Indie Press Collective at MWALA 2020

Midwinter American Library Association Meeting Post Show Report for Foreword Indie Press Collective Participants

We are pleased to provide you with an update from the Foreword Indie Press Collective at the Midwinter American Library Association meeting (MALA) held last weekend, January 24 through January 27th, in Philadelphia’s Convention Center. What follows are details of the fair, a few testimonials from librarian visitors at our stand, and a general sense of what it’s like to be at an event with nearly ten thousand librarians. Joining me at the event was Managing Editor Michelle Schingler and Sales Executive Stacy Price.

“Foreword is helpful to me because small press titles don’t make it into other industry journals.“ —Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney, Library Director-Driftwood Public Library, OR

It has been six years since the MALA was held in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Detailed numbers have not yet been released, but historically attendance represents all aspects of book publishing, as well as ancillary library services, and is typically about half of what the annual conference in June boasts (about 25,000 industry professionals). But despite the size, the excitement is palpable—to attend meetings, shop the aisles for exciting new books, see a diverse panel of speakers, and find out the winners of some pretty major awards. We were thrilled The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, was named the Caldecott Medal winner and one of four Newbery Honor Books. It was published by Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a larger independent press.

Librarians Threaten Ignorance stickers
We’ve always found MALA to be a lively, dynamic show, with many librarians stopping by the Foreword Collective to grab a new copy of Foreword Reviews and peruse the indie press books we have on display.

In Philly, we draped “Indie Collective” signage on backdrops and table fronts. We also handed out a couple hundred copies of the January/February 2020 issue of Foreword Reviews and thousands of stickers with our branded marketing message “Librarians Threaten Ignorance.” We were located next to the entrance of the Book Buzz Stage, where publisher presentations of their spring lists took place over the course of the show. The indie messaging and the excellent traffic to the stage drew in a steady stream of librarians.

“Because of Foreword’s INDIES Book of the Year Awards, I found Mad Librarian. I love how INDIES give more than your clichéd story.“ —Rez Kowalski, Librarian-Seaford District Library, DE

MWALA crowd scene

In addition to the giveaways, we engage with visiting librarians, guide them through the showcased books, and usually get around to asking them how they make ordering decisions for their library. Nearly every response begins with “I pay attention to reviews,” followed by “patron requests.” By policy, a public library can’t order a book unless it’s been reviewed by a respected publication like Foreword.

“I love Foreword! I know I’m going to read about books that I’ll not find elsewhere—debut fiction, translations, etc. Foreword always gives me something new and the children’s review section is particularly useful.“ —Rosemary Kiladitis, Assistant Manager-Queens Public Library/Corona, NY

In our Collective, the genres that generated the most attention were the young adult fiction, fantasy fiction, multicultural picture books, and a nonfiction title about poverty. In addition, Killing Pat Garrett turned out to have a local Philly connection and was the subject of many photos taken by visiting librarians to remind themselves to order when they got home.

We also heard several requests for books for adults with “low literacy.” Librarians noted that the young adult titles are too advanced for these struggling readers who are often migrants learning a new language, which I can completely understand trying to teach myself Italian.

Poster at Midwinter ALA
Showcasing your titles at library events is a great way to “brand” your book and publishing company with librarians and begin to establish an audience of readers and buyers who don’t return books! If a librarian expressed interest in your book or genre, we passed out cards that directed them to our digital catalog with additional ordering details about your book. As noted earlier, many of them will also take a picture of the cover for a quick reminder when they get back to their desks.

You may not be directly contacted about your book after the show, as librarians place their orders through wholesale and distribution accounts, so watch for upticks in sales in the coming months. A young adult publisher, whose series of books we showcased, saw an increase in traffic at his own website last weekend.

The library shows always hammer home the realization that words, ideas, and stories are big business, yet even the smallest presses have equal opportunity to capture the attention of readers, librarians, and industry professionals. Our Indie Collective tries to be a bridge between authors and publishing houses, librarians, and readers. Thank you for the opportunity to show your books, and we hope you will join us again in Bologna this March, ALA Annual this June, or Frankfurt this October. Reserve your space today.

Victoria Sutherland, Publisher

Indie Collective book group 1

Foreword Indie Collective group 2

Foreword Indie Collective group 3

Foreword Indie Collective Group 4