It was only fitting that our first morning lecture series in DC (minor correction: the first one I woke up in time to attend) was actually a conversation between Karen Mills, the head of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Jim Lehrer (whom you probably know by name already), discussing trends in small businesses and how the SBA is there as a resource, even for tiny businesses like most of ours. I didn't know that the SBA can be guarantors on loans, for example, or that they negotiated substantial tax breaks (including credits for paying employee health insurance) for small businesses.
|Lehrer and Mills|
The next day we got interactive with the Retail Doctor, Bob Phibbs, who coached us on how to give our customers what they want, with the use of chocolate cake, paper airplanes, and red balloons as props. Sounds bizarre but it was an engaging session and a good one to keep us awake in the morning after the Workman party the night before. And one lucky sumbitch even found some titty beads taped to the underside of his chair and thus won a trip to Winter Institute in New Orleans for 2012. (As it's extremely unlikely that I will win another scholarship and somewhat unlikely that my store will pay for me to go to Wi7, I'm already saving up to pay my way for next year!)
Educational sessions in the mornings and afternoons framed our Rep Pick lunches on Thursday and Friday. Although both the sessions and the Rep Picks were a little too long, in my opinion, they were overall quite helpful. Each day then closed with an author reception, where we can stand in line to meet the authors who most interest us and get them to sign our books that the publishers donate--it's always a fun time, and this year the food at the reception was better than I ever remember.
|Here's a shot of Nieves and me after meeting|
Ralph Nader (yes, that Ralph Nader)
But the piece de resistance for me on this trip was the author dinner sponsored by Harper Collins on Thursday evening. Six authors, 30 booksellers, and a large time was had by all. Since a rather nasty snowstorm had canceled my dinner plans in Boston earlier this month with Hannah Pittard, I had requested being seated at her table, and I had the astonishing good luck to be seated right next to her. Also at my end of the table were Rebecca and Jenn, two dynamo booksellers from two of the hottest indie bookstores right now: Greenlight and WORD, respectively. Booksellers from DC and Buffalo and author Jennifer McMahon rounded out the people within easy speaking distance.
Though I'd never heard of Pittard before September, I now number myself among her fans. Her first book is amazing (you can read about it here), but no author dinner could have prepared me for the fun I had that night. First of all, Hannah is an exact cross between the actress Parker Posey and a friend of mine named Jessica (who is a total ham). Her voice sounds like she's swallowed a Buick, and she's smart, quick-witted, and extremely well read. And, as she informed us, her publicist laments her lack of filter. We, her dinner mates, however, were quite pleased to discover this about her and we egged each other on with lots of inappropriate stories throughout the meal. I've only ever been to one other author dinner that can even stand in the shadow of this one in terms of sheer awesomeness (incidentally a previous Winter Institute), so this one stands out as the Best Author Dinner EVER. And on top of all that, I've got four words for you: Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding.