Imagine Saving a Life: An Indie Bookstore Pledge

I’ve never really considered myself hero material. I don’t have the right footwear. I need at least 7.5 hours of sleep a night. When I stand up too fast, I get a little dizzy and have to bend over for about five seconds until the blood rushes to all the right places.

My most unheroic trait, however, is this: I am a shirker of responsibility.

To illustrate my point, the Puget Sound Blood Center has been calling me, hoping I will set up an appointment for another blood donation.

I said they could call me; I just said I needed a full year to recover from the panic attack I had there last summer (they still gave me the juice and cookies). My year must be up because I see their number appear on the Caller ID: PSBC Predictive, calling to remind me that donating blood equals saving a life.

I let it go to voicemail. Superman wouldn’t let it go to voicemail.

Another realm of my shirkdom, one that’s far more humiliating to admit to my writer friends: I have bought many, many books on Amazon. Please know my head is low and my cheeks are red as I admit this to you.

Of course I’ve long known that writers should support indie bookstores. But still, I didn’t. I had become lazy and cheap, two traits to which Amazon caters.

In writing this post, however, I realized the magnitude of my stupidity. Realizing the magnitude of my stupidity made me want to reduce the magnitude of my stupidity. The result? I vowed that I would no longer allow my desire for convenience and my love of a good bargain to rule my book buying decisions.

I would do my part to save the lives of independent bookstores. And in doing so, I would become something of a hero. A third tier hero, sure, but a hero nonetheless.

And today, so can you.

But why should you? Why should your friends and family care about saving the lives of independent bookstores?

Bookstores facilitate a more connected community. Whether we live in a large city or a small town, we humans crave and need a connected community. Spend a few moments on Facebook and you’ll see just how desperately we crave and need the fellowship of others. Lucky for us, good independent bookstores are often the heartbeat of community, partly because bookstores do much more than sell books. These days, they have to. The best indie bookstores host readings and musicians. They are meeting places, perfect venues to grab a coffee or a panini. Bookstores provide places where people can come together in real life and connect over books and music and ideas and food. Real people in real life. Just like the good old days. Go spend an hour in one; you’ll see how good it feels.

Bookstores add personality and color to a community. I’ve never heard someone say, “Gosh, I wish our town had more strip malls.” And neither have you. Sure, independent bookstores might be found in a strip mall, but bookstores are the best deterrent of what strip malls connote: cookie cutter communities devoid of style and personality. Bookstores are often the soul, the esprit de corps, of a town. Let’s not allow the riptide of big box retail chain stores to wash away the soul of our communities.

Bookstores are incubators. Books, music, food, conversation, debate all take place at independent bookstores. As a result bookstores make us more informed, engaged and enlightened. Bookstores provide the venues that will grow our brains and our awareness of the culture and ideas and art of others. Bookstores also incubate readers of books. The world needs more readers of books. So let’s support those warm, well-lighted stores that allow our little chick selves to grow.

Of course, Old Me still knows supporting indie bookstores is more expensive.

Bah! (says New Me). Buying books via indie bookstores may mean I spend a little more on books, but many of us pay for public radio, The New York Times, or tickets to community theater. I subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and Poets and Writers. Yet I grumble about paying four dollars more for a book from an indie bookstore? Not anymore, I don’t. Culture has a price. I am willing to pay for it.

Likewise, Old Me believes buying books from independent bookstores is inconvenient.

Wah! So is recycling and taking public transportation and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, but somehow I integrate those things into my life with little trouble. “Indie bookstores aren’t convenient” is just a terrible excuse.

Superman doesn’t make excuses. Ever.

So today, I’d like to share my pledge:

I, Sarah Callender, vow to buy at least one book a month from a local indie bookstore for the rest of my life.

I started in June with Yuvi Zalkow’s A Brilliant Novel in the Works (a preorder) and The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson.

July was This is Where I Leave You.

August is The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway and Erika Robuck’s (preorder) of Hemingway’s Girl.

Sure, I have cut back a little on writing at coffee shops (where I spend more money than if I write at home) to make up for the small bump in indie bookstore spending. I have also had to haul myself and the kids to the brick and mortar store, BUT once there, I understood that in getting lazy and cheap in my book buying, I had forgotten the magic of a bookstore. My children had forgotten it too. Shame on me.

Superman would never let his kids forget the magic of a bookstore.

