We are pleased to provide you with a post show report from the show floor and the Foreword Reviews Indie Press Collective at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference (MALA) at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center last weekend, February 9 through 12, 2018. Herein, we’ll provide details of the fair, a few anecdotes, and a general sense of what it’s like to be in a room with five thousand librarians. Victoria Sutherland, Stacy Price, Matt Sutherland, Bill Harper, and Michelle Schingler represented Foreword Reviews at this year’s event in Denver.
Part 1: The Conference in General
MALA’s total attendance this year amounted to 5,345 attendees. If we include the 2,691 exhibitors representing all aspects of book publishing, library services, etc., the total attendance reaches 8036. Compared to book events in Frankfurt, New York, and elsewhere, these numbers don’t seem all that impressive, but, historically, we’ve found MALA to be lively, dynamic show, with many librarians stopping by the Foreword Collective several times over the course of the weekend.
Truth be told, we’re thrilled to hang out with librarians, whether ten or ten thousand. Foreword Reviews’ readership is primarily librarians—it’s free for librarians!—so we want to know what’s on their mind, what they care about, how we can help them do their jobs better. It’s especially rewarding to hear them tell us that they rely on Foreword because we review books that none of the other trade journals cover. In their mind, we own the independent publisher/university press space.
In Denver, we draped “Indie Collective” signage on backdrops and table fronts. We made it abundantly clear that the books in our stand were from small, independent publishers seeking to gain the attention of librarians. And it worked—the indie messaging drew in a steady stream of passersby. We also handed out three hundred black book bags emblazoned with “LIBRARIANS THREATEN IGNORANCE.” Talk about buzz. We were told repeatedly that we had the best bags at the show.
Unlike Book Expo America and the other big book shows, American Library Association events attract a large number of exhibitors broadly falling under the library-services/information technology/furniture umbrellas. It’s a reminder that all the nation’s libraries collectively spend lots of millions of dollars on things other than books. That said, book publishers large and small were well represented at MALA Denver, and showcased a great many new titles scheduled for spring and early summer releases. And with a preponderance of librarians on-hand, the array of books at MALA always skew towards children’s and YA, with a lesser number of adult titles on display.
We’d be remiss not to mention the rush-hour-like traffic in and out of the PopTop Stage, positioned just feet away from the Foreword Collective. Seventeen presentations took place—seven on Saturday, February 10, eight on Sunday the 11th, and two on Monday. Popular topics included diversity, the immigrant experience, Black History Month and MLK Jr, compassion and empathy through picture books, comics/graphic novels, encouraging kids to cook, and even guided meditations for librarians.
Part 2: Hosting the Collective
Yes, we love librarians here at Foreword, so an ALA event always brings smiles to our faces. In an effort to better our game, we commonly ask passing librarians how they make ordering decisions for their library and nearly every response starts with “I pay attention to reviews,” followed by “patron requests.” In most cases, a library can’t order a book unless it’s been reviewed by a reputable review publication. As in years past, we also chatted up a handful of library science professors about whether they’d like copies of Foreword Reviews to hand out to their students. All of them said, “absolutely.” And the library science students we met jumped at free copies of the magazine, as well as a LIBRARIANS THREATEN IGNORANCE bag.
In the collective, the genres that generated the most attention were children’s picture books, young adult fiction, multicultural books, graphic novels, WWII, and mysteries. Well-designed cover art and covers with foil seals are always a draw.
Here’s a quick hit list of publishers, booth visitors, and friends we ran into over the course of the show: Ingram, Penn State University Press, Northstar Publishing, Bella and Harry, Skyhorse, Henry Press Publishing, Bizzy Whiz, Henery Press, Sourcebooks, Notable Kids, University of Nebraska, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, Peachtree, Other Press, Grove Atlantic, and so many others.
These independent publishers, both large and small, recognize the importance of librarians to their continued success in publishing. Librarians, in turn, are committed to supporting the great books coming out of the indie sphere.