I recently had the opportunity to read a letter written by an independent bookstore owner about the state of his business. Though it’s not my place to share those details here, I do want to talk about a general sentiment read in that letter that made me feel both sad and frustrated. It went something like this:
It’s not that people are deaf to the message that we’re here and struggling. They know they could do more to help small bookstores. But aside from a token gesture now and then, people are shutting down to small bookstores. What we hear more and more often is “Why should I help?”
It was the “Why” in this that got to me. Because I’m sorry for the store owners who’ve toiled and built and are now seeing ashes of their businesses. But also because we *do* need indie bookstores–especially authors. Have we really forgotten this? Even looking at it from the strictly selfish perspective of “What do we get out of this as writers and authors?” have we forgotten that:
- Author events are rarely as unique and personal as they are at indie bookstores.
- Making connections at the local level shouldn’t be minimized; it’s as much a part of “platform building” as creating a website (ask Christina Katz). Meaningful relationships can form through indie bookstore ties. For example, many bookstore owners appreciate our input as authors and are eager to hear about our book recommendations.
- Your indie store may be the only location that can provide readers from afar with your signed books. Wouldn’t you like a local hub that doesn’t originate in your family room?
- If an indie bookstore loves your published book, they might recommend you for The Indie Next List. The support that can grow from the grassroots efforts of a few indie stores can increase the profile of a novel and help to launch a career. Just ask A.S. King. (A.S. will be here in July to talk more about her love of indie stores.)
- Simply being among all of those hand-chosen books can be inspiring–and remind us all why we wanted to be authors to begin with. Explore those “staff picks” tables, and soak in the culture of the book. It’s not an experience you can replicate online. (See Barbara O’Neal post for more on this sentiment.)
- Being at a real bookstore gets you away from the Internet. And as Ann Patchett said on The Colbert Report, “[I]f you never, ever talk to people and you meet all of your needs on the Internet, you wake up one day and you’re the Unibomber.” And, hey. Important.
Brunonia Barry usually writes here on the second Thursday of the month, however she’s going to be on leave through September while she works on her latest novel. In the interim, we’re going to use this day to talk indie bookstores–why we need them, as authors and readers.
Coincidentally, this is also the day of the month that Beyond the Margins, one of my favorite blogs, has chosen to profile indie bookstores. Today, they’re talking more about the store owner’s letter that I mentioned in my lead. We hope you’ll hop over there to participate in their initiative, too–and add them to your sidebars, because they really are awesome. In the meanwhile, here’s a question for you:
Why do YOU care about indie bookstores? If you have a story you’d like to share about how an indie store impacted you, please sound out in comments or shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kath and I may just tap you on the shoulder in the coming months to see if you’d like to come over for a guest post.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s e_pics