But here’s a cold, hard fact: indie bookstores need more than me and you to save their life. They need me and you and all of our friends and family to vow to donate the lifeblood that will indeed save independent bookstores.

So will you, too, make a pledge to buy one book per month from an indie bookstore? AND will you convince someone else to do the same? If you do that, and if your friends convince their family and friends to do the same, and so on and so on, we will pump enough life into the independent bookstores that are the lifeblood of our community. 

Will you? If so, please put your pledge in writing via the comments section. 

And gosh, should you still feel the need to support Amazon, why not use them to order some hero attire, perhaps a cape and some spandex? I hear you can get some screaming deals on Amazon.

Now please, get out there and save some soul by pledging your support! Repost this post on your blogs and Facebook pages, share the post with indie bookstores so they can share it with their clients, email the link to your nutty relatives. Let’s see whether we at WU can really make a difference. I bet we can. I know we can.

(Incidentally, I called the Puget Sound Blood Center. I’ll be there, exposing my puny little veins, 12:30 on Aug. 29, after which I will be awarded cookies and juice. Maybe you could do the same? I’m almost certain that buying indie bookstore books and donating blood bumps us up to second tier heroes.

Also incidentally, I am away from all forms of technology today; please excuse my lack of prompt comment responses.)


Photo courtesy of Flickr’s 1upLego.


About Sarah Callender

Sarah Callender lives in Seattle with her husband, son and daughter and is currently working on a novel titled BETWEEN THE SUN AND THE ORANGES. Sarah is a terrible house-cleaner, a lover of chocolate and hats, and a self-professed cheapskate who has no trouble spending money on good chocolate and hats.


  1. says

    So true about the bookstores–they do need our patronage. And good luck on the blood donation! As someone with “special” blood I donate every two months, but I remember how scary the first time was. (I chickened out several times, only to discover that giving blood hurts far less than getting shots.) Take a good book–it’s easiest if you use a Kindle, Nook, or other ebook reader you can read with one hand.

    • says

      Thanks, Marion, for the tip about the Kindle. So smart! Maybe some day soon, indie bookstores will have ebooks available for purchase. I think that day is just around the corner.

      Three cheers for your generosity with your special blood.

  2. says

    Sarah, I was brimming with love for you even before I got to the section where you pre-ordered my book. You are the most genuine, evocative writer I know, and if you would like your agent to include that I will pre-order anything you ever write in your publisher pitches, please feel free.

    What a wonderful message and inspiration this post is. You need a cape and an uncomfortably tight body suit. You are my hero.

    • says

      Love this, Erika. And, I cannot wait to read your book. And your next one. And the next one!

      Let’s get matching spandex. I’ll feel less self conscious if I’m not the only one . . .

  3. Aviva Siegel says


    I too had recently fallen prey to the Amazon addiction, but had a similar ephiphany when I dragged my lazy tush to our local bookstore, and remembered the magic you wrote about.
    So I’m on board now too, and after all, I won my first writing contest at our local bookstore, Tattered Cover, when I was nine. So I owe them big.
    thanks for your inspiring and fun words,

    • says

      Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to get lazy? I’m so glad I’m not the only one . . . and I LOVE Tattered Cover. So great that you got your first bit of praise from such an impressive indie store. The fact that you remember that is just another reason why indies are so important.

      Happy writing!

  4. says

    I’m totally on board with this pledge and will share this post. I especially love going to indies to purchase books of authors I’ve met IRL or on-line, feels like double the karma. (Triple if the author’s doing an event.) :)

    • says

      Hi Jeanne! So nice to see you here. And, I’m glad you’re on board . . . you likely have been on board all along. Thanks for allowing me back into your indie-supporting club.

  5. says

    I hereby take the pledge: one book a month from an indie bookstore.

    Further: In good weather I will ride my bike to get there.

    Further: I will have a double espresso each time to support their cafes.

    Indy bookstores are cropping up in NYC and all over America. Are we in for a renaissance of indie booksellling? You wouldn’t think so. The weekly closing announcements in Pub Lunch are despressing. In my own neighborhood the beloved mystery bookshop, Felony & Mayhem, is closing this month.

    But we can turn this trend around. In France indie booksellers are subsidized by the government, for the very reasons you cite. That won’t happen here. We have to make it happen. And how better than authors to begin?

