PhotobucketHonest mistakes you can learn from are probably the best kind. I made one of those recently, and I’d like to share it here.

While on Twitter, I started linking to blog posts at Writer Unboxed. One of my followers was an independent bookseller, who visited WU and made an observation: We were linking exclusively to Amazon–with every interview, every book mention, ever “psyched about” update. Was I a newbie author who wanted to befriend indies or not? Why wasn’t I linking to indie stores, too? Did I realize how indie-unfriendly my blog appeared?

Wow, no.

Kath and I have always linked to Amazon because it was easy, and we thought we were doing our part to serve our guest authors and our readers. And, truthfully, we hadn’t even heard of Indiebound until recently. It hit us that other writers–especially writers who don’t yet have a publishing contract, like Kath and I when we started WU–might not (a) know about Indiebound and/or (b) realize how they’re coming across in the wide scheme of things. They might make choices for convenience rather than thinking through the implications of those decisions. They might, inadvertently, close channels they’d want open in the future.

The seller and I exchanged a few emails, and I asked if he’d be interested in an interview for WU to enlighten other writers across the blogosphere. He was more than willing.

It’s my hope that you’ll do your part as well. Link to this Q&A. Talk about the broader issues on your own blogs. Avoid our tunnel vision. Spread the word.

Interview with Rob Dougherty, manager of Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, NJ

TW: Tell us about Indiebound. What exactly is it?

RD: Indiebound is a program of the American Booksellers Association that was launched in the summer of 2008. Basically it’s Book Sense revamped, with a new logo and branding campaign, with the goal of trying to get all indies united across the country. If you go on their website, Indiebound.org, it gives you a complete description, but what they want to do is create a forum where independent booksellers can come together to create a larger web presence.

TW: What makes Indiebound such a powerful tool?

RD: Number one, the staff of the American Booksellers Association are phenomenal in what they’ve done, in getting this message out to the booksellers and giving us tools to go even further with it. It has provided for a real unity among booksellers, and I think that it’s continuing to give us a presence and a voice. Independent bookstores don’t have to be victims of online entities and box stores any longer. We can’t match the prices of those other places, and we’re not going to make believe that we can. But we want to let people know that they have the choice of supporting locally owned and operated businesses in their community, and I think Indiebound is one of the tools that can help us do that.

TW: What do indie stores offer that you might not see in a big bookstore?

RD: The difference is that we care. We care about the community that we live in, we care about the authors, we care about the books that we put in people’s hands. When we read a book we really love, there’s a connection to the author that you just don’t get from looking at a screen. If we’re going to put your book in somebody’s hand, you should be pretty damned honored, because we believe in that book and we want that reader to come back to our shop. We care.

TW: So it’s like sitting down for a gourmet meal at a quality restaurant rather than calling for takeout?

RD: That’s a great metaphor, yeah. Passion really sets us apart. The other thing is individuality. At last count there were over 2500 independent bookshops in the country. Each one is different in personality, each one is different in size, each one is different in inventory. You walk into a box store in Seattle, you’re going to walk into the same shop in Philly.

TW: Let’s talk about what you want from authors. Your bottom line is that you want authors to be fair, correct? If authors put the Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble and/or Borders (etc…) links up on their website, you’d ask them to put the Indiebound link up as well, to give people the choice to purchase a book through indie sources.

RD: Yes. We certainly understand that getting your work out there and getting people to recognize your work is an important thing, and we don’t begrudge anybody trying to sell their book any way that they can. But what we ask for is that if you put Amazon on your links, to please give Indiebound equal footing. Offer indies just as prominently. I think that’s an important thing, and it’s fair. If an author doesn’t have Indiebound listed, it doesn’t mean that we won’t carry their book, but my bookshop will not promote their website or put that author in my newsletter.

TW: Is there anything else authors might do to help support indie stores?

RD: They can talk to their writer friends or publishing friends about Indiebound and suggest giving indies a fair shake when it comes to publicity, to thank the local independents who have supported them.

Get as many ARCs as you can and get them into the hands of independent booksellers and not into the hands of your friends. If you don’t have many ARCs to give, ask the indies if they’ll call your publisher and request your ARC directly. Don’t depend on your publisher to sell your books. They throw catalogs at us, and reps have it tough, but unless the rep has read your book or has spoken with someone who has read the ARC of your book, they’re not going to know if it’s right for a particular store.

Don’t depend on your publisher for a tour, either. Call some of your local indies and tour there, and after you get big keep doing it. For every box store you’re at, go to an indie store, too. Show your indies love, because they probably had something to do with your success.

TW: What can authors do to find specific indie stores that might support their work and be interested in an ARC?

RD: I think you start with the relationship between you and your local indie stores. Go to them and ask, “Where do you think I can go with this?” If they really enjoy your book, they’ll pass the word along to other indies. Then maybe get someone to nominate your book for the Indie Next list. That’s what happened with A.S. King.

Another author came in here three years ago, Maryann McFadden. She walked in with a self-published paperback book, and one of our staff read it and thought it was really good. Book clubs picked up on it, and soon she was our bestselling paperback of 2006 and outselling Kite Runner, after some hard work on her part. She ended up with a two-book deal at Harper. Her first book, The Richest Season, did very well, and her second book comes out this July. That’s just one success story that shows how indies can contribute to authors.

TW: Any final thoughts?

RD: I do believe that when given the choice, people will support indies even if it costs a couple of extra bucks—especially now in this economic climate.

Thanks so much, Rob, for a truly valuable and enlightening interview.

Readers, Kath and I will be overhauling WU in the coming weeks to create fair links to Indiebound. How about you?

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in March. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.