Early on a brisk October Saturday, bleary-eyed but with coffee in hand, I stumbled off the longest pre-dawn bus ride of my life into the brightly lit lobby of the Portland Holiday Inn Conference Center, which was packed for the occasion with books and the people who make books their business. A perky volunteer handed me my name tag, and suddenly it was official: I was representing Ooligan Press at my very first publishing industry event, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Fall Tradeshow—or PNBA, as it is known in the book business lingo I’ve been picking up in Portland State University’s publishing program.
As I headed to Ooligan’s booth armed with my laminated credentials and a freshly printed event program, I felt a heady sense of VIP status come over me. PNBA trade shows are open only to book industry professionals, not the general public, and I was thrilled to count myself among these people who had made books their life’s work. My partner in this adventure into the inner world of publishing, fellow Publisher’s Assistant Chris Thomas, was already busy arranging backlist titles, bookmarks, and buttons in hopes of luring the already-buzzing crowd over to Ooligan’s booth.
Despite the early hour, Chris and I were excited to represent the press in our first official capacity as Ooligan’s new publisher’s assistants. We had prepared for the challenge by reviewing Ooligan’s extensive backlist while we packed up the press’ bestsellers, business cards, and brochures to hand out to the regional booksellers, librarians, sales reps, and distributors who had flocked to Portland for the weekend to check out the promising titles that were the pick of publishers’ fall lists. PNBA is a nonprofit trade association that has been representing the interests of independent bookselling throughout the Northwest for decades, but this PNBA show would be extra special, since Ooligan author Eliot Triechel had been selected to give a spotlight talk on his upcoming young adult novel, A Series of Small Maneuvers. Chris and I had shipped crates of Ooligan’s newest title to PNBA right off the press so that copies of A Series of Small Maneuvers would be on hand for booksellers to enjoy, and Eliot would be building excitement still further with a book signing later that afternoon.
As the weekend went on, I met independent bookstore owners, acquisition librarians, and even fellow authors who stopped by our booth to meet Eliot and check out Ooligan’s latest titles. Some had been seeing Ooligan at industry events for years, but I had the pleasure of introducing quite a few people to our list of Northwest literature titles and explaining Ooligan’s mission as a regionally focused, student-run teaching press. Best of all, I got to take time between conversations to wander around other publishers’ booths, stopping by Milkweed Editions to discuss the literary culture growing up around Minneapolis, asking a senior editor at University of Washington Press about the marketing plan for their upcoming book on Seattle landscapes, and chatting with a contingent of Canadian publishers about the success of their Read Local BC campaign. Striking up conversations with strangers doesn’t always come easy to an avowed bookworm like me, but armed with some networking tips from a publishing pro, by the end of the weekend I had loaded up my PNBA swag bag with publishers’ catalogs, business cards, and even better, free books! My bookshelf is full to busting, but I can’t wait for next year.