    If you simply must have convenience (if you’re homebound, say) then I recommend ordering online from possibly the most beloved bookstore in America, in Portland, OR:

  6. Carmel says

    For a second there, Sarah, I thought I’d written that first paragraph. :o) I applaud your commitment to help others — whether someone struggling to keep their business alive or someone needing blood. You are not a responsibility-shirker. You are BRAVE.

    • says

      What a nice comment, Carmel, and thanks for the empathy. I’m glad I’m not the only shirker. I think all of us writers are brave. After all, we have a lot working against us, and yet we press on!

      Bravo to us brave souls. :)

  7. says

    Raising my hand and taking the pledge. My family and I are fortunate to have a wonderful indie bookstore right in our hometown. Just Tuesday night, my kids and I went there for a local author’s debut signing, and we purchased three books between us. (We are ahead of the game.) Can’t wait until that same bookstore’s cafe is up and running!

    • says

      Fantastic, Lorrie. Doesn’t that feel good? You are way ahead of the game! And supporting a debut author . . . you made his/her day! Get online and order your cape!

  8. Ann Teplick says

    Hooray for the Indies! I, too, take the pledge.
    Thank you, Sarah, for another wonderful post.
    (and btw, the love the word “shirkdom”)

  9. says

    I took the pledge at my favorite indie, Village Books. If I’m not there during the month, I buy at another indie where ever I am.

    • says

      Yes, isn’t it great that Village Books has that pledge as part of their store/website? So smart of them. And, great that you live close enough to VB to frequent it.

  10. says

    My indy is about 25 miles away, so unlike Donald Maass, I will not pledge to ride my bike to do it, but I do pledge to buy one a month. (My indy owner was savvy enough to start an online purchase point.) Living in the middle of nowhere has its advantages, but I do miss routine visits to bookstores (stripmalls, not so much).

    You are SuperSarah! Thanks for the reminder!

    • says

      Vaughn, I learned long ago that it’s useless to try to be as awesome as Donald Maass. That said, it’s also useless to try to be as awesome as you are. 25 miles is a bit far to cycle . . . that’s why God invented mail delivery. Happy ordering!

  11. Lisa Threadgill says

    Great post. And I can make small adjustments to do it.

    I’m in. In fact, I’ll stop by Dreamhaven or Uncle Hugo’s this weekend. Maybe both! It has been too long.

    • says

      That’s great, Lisa. I have found it to be an easy habit to build into my life . . . I just don’t know what took me so long.

      I hope you had some fun bookstore time this weekend.

  12. says

    I’m religious about hitting up my local used bookstore–a fantastic place for classics and the popular fiction of decades past–but my demon Kindle has tempted me away from my local indies when it comes to new books and oddball titles.
    The shame, it hurts.

    • says

      The shame really does hurt. That said, I am hopeful that ebooks will soon be available via indie bookstores. Fingers crossed. In the mean time, happy reading!

  13. says

    I pledge to LOOK for a good new indie bookstore. Used to live close to several; now there are a few, but they are all (not my) specialty; I prefer history and romance, what I’ve got are Christian and mystery and comic bookstores. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Plus I have a hugundous stash of books I brought home from RWA. I *am* a fervent library patron, and I do donate blood regularly.

    Can I just get the superhero cape, hold the spandex tights?

    • says

      As a hero, I’m pretty sure you get to choose your own outfit. Just one of the many perks. I, for example, would not be caught dead in white spandex. Can you imagine! How would I ever find proper undies for under white spandex?

      You are heroic . . . happy searching for a good indie store. Check out if you get stuck.

  14. says

    Dare I say (whisper)? Don’t guilt trip me. I’m too ornery to take a pledge. Too blind to read books that don’t have enlargeable type. Too crowded in my little house to build any more bookshelves. Too poor to support every worthy cause. I never bought from Amazon until my daughter gave me a Kindle and I look forward to the day when I can buy books for it at an independent bookstore. Until then, Don’t guilt trip me.

    • says

      Yes, ma’am! Sorry to offend. I, too, look forward to the day when ebooks are available at indie bookstores. I hope that day’s not too far in the future. The enlargeable font really is a blessing!

    • Kathleen Jewell says

      Skipper, I totally understand the position of not wanting to add more books to a personal collection. How about purchasing a book for a local public or school library? In this time of budget cuts, I’m sure they would be grateful.

