Alta Journal Makes a Splash at Bookseller Conference

A journey to the ABA Winter Institute in Seattle proved a great success—with a light dusting of unexpected snow.

aba seattle convention

Wheels down back home in Los Angeles: my first work trip representing Alta Journal to booksellers from all over North America was a huge success. Less than two months into a position as Alta’s Bookstore Partnerships Manager, I joined a small group of Alta staff for the American Booksellers Association’s 18th Annual Winter Institute, held this year in Seattle, Washington. With hundreds of indie booksellers from across the country in the same place at the same time, the conference was a thrilling and inaugural opportunity to connect face-to-face.

The American Booksellers Association (ABA) was established in 1900 with a mission to support independent bookstores across the United States. Today, the nonprofit trade organization represents more than 2,500 bookstores, many of whose owners and employees attended this year’s Winter Institute. The conference is four days of back-to-back talks, structured networking events, meetings, and author signings, all with the goal of providing booksellers with resources and networks to develop their businesses and exchange ideas. The programming was diverse, its themes ranging from the fight against corporate consolidation in the book business to utilizing back-end sales software and transforming a store’s space into one that cultivates community.

For a publication like Alta, the Winter Institute is a way to connect with potential new vendors and readers, cultivate existing relationships, and develop our understanding of how we can best support independent bookshops as a primary hub of the literary community upon which we, too, rely.

On Tuesday, I joined Alta’s editorial director Blaise Zerega for a chilly afternoon visit to Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., an iconic spot included in our Best Bookstores of the West feature. After chatting with the staff there and proudly locating issues of Alta in their magazine section, we spent some time browsing the beautifully curated shelves and flipping through staff recommendations. We even picked up a few titles for the evening’s book swap dinner party (I gave one of my favorites, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and was excited to leave with Valeria Luiselli’s experimental novel The Story of My Teeth).

Alta staff spent most of the conference in the Vendor Showcase, meeting with booksellers, learning from their experience, and exploring avenues for collaboration. We connected with booksellers from a number of stores that, thanks to this conference, will now consider selling Alta, including Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, Wild Sisters Book Company in Sacramento, and Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, New Hampshire.

Perhaps the most exciting conversations we had were with those who hadn’t heard of Alta, particularly with booksellers outside of the Golden State. Some representatives were initially skeptical about how our California-centric magazine might be relevant to their communities. We discussed the work of the California Book Club to deconstruct the myth of a closed literary canon based in the Eastern cities, instead embracing the diverse and cutting-edge work that emerges out of California and the West. It is our hope that slowly building Alta’s presence in indie bookstores and literary circles nationwide will fuel a national conversation and community around this Californian content; I feel optimistic that our conversations at the Winter Institute sparked this potential.

Up next: the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Bay Area Book Festival. Stay tuned for my updates from the road!•

Eliza Gislason is Alta Journal’s Bookstore Partnerships Manager.
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