciate the serendipity that had brought us together at Mountains and Plains, which could be described as a professional book love-fest.

After that, the show definitely felt like old home week. As I prowled for booksellers (easy to spot, as they wore green ID tags) and chatted them up about Colorado Scenic Byways, I felt less like a sales person and more like I was greeting old friends--or new ones in the making. Many remembered me from previous years, and even those I'd never met were generous in their responses to my pitch. And it was great to see Haven Stillwater, proprietor of my hometown indie bookseller, The Book Haven, in the context of this wider community.

I also got to see publishers I know, like fellow members of Women Writing the West, Nancy Curtis and Gaydell Collier of Wyoming's High Plains Press (check out their new book on women homesteaders, Staking Her Claim), and met other publishers, like Sam Wainer of Canyonlands Natural History Association, who was displaying The Illuminated Desert, a mouthwateringly gorgeous new desert alphabet book by Terry Tempest Williams and illustrator Chloe Hedden. If you love illustrated books and love the desert, get this one! It's a picture book for kids of all ages. And I ran into Andy Nettles of Arches Book Company and Back of Beyond Books in Moab, and he not only remembered my visit to his stores last spring, he thanked me for mentioning them on my blog. (You're very welcome, Andy. Thanks for selling my books.)

By the end of the afternoon, I was worn out. Schmoozing is hard work, no matter how you cut it. But I remembered what I love about this community of writers, booksellers, and publishers. At our best, we act like we really are all in this together. We join in support of stories and words, in the belief that when we write with thoughtfulness, love, and care, our words can indeed change the world.

What a great community to belong to! Thank you all--booksellers, distributors, publishers, fellow authors, and especially readers--for welcoming me and my words into your minds and hearts. I am honored to belong.


Deborah Robson said...

Thanks for the vicarious visit to Mountains & Plains. It's a good-sized show, with great regional connections.

About Bobbi C. said...


What a beautiful word picture of what it was like for you at the show. How could your beautiful book not do well, with all these wonderful folks helping it along?


bobbi c.

Velda Brotherton said...

Susan, Wonderful to hear about your visit to Mountains & Plains. I've never attended such a show and probably never will, but feel like I went along with you. Thanks.

eduardo said...

As an introvert, I know how convention halls sardined with bodies can zap your energy. Yet sometimes, y'gotta pretend otherwise. Been there, done that.
Yet part of what keeps me entwined in this river-valley town of ours is this exact sense of serendipitous home-coming you mention. To quote St Willie of Nelson: Miracles appear in the strangest of places.

Finally, I've seen Chloe and Terry's "alphabet book," too. Along with Susan, I urge folks to get their own copies now, before everyone else catches on, and the presses are unable to keep up.

Sherrie Y said...

:-) Our local book maven came back from said event with PILES of ARCs, AGAIN. It's obvious that it's best I go to such things only vicariously, as the temptations would be far too great. But I agree, there ain't much better than the brilliant new Tweit/Steinberg collaboration.