The combination of books, booze, and music in Tennessee has helped put this year’s Winter Institute—lucky 13—on track to be another record breaker. Events are scheduled to take place at two venues (the Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel and the Memphis Cook Convention Center) over the course of four days, January 22–25.
Tennessee is an important state for the book industry. Memphis is about 200 miles from Greater Nashville, which is not only home to one of the country’s largest wholesalers and book distributors, Ingram Content Group (see “Distribution Powerhouse,” p. 16), but religious and trade houses ranging from HarperCollins Christian Publishing and United Methodist Publishing House to Turner Publishing. The Volunteer State is also part of the indie bookstore revival and includes some of the country’s top newer stores, like Parnassus Books, and oldest ones, Memphis’s own 140-year-old Burke’s Book Store. (For more on bookselling, see “Bookselling in Tennessee, ”p. 13.) Memphis itself is practically synonymous with Elvis Presley and Graceland, along with other big-name musicians, including Muddy Waters and Johnny Cash. One of the state’s top tourist destinations is Jack Daniel’s, but Tennessee has so many other distilleries that last June it created a 25-stop Whiskey Trail.
But those aren’t the only reasons that this year’s institute is poised to exceed last year’s in Minneapolis. With the conference’s increasing popularity, ABA began upping the number of slots it reserved for booksellers from the longtime cap of 500. Last year, approximately 650 booksellers attended. This year, according to CEO Oren Teicher, ABA will raise the number “modestly” to 675. Even so, there’s still a waiting list and individual bookstores have a limit on how many booksellers they can bring. Other 2018 increases include the number of publishers, 93 this year, up from 89 in 2017, and more than 130 authors, compared with 110 last year.
“We’re very proud that the institute has become an important and valued part of booksellers’ annual calendar,” Teicher told PW. “We think we have created a four-day schedule full of actionable and useful education. Nationally, this has been another good year for indie bookstores. Our members have told us that one of the most important things ABA can do for them is to help them provide the professional development and network opportunities to become more successful and profitable. We’re very much looking to help them do exactly that this January in Memphis.”
While the format is largely the same, one small tweak this year will give the institute’s closing day a more regional twist. Instead of ending with a reception and book signing for small and university press authors, they will be feted with a Southern barbecue picnic lunch. That will enable the institute to host a special production of The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, a weekly radio program that is usually taped and broadcast on Mississippi Public Broadcasting at the events location for Square Books in Oxford, Miss. The institute broadcast will feature singer/songwriter Dar Williams, author of What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities, poet Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X, and Charles Frazier of Cold Mountain fame and author of Varina.
One thing that hasn’t changed is Scholastic’s popular After Party. This year’s Evening of Words and Pictures will highlight the press’s spring 2018 picture book lineup and features several authors and illustrators, including Kheryn Callender (Hurricane Child) and Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Martin Rising: Requiem for a King). Young booksellers will have a chance to meet at an After Party of their own on the opening night. A number of 101 educational sessions for new booksellers are also back, including “So You Want to Be a Buyer” and “Hacking Your Bookseller Salary.” There is also an extensive slate of children’s programming from the ABC Children’s Group at ABA on nonbook merchandising, author events for schools, and millennial parents. In addition, the Used Book Forum developed by Shane Gottwalls, founder of Gottwalls Books and the Walls of Books franchise, will meet and hold a panel on used-book buying.
A number of celebrated writers will be part of this year’s conference, not just at the author reception but also as keynote speakers (see “Conversations with Keynotes,” p. 6). This year’s lineup includes one of the book industry’s biggest stars, TV and film actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who has an imprint at Hogarth Press. She will be in conversation with Pamela Paul (My Life with Bob), who oversees book coverage for the New York Times. Paul will also take the stage with Teicher to discuss the state of the book business.
Given the push from membership at past Winter Institutes for ABA to be more inclusive, the association has added a session on “Hiring for Diversity and Inclusion.” But also look for keynoters like Junot Díaz, who is publishing his first picture book, Islandborn, to speak to the importance of bookstores carrying and promoting diverse books.
Check out all our coverage of WI12:
WI13: Rock ‘n’ Rolling in Memphis
WI13: Conversations with Keynoters
WI13: Bookselling in Tennessee
WI13: Tennessee’s Distribution Powerhouse
WI13: Independent Publishers to Meet at Winter Institute
WI13: Remaking Bookselling by Going Mobile
WI13: Authors and Books to Watch