Opening Inward Newsletter
An Occasional Publication Produced by Write From the Heart Seminars
* Exploring New Paths for Creativity & Spiritual Development
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Trade Show
By Hal Zina Bennett
Welcome to the Opening Inward Newsletter, a publication for people interested
in creative writing and publishing. If you are new to this newsletter,
introductions are in order. I'm an author and writing coach. I've had 31 books
of my own successfully published and have helped other authors, as well as
publishers, develop their projects.
At the bottom of the last page of this newsletter you'll find my website
address where you can learn more about my own writing work, and even read
excerpts from my current books.
I hope you enjoy and benefit from my efforts. Your suggestions and comments
are always appreciated.
Flying back to Blue Lakes after the 3-day Pacific
Northwest Booksellers Association’s (PNBA) Spring book trade show and
convention in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, I had several hours to mull over what I’d
seen and experienced. The only thing I might complain about would be the fact
that in airports I got shaken down by the security guards three times. Must be
my beard and long hair–very suspicious! I must say that the security people
have been polite enough, except for the day they found the tiny pen knife in my
DayTimer. They confiscated it, along with my nail clippers. The last time I got
frisked, in Utah, I automatically went through the whole run and the guard said,
“That’s a little scary, isn’t it, that we’re all getting so used to it?”
This was the third time I’ve attended PNBA trade shows, and every time I’ve
been pleasantly surprised. The shows, produced by Thom Chambliss and crew at the
PNBA, run smoothly, always have interesting speakers and like Book Expo America
offer wonderful opportunities to meet authors, publishers, booksellers,
distributors, consultants and others.
I remember my first book tour for a New York publisher, way back in the
mid-70s. While my publisher scheduled me for some 30 interviews in California
and New York, they sent me “up to the Northwest” only upon my insistence.
Their argument was that they didn’t sell many books “up north,” and
implied somehow that they really weren’t sure if their were bookstores up
there. I went “up north” anyhow, visiting a half-dozen excellent bookstores
in Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Spokane and slipping in several interviews
at radio and TV stations.
“Gosh,” I told my publisher, “people actually do read up there! Maybe
you should send a rep or two around to see what’s going on.”
It turns out that back in the 60s, New York publishers began to notice that
Californians were trying their hand at publishing. In fact, these upstart
publishers were logging in with a surprising number of books that landed on the
bestseller lists–their own New York Times list, for one. So, the eastern
publishers, being no fools, started sending more reps out there, mostly to Los
Angeles and San Francisco. But their efforts seemed to stop about 30 miles north
of the Golden Gate Bridge. I guess they still weren’t convinced that there are
readers north of there.
Partly because of the Easterners’ provincialism, and partly due to the
creative and independent spirit of writers and readers in the Pacific Northwest,
a whole regional publishing network was born up there in the north country.
Today their books strongly reflect the beauty and spirit of the region and the
quality of writing (fiction and non-fiction, as well as production) at least
rivals anything produced in New York. In many ways, it exceeds the Big Apple’s
fare because it tends to be much more individualistic and free of the
homogeneity that we see in New York offerings.
Regional publishers such are we find in the Pacific Northwest are filling a
need that nobody else in publishing is. The irony is that by the time New York
publishers got around to recognizing the Pacific Northwest as a viable book
market, that region’s own publishers were taking care of their readers’
needs pretty well, thank you. As late as the early-90s, publishers from the east
were telling me that the Pacific Northwest still “isn’t a big market for us.”
Guess not. Publishers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah
have things pretty well covered.
New York’s perceptions of the Pacific Northwest have broadened somewhat in
recent years but in the meantime regional publishing and book selling has
continued to grow. That growth is always apparent in shows like the ones put on
by the PNBA. Gosh, at this year’s trade show a handful of New York publishers
showed up, though I must say that the people tending their tables looked and
acted a little uneasy, shifting from foot to foot and checking their cell phones
frequently. Interestingly, when I stopped by one of the New York booths to check
up on a book I actually published with them, the attendant at the booth looked
at my badge and asked, “Are you a bookseller?” When I told her I was an
author she literally did an about-face, turning her attention to her next
customer and turning her back on me as if I didn’t even exist. Not that New
Yorkers are the only ones guilty of that kind of rudeness, but it’s my
observation that businesses that focus exclusively on the bottom line instead of
on people eventually go down in flames.
Over lunch with a publisher friend down in Berkeley, I shared my excitement
about the PNBA convention. My friend had recently taught a writers’ workshop
in Seattle and supported my views. She told me, “I was very impressed by the
authors I met up there. They were serious about developing their own creativity
rather than chasing after the latest fads and trends, not something I can say
about writers I’ve worked with elsewhere. They all worked hard and asked some
of the most intelligent questions I’ve ever been asked at writers’
If the Pacific Northwest is any example, our greatest hope for true
creativity in publishing may well be found in regional publishing. I work (as an
editor) a lot with New York publishers, and see the pressure they put on authors
to produce for the mainstream, to come up with books that will go on the front
tables at the chain stores. (Publishers pay a lot for that premium bookstore
space). While you can’t blame any publisher for wanting to make money, there’s
also an undercurrent of commercialism that hits writers pretty hard, winnowing
out anything that can’t be wrenched into bestseller formulas.
Oh, you say there are no New York formulas? Let me tell you a story: A friend
of mine was making the rounds, visiting publishers at the Big Apple in order to
sell his book. He asked one publisher about the New York formula controversy.
Was there really such a thing? The publisher scoffed, “Oh, that’s West coast
propaganda! You folks out there have a totally distorted view of New York.”
That publisher referred my friend to an editor (in NY) who he thought was “the
most creative editor” he knew. My friend visited that “most creative editor,”
who took a ten minute look at my friend’s manuscript and said, “Well, it
definitely doesn’t fit the New York formula!” He then proceeded to reel off
a list changes the author should make in order to make a sale to a New York
house. So, yes, they do have their formulas. They are pretty broad formulas, but
they definitely do have them.
If you’re an author, don’t overlook your regional publishers and
bookseller associations as places to make good contacts. Want to know more?
Check out the following website address, where you will find a comprehensive
list of regional bookseller associations, with descriptions of what they do,
where they are located, website addresses, phone contacts, and so on: check out www.bookweb.org/orgs/286.html
If you want to find out more about the PNBA, such as schedules of events and
how to join up, contact executive director Thom
Chambliss at firstname.lastname@example.org.