Thanks to the great people at Indigo Editing (thanks everyone!) I was lucky enough to attend the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) 2014 trade show in Tacoma, WA this past weekend. This was held Fri-Sun at the Hotel Murano, which is a pretty beautiful space you should check out if you’re ever in that neck of the woods. And it didn’t even rain on us! Well, not once we were actually IN Tacoma. The “drive” up was some kind of terrible cross breed of weather between a waterfall and snorkeling.*shiver* But AFTER that, the weather was great all three days.

What were also great were the people we met at the trade show. To a person the volunteers, staff, and guests were all really lovely people who were great to talk to about whatever book-ish related topic your heart desired. Whether it be a librarian, book seller, publisher, or author, everyone seemed to have a great time and happily mingled through out the event.

Sure the convention space itself was all about getting business “done”, e.g. signing contracts, selling books, making connections and so on, but the were so many other events, signings, meals, and educational sessions that the hard core business side was broken up quite nicely by a lot of what I liked to think of as book appreciation moments. Every time I turned around someone else was lovingly or funnily describing their latest work in such a way that you felt you really just had to get that tome or you were missing out. Sure that was their job, but it was nice to be around a ton of people who show a great appreciation of books all the time. And I really do mean ALL the time. Three solid days of that is pretty heady stuff, and I for one enjoyed dropping myself in that bubble for a couple days.

Ostensibly the weekend was all about book sellers, i.e. book store owners, especially smaller independent ones. You could’ve probably guessed that by the convention’s name if you were paying attention, but I think it bears some reflection, because it is in that aspect I think I learned the most.

I will readily admit most of the other writers I hang out with on a regular basis are firmly in the “do it myself” self-publishing camp. They of the daring do, who step out over cliffs of possibilities and craft their own wings, ignoring what others say about the impossibility of it all and silly things like gravity, and so forth. They are a pretty great independent bunch, if I do say so myself… And I do, because this is my blog. So there.

*ahem*

Most have tried the “New York model”, that tried and true tradition of manuscript flinging, slush pile hopscotch, so long tred by generations of authors before, and found it a bit lacking for them. Perhaps because we have enough rain here in the Pacific NW that our shoes are already squishy enough, or perhaps because snow is so foreign to us, most decided to forge their own paths rather than trudge through the damp, if hallowed paths, presented by this option.

Before I go on, yes I understand slush piles are not actually damp. This is one of those metaphor things. And I actually have great respect for any authors who make it through the often grueling triumvirate of agent, editor, publisher. It is a hard road of iron that often produces steel at the end. But I do believe the life of all authors is a tough one, no matter what path they choose (please note cliffs mentioned above), so please stay with me as I make a point soon. Promise.

These are the two worlds I’ve often seen when looking at the publishing landscape: the hard fought road of tradition, or the often lonely path of self discovered trail blazing. But this weekend, for some moments, I think I saw a space between the two “sides” as it were. In between them are these really lovely book sellers and a lot of other nice people who love books and are forging together to make a go of selling them to other people who love them. Sure, even in this group there were disagreements over what the future looks like and where the mysterious, often confusing industry is going. But even so, it didn’t feel like such a lonely road that has to be traveled alone.

Sure, the “big names” were in attendance at the show, but they weren’t the only ones. Many times I heard the words “small press” mentioned, or “print on demand”, or “independent distribution” all without invoking the infamous name of a large corporation that stands at the head of the alphabet. Or the mention of companies from large skyscrapers that stand a bit nearer the sunrise than we do. I felt that there are quite a lot of people who also desire to get books into the hands of readers and can be companions or maybe even guides along the author’s path, more so than stumbling blocks.

I think it is this sense of community that I’ll take from the show. This sense of an independent middle ground, standing aside from either extreme often seen, and cheerfully, if perhaps scarily, doing what they can to make their own living, bringing authors to readers, and happy to leave it at that.

I might never get to go to this particular show again, but if I do, I’ll look forward to it warmly as a place to meet others who love books and are doing what they can on a hard road to make it through together; congratulating each on successes, commiserating over losses, and above all loving both sides of those books, the readers and the authors.