What do writers and independent bookstores have in common? More than you might think.
- We all love books.
- We love readers.
- We want readers to buy our books.
- We are small business people.
When my publisher (Harper Collins/Morrow) suggested that they would send me to a couple of the Independent Bookseller trade shows, I was thrilled. This would be an opportunity to meet booksellers in person and hopefully interest them in my novel. But the truth is I didn’t know a great deal about the inner workings of bookstores. I knew I loved them. I knew they generally only have so much floor space for inventory. I knew independent bookstores were an important force in the market, particularly in the wake of recent changes.
A while later Harper gave me the specifics; they were sending me to NAIBA (New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association) and NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association.) Interesting names I thought, and I searched their websites. I knew that a few other Book Pregnant members, Lydia Netzer, Wiley Cash and Stephen Dau had attended the Winter Institute (American Booksellers Association) last season and done signings there, met booksellers and so forth, but still I didn’t know quite what to expect.
These conferences are not the ones to which we are accustomed. These are not about writers or our books. These are about how booksellers make their stores function better, how they can cope with the changing market and economy. And yes, the conferences are about books. The publishers give away galleys. Independent bookstores must be selective about which books they put on their shelves, because they have limited space. This is a chance for them to sample.
At NAIBA, I attended a tour of a Washington D.C. bookstore called Politics & Prose.
It’s something of a landmark, having served the area for (I should have taken notes so don’t quote me on this, but I think…) about 28 years. They changed owners several years ago, and the original owners actually put potential buyers through a series of interviews because they wanted the new owner to maintain the store's integrity. The store has about 8000 square feet and 50 employees. They do over 700 events a year, hold classes, they have one of those print on demand machines… My point is this is not your average independent bookstore. And the other people on the tour with me were bookstore owners looking to see what they can do to make their own store more profitable. In other words, this tour was fascinating to them. And honestly to me – because I began to appreciate what booksellers are up against, not to mention I had the opportunity to see the machine (below) print a book in about 5 minutes.
I was not scheduled to attend any other events, but I did sneak into a session where editors were talking about their newest and biggest finds. I believe the majority of the sessions were geared to bookstore workings. I know there was one on how independent bookstores might break into the e-reader market. Apparently they’re working on something with KOBO, but unfortunately I didn’t hear the scoop.
I smiled and walked up to booksellers. “Hi, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Priscille Sibley, the author of The Promise of Stardust. I see you’re from Doylestown Books. That’s not too far from where I live. Doylestown is lovely.” (Doylestown really is lovely.) Then after a little back and forth I’d give my elevator pitch. “My book is about a woman who suffers a devastating brain injury, and just as they are about to remove her life support, they find out she’s two months pregnant.” I watched their faces for reactions. And I got them. Then we talked some more, about their stores, their book clubs, and their challenges. I tried to make a human connection.
I admit the schmoozing was a little outside my comfort zone, but the more I did it, the more comfortable I became. I asked about their bookstores and how they were doing. Believe it or not most of them said they were doing pretty well. They have loyal customers. (Love readers!) Some of the owners were just venturing into bookstore ownership. A brave thing to do; I applaud bravery. Nothing good ever happens without it.
For me in the pre-publication phase, this was my first book signing, so you can imagine I was extremely excited (and a little nervous).
(Priscille Sibley with author, Patsy Harman)
The area was full of publishers tables set up with their books. Also, there were other distributers of products that bookstores might use, calendars, bookmarks, mugs, pens, reading glasses and so forth.
Later, that evening I also attended the author reception where each author had his or her own café table set up with books. I gave an ARC to every bookseller I could entice. (If they read and like, hopefully they will order – remembering small bookstores have small inventories).
Oh, and did I mention that the lovely Erika Robuck was there, too?
NEIBA, held in Providence, RI is bigger than its counterpart outside D.C., but I was there for a shorter time. I drove up for the signing only. Held at a convention center, the exhibitors (publishers and other sponsors) filled a larger room. But the experience was similar. I looked at the tags booksellers were wearing. I held out my hand and introduced myself.
And I met them. That, down the heart of it was the best part. I learned about booksellers. We have the love of books in common.