  15. Jeanne says

    I had a friend once tell me spending a dollar is not just about getting something, it’s a vote for exactly which businesses you want to have stay, and consequently how you want the world to be. I cast my votes for local and small whenever I can.

  16. says

    Doh – I’m only just stsarting to get to grips with technology. Only recently opened an Amazon account so can get access to books by 7 recommended by you guys! I do promise to go to the local book store at least once a month.

  17. says

    Sarah, I’m pretty sure you earned a long and lovely cape today :).
    Thanks for your wonderful post! And I’ll join you in the indie book buying.

  18. says

    Brilliant post and I would love to match your pledge but in my corner of the UK we have a dearth of indie bookstores. I’ve been sitting here for five minutes trying to recall where the closest one is and I think it’s 11 miles away.

    We have a chain of bookstores called Waterstones, who appeared in the early 1990s and just started to munch up the indie stores – with their chain store prices and coffee shops.

    Now even Waterstones doesn’t seem like such a bad guy – so I was really disappointed when I popped in to order a book they didn’t stock and was advised to order it from Amazon.


    • says

      Yes, and I think this is a common, real issue, Nicci.

      Small indie bookstores (maybe even big ones) simply cannot have everything in stock. We understand that, and yet it makes it hard NOT just buy it on Amazon. Amazon is easy and quick and cheap. Who doesn’t like that?

      And then, if the indie bookstore seller is telling you to just get it on Amazon, well, you can only do so much, right?

      Thanks for your post–you are not alone!

  19. says

    Sorry for being late to this post, Sarah!… But I both love your confession as well as your indie pledge. I definitely have the same laziness — I’m talking Amazon Prime laziness… but I’ve been pushing myself to buy more and more books at indie bookstores. It’s always such a lovely feeling to step in to an indie bookstore and it scares me to see fewer and fewer of them around. Thank you for the call to action, Sarah!

  20. says

    Very nice! As a bookseller at an indie, I tip my hat to you and THANK YOU! But I am very surprised you are not aware that many indie bookstores can and do sell eBooks every day! The only problem is that you cannot buy them for a Kindle, which can ONLY be used with Amazon. Not so the Nook, iPad, Sony eReaders, etc. — we have lots of customers who shop locally for eBooks from our website!

    • says

      Thank you, Victoria, for the clarification. But of course, many of us have Kindles so we are held hostage.

      I so appreciate this helpful comment. I think many people don’t realize that ebooks CAN be bought at indie bookstores.

      Happy selling to you!

  21. Anella Harmeyer says

    I stopped buying from Amazon a few years ago. We don’t have indie bookstore options in my city–except for a good used bookstore–but I buy all of my new books from our local Barnes and Noble. It’s always been my dream to open an Indie bookstore in our downtown. Maybe someday…

    • says

      Good for you, Anella! You are my hero!

      We just had a big Barnes and Nobel close a few months ago . . . they lost their lease and were squeezed out by a Room and Board furniture place. Fortunately, we have some other great indies in our hood, but I do miss that big old BN.

  22. says

    I don’t want to know a world without bookstores. I adore my Indie bookstore and will be proud to reinforce my support with this pledge! Bravo!!!

    • says

      I can download eBooks on my son’s Nook from my Indie bookstore via Google…I can also pre-order books from their website. They may be Indie, but they’re not pre-historic! if anyone is looking for an eReader and wants to continue To support indies, there are several choices other than a Kindle. Thought I should point that out for those who love eBooks, yet still want to support our Indies, but it is a free market, so choose at will.

  23. says

    Dear Sarah,
    I feel that it is so serendipitous that I came across your blog post. Just a few days ago I called some friends and suggested starting an Indie Bookstore Day L.A., where we choose one day next spring and start a movement to get as many people as possible in L.A. to buy one book from an indie bookstore all on the same day. The thought is just beginning to form, but your commitment here is helping to give it shape. Thank you!!!
    Kim Fay

  24. says

    I feel like you’re my sister from another mother – or more accurately, like you’re a Liar. And I mean that in the most flattering way possible.

    A couple of years ago, our little cadre of writers, the Philly Liars Club, started a project called “The Liars Tell the Truth About Independent Bookstores”.

    Every month we’d host a party at one of our local indie bookstores, at no cost to the bookseller, and create as much buzz as we could to grab the attention of their neighborhoods and their local media. We told the same story over and over, just like the one you did here, only each one was a little different, as you can see if you look on our website where we did a little piece on each bookstore.

