by Steve Laube
This year was my 32nd consecutive annual bookseller’s convention now known as ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) held this year in St. Louis. As always it is a time of conversations, meetings, and business opportunities.
I arrived on Saturday afternoon, despite every attempt by the transportation industry to delay me…with 15 minutes to spare before giving an hour long “state of the industry” speech to AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association).
Sunday was filled with meetings, both casual and scheduled and two formal dinners. One was the Golden Scroll awards banquet and the other was the Baker Publishing Group dinner. Early Monday morning was a delightful SpeakUp breakfast with many inspirational stories shared by amazing speakers and writers.
Then came the convention itself. Back to back meetings for both Tamela and I as we flitted from one publisher’s booth to another, back across the street for meetings at the hotel and back again to the convention sales floor for other meetings. This ping-pong movement lasted for three straight days. But we had a lot of highly valuable conversations and presentations. Tamela was amazing as few knew she was not feeling well but she never complained (not once). It is a privilege to think of all the incredible people we talked to during those days. The creativity and the vision of each publisher and editor is quite inspiring. If you had heard what we did you’d feel a lot better about where this industry is headed.
A highlight for me was Monday night and the Christy Awards where I had the privilege to emcee. It was so meaningful to have Lee Hough attend with his wife Paula as he received a lifetime achievement award and said goodbye to his beloved industry and long time friends (he has terminal cancer). It was touching to have him make the trip. To let us say our words of love to him as well as to see us all one more time. The few minutes alone I had with him will be treasured forever. We love you Lee.
But as the emcee I was tasked to keep the event moving and it did with breathtaking speed. It is to Donna Kehoe’s credit (the head of the Christy Awards) for designing an evening that included all awards, all special recognition, speeches, and dinner and ended on time only 2 ½ hours after it began. Amazing.
Congratulations to all the winners, but am particularly proud of my client Susan May Warren for winning her first Christy Award! She said beforehand that she knew she wouldn’t win because she had been nominated five times before without a trophy.
And to both Karen Hancock and Lynn Austin for being inducted into the Christy Hall of Fame. I remember “discovering” Karen at a writers conference in 1998 but not taking her book idea to committee for another year, waiting for the right time. That book, Arena, became her first of four Christy Awards.
The convention itself was interesting on a number of levels. The announced statistics said registrations were down. But those that came were there. Not like Orlando where someone might register but leave during the event to go to Disney World. It was the first year in many where the convention floor fit the room it was held in. In the past the exhibit hall was too large for the event and made it seem small. Not this year. It was also the first time in years where there was only one entrance into the convention which added to the feel of movement and attendance since there were people milling around all the time.
For the first time in 32 years I did not walk every aisle of the convention exhibits. Simply ran out of time with our appointments. Even on the last day we had half a dozen meetings which kept us engaged right up to the closing announcement. So I was unable to see first-hand any of the “duck call” items that I heard were on display (thank you Duck Dynasty).
There is no other time where so many in the industry gather at the same time. In one moment you can be talking to a retailer and the next to a famous author and the next to a key acquisitions editor. As a bonus you get to see the newest wares of the industry (book, music, and gifts). I describe it as the world’s largest Christian bookstore….but you can’t buy anything….you can only look. I collected nearly 40 catalogs and spent an evening going through them looking at cover designs, titles, concepts, and author names. Nowhere else could I have that type of immersive experience. I can’t wait to go to ICRS next year in Atlanta!