Support Your Indie Bookseller

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

A week or so ago I had the pleasure of sitting for a leisurely hour or two on a sunny veranda overlooking Florida’s intracoastal waterway with Cynthia Callender, marketing and publicity director at Vero Beach Book Center. My friend, author Debbie Macomber, and I wanted to hear Cynthia’s take on the current state of the booksellers industry and to find out what authors could do to support our beloved independent bookstores.

Cynthia first told us, much like the famous Mark Twain quote, that rumors of the demise of the indie bookseller are greatly exaggerated. At her store, the renowned Vero Beach Book Center, they are presently consolidating their two neighboring locations into one. “People keep rushing in to see if everything is okay,” she told us. “We’ve been in business since 1975.” During that time they’ve had three expansions to meet the needs of their customers. “Now we are re-inventing ourselves again,” she said. The nicest thing about the move has been the outpouring of support from their customers and the community. They’ve all needed reassuring that Vero Beach Book Center is, indeed, staying the course.

It doesn’t mean that bookstores don’t need readers’ and customers’ support. Nowadays it is easy to order a book with just a few keystrokes and have it delivered to a reading device within a minute or two. It means that if we want our local bookstores to stay healthy we need to intentionally patronize them and, as writers, support them in any way we can.

I asked Cynthia what writers can do to support bookstores. She gave three high profile examples.

  • James Patterson took out full page “Bailout the Bookstores” advertisements in the New York Times. You can read about them  here.
  • Stephen King decided to release his newest novel, Joyland, in paper only– no ebooks. This has been a boon to those stores that sell the physical books. You can read more about that here
  • And Ann Patchett took a gutsy step. Along with a partner she opened her own independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, right in Nashville, Tennessee. Read about that here.

    Avid readers at Vero Beach Book Center gather for Debbie Macomber

But most writers aren’t able to offer big gestures like those. So what else can authors do?

  • Cynthia says it helps to acknowledge the booksellers who believed in you in those early days. She tells about Brad Melzer. Every time he comes to Vero Beach he tells the audience that “these people had me when nobody would have me.” He always adds, “I was coming here when I had hair.”
  • Support your local bookstore by continuing to be their best customer and bringing your friends into the stores. Your bookseller appreciates this and will reciprocate by introducing readers to your books.
  • Offer a buy button on your website for IndieBound as well as several of the bookstores with whom you have a relationship. Cynthia mentioned how disheartening it is for booksellers who work hard to promote and even host events for an author to only find buy buttons for Amazon and Barnes & Noble on their websites.

Independent bookstores deserve to be preserved. There is a sense of place– an important gathering function– tied up in the independent bookstore that needs to be preserved. We will all be poorer if bookstores pass into the “remember when. . .” ether.

So, your turn. Tell us about your favorite bookstore and why it needs to be preserved. (Or brought back if it is long gone.) What can we do, short of a full-page NY Times ad, to help our Indie Bookstores?

What can authors do to support their local independent booksellers? Click to Tweet

Words of wisdom from an Indie Bookseller. Click to Tweet

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42 Comments

  • Norma Horton says:

    One of my biggest fans, and an entity of which I’m one of the biggest fans, is our mountain valley’s local independent bookseller.

    When I decided to see if I could get published, I called the owner—already a friend—and asked if I could buy her a coffee (they’re a coffee house as well) while she talked about the bookstore’s perspective. Three hours after buying two teaslater, I had a much better understanding of what she looks for, what she sees the trends to be, etc. I have used this knowledge often as I positioned my brand and proposal, and talked with acquisitions editors.

    When I have a launch party, we are going to rock the place! She’s jazzed, already creating buzz about what I’m doing, and I’m jazzed, because I have a point-of-reference I doubt many newbie authors have. It’s a win-win, and we both look forward to some good fun and exciting times ahead.

    I think especially if you’re in a small place, as I am, the bookseller can be a MAJOR person of influence with tenacles reaching far beyond the mortar and brick.

    • Norma Horton says:

      And of course, that’s “teas later,” not “teaslater.” Mary Keeley is quite the taskmaster facing IRCS, and I am under a tight deadline. (HA!)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Norma, you are so wise. You bought the tea (showing you value her time and are willing to be a customer) and you listened to their needs. Bingo!

      As I spoke with Cynthia that day she mentioned that they get two or three self-published author contacts a day. That’s right– a day! She said most try to position themselves as traditionally published. “I’m with Publish America.” Or Tate Publishing. Or Xlibris. They come in, of course, wanting her to carry their book. Can you imagine the cost in dollars and shelf space if she were to take all those books, especially when there is no promotion/ publishing house behind them? Problem is, those authors don’t understand that are all ask; no give.