    And while I doubt we actually saved any of them, our two year adventure – one party every month – opened even OUR eyes to the unique charm each bookshop brings to their book-buying, reading communities. It opened our eyes to the people who sell books and work in these bookstores because they love books, as trite as that may come off. Their passion is genuine and heartfelt.

    Not to say that big box employees are any less passionate, but they lack the same skin in the game, and have much less latitude when it comes to inventory curation.

    My friends in the Liars club and I have been drinking the kool aid for a while, Sarah. I’ll put a link to your piece on our website and find a place to showcase your pledge there too.

    • says

      I LOVE your idea, Don, you and the Liars are my heroes. Three cheers for you and your commitment. I really do believe it’s about awareness.

      I will mosey on over to you blog right now. Thanks so much for sharing your love of books. I am honored to be an honorary Liar.

  25. says

    Thank You Sarah, as the owner of a an Indie Bookstore I cannot agree more. We’re located in the historic mining town of Black Diamond, Washinton and have become a central point for the entire community. We host childrens story hours, local authors, bookgroups, writers groups, and other community events. We are active in promoting the community as a whole and even give a free book to every child that comes in the door.

    Buisness is hard especially when competing against Amazon and other online behemoths.

    Please help support your local bookstores and save a dying way of life.

    Todd — owner of Finally Found Books

  26. says

    Thank you, Sarah. As a bookstore owner, it’s gratifying to hear support like this, especially from the comments. We do sell ebooks on our website through Google, but that program will end in January. A new company formed that we’re looking at, and hopefully, will replace Google for the other indies. It should allow customers of all formats to buy ebooks, including Kindles. I’ve been open just over a year, and hope to be here for a long time, but it’s still a struggle. The support we get is awesome, but may not be enough. I’d like to put a link to this post in my next newsletter to show people the value of their local shops.
    BTW – Like Marion, I donate blood regularly and approaching 10 gallons (80 donations). My type is rare also. I’m proud of you for having the courage to do it again.

  27. says

    Wonderful idea, Sarah. Have been doing this on my own anyway, but nice to be part of something bigger and making it official. Have a trip to my favorite indie bookstore planned for tomorrow. I pledge to make that trip at least once a month.

    Kim Blum-Hyclak

  28. says

    I’ve just had the pleasure of discovering some wonderful indie bookstores via my book tour and was struck by how unique each one was to its community – another important reason to support them: they are indie as in individual too! Sharing this post!

  29. says

    Sarah, sometimes my bipolar disorder acts funny when I get inside of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas. Usually when hubby sees a Visa purchase he acts funny. When I went to pick up our copy of Marriage Rules by the wonderful Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., prior to her lecture and book signing in Kansas City, Missouri, I also bought copies of Catherine Gildner’s two Niagara Falls area memoirs. When I take the pledge and take a $20.00 bill to Rainy Day Books (a nice half hour walk away) once a month it will work fine. Thank you for your thoughtful post. Here’s to the future of our indie bookstores. Rainy Day Books is on the national forefront with their very full schedule of author appearances.

  30. LynDee Walker says

    What a magnificent idea!

    I was invited to an author event at an the most fantastic indie bookshop today, and it was such a treat to browse through a collection that was chosen with such care. The owner had grace to spare and explained how she chooses books (the part that really got me? “I have certain customers who like certain things, so if I see a new book I know they’d like, I order it.” Who offers that level of customer service anymore? Bravo!)

    I bought five books — two that the staff hand sold me and one from each of the authors I met. I spent a grand total of $7 more than I might have elsewhere, but finding such a treasure was so worth it. I will go back. And take friends.

    Thank you for sharing, Sarah!

  31. Robin says

    Last week I d/l an app to my android tablet that is suppose to be able to let me buy books from my local indie store. I haven’t had a chance to try it but if it works I’ll check with them first for any books I buy.

  32. Tessa Bagatto says

    Count me in! I pledge to buy two books a month, one for me and one for someone else, from an indie bookstore; probably Park Place Books because that’s the closest one to me and where my critique group meets. They are also very supportive of writers and want to help authors build a good rapport with their readers and community at large and I want to acknowledge those efforts.

  33. says

    And Porter Anderson’s post provides another interesting POV on this whole indie bookstore demise. It’s certainly worth the read (plus, he compliments my hat!).