ICRS 2014 – Observations

A couple weeks ago the industry gathered in Atlanta for the annual booksellers convention (I.C.R.S. – International Christian Retail Show). This was my 33rd consecutive event and have enjoyed every one.

If I may I’ll mention a few of the meetings we attended and then make a few observations.

1) Tamela Hancock Murray and Dan Balow attended as well. We tried to do our meetings with publishers as a group so keep the editors from having to make separate appointments. This was Dan’s first ICRS with our agency. He enjoyed the freedom to move around the sales floor and not be in a publisher’s booth. This was Tamela’s fourth ICRS with our agency. I am very proud of our team. The only regret was that Karen Ball was unable to attend.

2) Sunday was filled with two formal events. First was the AWSA Golden Scroll banquet. Got to meet a number of friends and make some new ones. My client Stacy Hawkins Adams was the emcee and did a great job. And client Pam Farrel, along with Carol Kent, presented the awards.

The other was the 75th anniversary dinner for the Baker Publishing Group. A delightful evening held at the Fernbank Museum. If you click through to their web page you’ll see the exhibit that towered over the dinner party. It was delicious irony to have a publisher’s dinner in a dinosaur museum. We had great fun with it.

3) Early Monday morning was a delightful SpeakUp breakfast, hosted by Gene and Carol Kent, with many inspirational stories shared by amazing speakers and writers.

4) Then began the multi-day race from one appointment to the next (22 scheduled appointments). Despite staying at the hotel closest to the convention center it was nearly a one mile walk to the exhibit hall. This was unexpected. Having one appointment on the exhibit floor and the next at the hotel created some logistic challenges and sore feet. Gave everyone something to talk about!

5) Monday evening was the annual Christy Awards. It was exciting to have Susan May Warren win for the second year in a row! This year for her contemporary romance novel Take a Chance on Me. Congratulations Susie!

The evening also saw an author win three Christy Awards in one night. This has never happened before. Lori Benton’s Burning Sky won for best historical fiction, best first novel, and Novel of the Year. Amazing. Congratulations Lori. And congratulations to her agent Wendy Lawton.

6) Tamela, Dan, and I were able to meet with some clients either at one of the above mentioned events or during another set time. Going into the week I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see any clients, but ended up talking to nearly ten. A definite bonus. Some were as brief as a “hello! you look great!” but it was still wonderful to make a connection again in person.

Observations

I heard a number of folks wonder openly at the effectiveness of the convention. I suppose it all depends on your reason for attending. Our agency benefits by getting quality time with editors and publishers we cannot always see otherwise. I think the industry as a whole benefits because it is the only time during the year where we all gather. There are numerous “hallway” conversations and side opportunities.

It has been said that next year’s convention in Orlando will be the last at a massive convention facility like we have been using for the past 30+ years. Apparently contractual event commitments were made in 2005 that must be fulfilled. But after that the ICRS event may end up in a smaller venue like in Nashville or Indianapolis. Announcements are supposed to be made soon. A lot of smart people are talking about what to do and we, as an agency, plan to support whatever is decided.

Attendance at the show was up a small percentage over last year. The layout of the sales floor pushed the attendees a little closer together which helped it feel busy at times. More so than last year.

Booth size was dramatically reduced by some publishers. The FaithWords “booth” was actually four walls and a door. They converted their “booth space” into an office for private meetings without any catalogs, flyers, or ARCs available. The Tyndale and B&H booths were dramatically smaller, both were more utilitarian in function. Overall, in publishing, there was less splash and more “let’s meet and talk.”

The general attitude among publishers is still positive with everyone searching for the next big project or author. But that has always been the case.

I had casual one-on-one conversations with publicity people, with booksellers, and with first-time exhibitors. Each time I heard hope and an expectation for great things to happen.

There were the occasional discouraging words. Fiction for some publishers is a struggle. But for those houses who have many years of commitment to the category, they are weathering the storm just fine.

Non-fiction of many types are selling quite well when there is the right combination of great writing, great concept, and great platform. There is less interest in the big names from 25 years ago (not that they are ignored but might be taken for granted a little bit) and more interest in finding the new voices of the next generation.

All that is to say, Christian retailing is still alive despite rumors to the contrary. During one advisory board meeting I heard incredible stories of growing stores in some communities and a number of young couples starting new ventures in others. It confirmed again that some people would rather read about bad news (and slow down to watch the car wreck) than celebrate the good news and the successes.

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