      You, instead, went to see what you could do to help her.To listen. And you were probably first, her best customer so you earned the right to take up several hours. It must have been a breath of fresh air to her.

      • Norma Horton says:

        Don’t know about “wise,” Wendy, but I know I have much to learn, and a successful businesswoman like she is has street creds!

        : )

      • I stopped in to our local Tree of Life hoping to encourage the manager to carry my novel when it releases in July and at first he gave me a cold shoulder. Once he figured out that I was traditionally published and had well-known endorsers behind me, he got excited. He said something similar to what you just wrote–they get 2-3 requests a day from self-publishers, so he’s very diligent in screening them.

  • One of my favorites is a small, Christian bookstore. When I ask the owner about a particular kind of book or version of the Bible, she talks with me and shares her knowledge about similar titles/versions. She doesn’t rush to a computer terminal and ask me to spell what I want.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I didn’t even mention that aspect. These people know books! There is no one who can help you more with your comparables (for your proposal).

  • lisa says:

    This is a great reminder. We had a sweet bookstore in our downtown that hosted story times and had a play area for kids. It went out of business last year. It just felt like home and was about people. People is really what we are writing for, not a credit card number entered into a computer.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I know. We mourn the loss of those places. I keep reminding myself that we can’t save every floundering business– there may be all kinds of underlying reasons– bad lease, not enough retained capital, etc.– but do we ever hate to see them go.

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    I’m lucky to live in a town with an AWESOME indie bookseller–Malaprop’s. Check out the website (www.malaprops.com) and you’ll see how event driven they are. I think that’s the key–it’s not about books, it’s about community.

  • My favorite bookstore was a John’s Christian bookstore in the NW Chicago suburbs. It had a huge Christian fiction section, the kind where you could browse the shelves and stumble on authors you’d never heard of. Found many favorite writers that way.

    Unfortunately, we moved out of state and couldn’t take them with us. Here in Kansas the closest bookstore is half an hour away, and it’s okay in the CF department.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      You know, if you had a few extra minutes, a card thanking them for what they meant in your life might make someone’s day at John’s Christian.

  • Norma Horton says:

    You realize how fortunate you are to have CHRISTIAN bookstores nearby, right? Or even live in an area with a Christian constituency large enough to support a CHRISTIAN bookstore? Although I hope they carry my dead body out of here one day and would never move while I have a breath to take, living as a minority is an interesting change from the buckle of the Bible Belt. : )

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      A Christian bookstore is a gathering place of a whole ‘nuther stripe. It is a church open all week long with knowledgable “ministers” who can point seekers to the Answer through books.

  • Jeanne T says:

    I still buy paper and print books, but I haven’t found an independent book store in my city. After reading this, I am going to look and be intentional about supporting them.

    My first pick for buying hard copy books has been a Christian book store. We have two in town, and they are both chains. I want to support them, so I purchase there. I’m going to seek out the indie bookstores in my town and see what they offer and how I might be able to encourage their business.

    Thanks for this, Wendy.

  • Lori says:

    My favorite independent book store of all time has been long gone. I would buy books and then walk a couple of stores down to a local tea shop. Both are now out of business. Borders ruined both of them. And now look what happened to Borders.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Don’t you mourn for this? It sounds like a perfect recipe for an indulgent afternoon– a great bookstore and a tea shop. I’m mourning for you.

  • I always support self published authors and I think that will be the future of book publishing. There will be very few traditional book publishers and lots of successful self published authors.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I love that you are supporting authors whether self- or traditionally published. I’m afraid history is against you, however, in saying there will be lots of successful self published authors. It will probably follow the same curve as any product. A few will be wildly successful, some will make a living and most will languish.

      When it all shakes out, self-publishing will be the same frustrating system as traditional publishing, it’s just that the gatekeepers have changed. The good thing is that for all those who only desire a book in print and don’t care about sales or a career, they will be the winners.

  • There was (past tense, sigh) a wonderful little shop in our town – Book Nook. The owner graciously allowed our book club to use their comfy reading area for our book club every month, going as far as providing tea and toasty afghans in the winter months. Of course, we bought all our selections from her, but it was never about the tit-for-tat retail end of the exchange, but more the true sense of welcome the owner showed each of us. Miss her dearly – and the afghans.

