Indie booksellers group to meet here

Marjory Wentworth (left), Ron Rash (right)

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Championing smaller booksellers in the face of stiff competition, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance will bring its annual trade show to the Lowcountry for the first time this weekend.

The event is set for Saturday through Monday at the Embassy Suites Airport/Convention Center on International Boulevard in North Charleston.

Although more than 100 published authors will be participating, SIBA, one of nine regional book trade shows operating each fall, is less a book festival than a nuts-and-bolts sales convention for the industry.

"The focus is on the trade, not the consumer," said Wanda Jewell, the alliance's Columbia-based executive director. "In practical terms this means booksellers and publishers who are focusing on the next season of book titles, not what's on shelves right now. They want to generate interest and buzz for the next round of books."

With 250 members in 11 states, SIBA's chief function is to help sustain "brick-and-mortar indie bookstores" in their communities, said Jewell, who has seen dramatic change in the book market in recent years.

Even big-name chains have been affected by the shakeout, as demonstrated by bankrupt Borders Group's decision in July to liquidate its nearly 400 stores, including a Waldenbooks in downtown Charleston.

"The bottom line is that it's an ebb and a flow. There were big changes in the mid-'90s and we lost a lot of good book stores," Jewell said, referring to independents. "Then things sort of evened out and some stores were strong and doing well."

Then came what she called the perfect storm of 9/11 and the steady rise of online book sales through Amazon.com and other websites delivering another blow to independent stores.

"But if you are in an independent book store now, it's a darned good one to still be standing," she said. "They are doing everything right."

Events at the trade show include author panels, book signings, a First 180 Days Party (involving authors whose books were published in the first 180 days of 2011), Late Night Readings, the Writer's Block Auction (a fundraiser), and the Moveable Feast of Authors (a round robin with 20 authors at 20 tables).

Authors attending include Charleston-area novelists Beth Webb Hart and Mary Alice Monroe as well as Ron Rash, Nan Chase, Sonny Brewer, Holly Iglesias, Eric Litwin, Karen White and Janisse Ray.

"Having been many times, what I love about SIBA is that it is much smaller and gives book sellers an opportunity to meet and talk with publishers and distributors they might not otherwise encounter," said long-time book publicist and author Marjory Wentworth of Mount Pleasant, who also is poet laureate of South Carolina.

"SIBA is all about independent bookstores, which are some of the best stores in America. To me, they are the ones that matter most to writers."