I must say, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution went all out for the second annual Decatur Book Festival. It was almost as though they were trying to prove something (cough - no Teresa Weaver - cough - no book section. The Square itself reminded me of a good old New York street festival, complete with corn dog stands. All of the exhibitors had little white tents for visitors to browse, and there were a variety of stages where authors and other industry folk discussed their books and the biz. There was even a special participant room, stocked with food and drinks, where the "VIPs" could hang between events. Not too shabby. Maybe Book Expo should take notes for next year.
But aside from the panels, the southern charm, delicious food, and plenty of booze, there was some other interesting stuff at work behind the scenes. First of all, the exhibitor list . Notice any stores missing? Hmm, Barnes and Noble? Borders? Nowhere to be found. Apparently, the AJC favors the independents, and Ladytron says more power to them. I've been known to swing into a B&N in my day (ahem, Harry Potter), but for the most, part, I do try to support my local independent. So right on, DBF peeps.
The most glaring omission, however, was Wordsmith. I was especially interested in checking the store out, since I'd read so much about it in the past few months . Opened by a former Chapter 11 exec (previously the largest independent book chain in the ATL area), Wordsmith is located RIGHT OFF the Decatur Square and had been written about in PW, Shelf Awareness, Galleycat, etc. So, after being hailed as the next great independent, why weren't they represented at the Festival?
Ladytron used her connections (by which I mean, I chatted up some locals from other independents) and unearthed some speculation. One, Wordsmith opened in June, a mere two and a half months before the Book Festival. All of the other independents were well-established in the Atlanta area, while Wordsmith (despite publicity) hadn't had a chance to prove themselves. Two, owner Zach Steele might be a touch shady. I've never met the man personally, so truly, I don't know, but word on the street is that when he defected from Chapter 11, he took a number of authors with him, dealing a huge blow to the already struggling store. Also, Steele claims to not sell children's books due to an agreement with nearby children's book shop, Little Shop of Stories. Not true, my sources say. Zach just doesn't like kids and doesn't want them running around his shop. The folks at the AJC-DBF are pretty kid-friendly and were not down with this. Finally, I heard that Steele, an initial supporter of the "Save the Book Review" campaign that stormed Atlanta earlier this year, disassociated himself as opening day grew closer. Once the store was open, Wordsmith claimed they were always involved in the fight, angering some of the true supporters.
However, to Steele's credit, he has opened a beautiful bookstore, and I've heard he took in many of the former Chapter 11 employees who were left jobless when the stores closed. And, maybe, in this day and age, you need to bend the rules a bit to play with the big boys...
So there you go…turns out that New York's not the only place where book gossip reigns supreme. Those crazy independents are just as back-stabbing as us publishing folk anyday. Whew. I don't feel so bad about myself now.