  • My favorite indie bookseller is Yesterday’s Books in Modesto, CA. I’m a bit biased since I worked there for over five years, but they really are wonderful. From the revolving quotes on the signs outside to the sweet ladies who encouraged us with regular doses of baked goods, it was a magical place to work. Not to mention the smell of musty, imagined worlds oozing from the shelves and the customers who became friends.
    I’m a huge fan of the efforts this bookstore makes to reach out and connect with the community in unique ways. The owner has said she would love to have me for a book signing someday, and I would love to take her up on the offer :-). But in the meantime, I think I need to follow Norma’s lead.

  • Wendy,

    I did a double-take when I read that you were in Vero Beach. It is my old stomping grounds. (I am a South Florida native and lived just south of Vero for about a decade. The Vero Beach Book Center is a great place.

    Now I live farther south in a place called Parkland and there isn’t an indie bookseller near me. Barnes and Noble is the nearest bookstore to me (and it’s in another city).

    It’s great to see what some authors have done to promote bookstores. I especially applaud Stephen King’s paper only release.

    Since I am not yet a published author, I promote bookstores primarily by not buying books online. I love brick and mortar bookstores and can spend hours wondering through them. I don’t want to see them go the way of the record store (my erstwhile other favorite haunt).

    On behalf of my home state, I hope you had a great visit in the Sunshine State. :)

    Blessings!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I did have a wonderful, albeit quick, visit to your old stomping grounds. As a pre-published author you still need to get to know your booksellers. When your first book comes out they’ll feel such ownership. (And that’s a very good thing.)

  • Wendy, the Anne Patchett link took me to the James Patterson article.

  • No independent bookstores within 20 miles of me that I know of, though I’ve heard rumors that one has recently opened about 8 miles from my office. There’s a fantastic used bookstore in Fayetteville, about 40 miles from the house, but that’s way too far to drive.

    When we visit our son in Chicago, I love to visit the bookstores in the Hyde Park area. Powell Books, the Seminary Bookstore, and another one on 55th street, the name of which escapes me now.

    Of course, nothing beats Chicago’s Publishers Row lit fest, which recently concluded. Maybe next year.

    • That is so sad, no bookstores within twenty miles. We’ve lost so many lovely, unique stores in the past few years.
      But it sounds like you have many other favorites elsewhere. Maybe there will be a resurgence in the near future of bookstores with a flavor of the township and people.
      A Bookie can always hope!

  • Andrea Cox says:

    Fabulous ideas, Wendy! I’d hate to see bookstores bite the dust. Though I enjoy my Kindle, I much prefer a paperback for everyday reading. My e-reader is typically reserved for vacations when I don’t want to lug around 50 pounds of reading material.

    Thanks for posting this one!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • My favorite Indie Bookstore is The Bookshelf. The North Shore Lake Tahoe store moved to a smaller location last year trying to stay in business.
    They were my first big supporters for my children’s books and offered to host the launch when my first novel came out. After the lovely manager Susan DeRyke died unexpectedly, the owner, Deborah Fish Lane, decided to close the Tahoe store and keep the main Truckee, CA store open.
    They moved to a smaller location on Main Street last year but remain open. Yay! They had to diversify and now also sale used books.
    They invited me to come up last year to try out an outdoor “Truckee Thursday” event and share a booth with a novelist. That was a big change for me. It was a huge success.
    Many people thought they had closed permanently due to both moves. So I help get the word out in social media, email, and by word of mouth around the lake.
    The Bookshelf was the last remaining independent bookstore on the lake.
    Loyalty speak volumes. You may think the marketing you do to support these stores doesn’t make a difference, that is not what I hear back from the owners.
    I also shop locally at our little Christian bookstore in Jackson for my book club books. This has introduced new CBA authors to the owner. And that makes a difference all the way around.

  • My April release, “Seeds of Evidence”, is set on Chincoteague Island, Va. The general market indie bookstore there has been incredibly gracious to me. After a very successful CI launch, they’ve invited me back for 4 signings during Pony Penning Week (remember Misty?) In return, I’ve profiled them in my newsletter, bought books from them, given them copies of my out-of-print book, chatted, Facebooked, and Tweeted about them. We’re becoming BFFs!!

  • Reba says:

    Wendy:
    Thank you so much for your post. I did not know there was a Indie bookstore in that area. I certainly want to check it out.
    A very few years ago I was in a Boarders bookstore that was near my home and saw a neat new thing called Kendel sitting on a display, after looking at it and learning what it was I said to myself. “That will kill our bookstores.” and as we all know it did.
    Now we have to work to getting them back.
    Thank you again for this post.

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