One of the most exciting events I’ve attended in the book world was the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute in Asheville back in February. Winter Institute is designed specifically for independent booksellers, and it helped me understand how important these people and institutions are, not only to my career but also to our culture. The good news is that the buzz at Winter Institute this year was that, contrary to predictions of a few years ago, independent booksellers are not going the way of the dinosaur. They are alive and thriving.
As an author, I’m happy when people buy my books. Often that happens through Amazon, and I certainly cannot complain when they go to Barnes and Noble, who were so supportive of The Bookman’s Tale. However, I will admit to being happiest when readers buy my books through their local independent bookseller. I was thrilled at Winter Institute to meet so many booksellers who said, “Thank you for writing books we can sell.” Because the fact of the matter is that these people do more than just list books in a database and send out orders from a warehouse.
First and foremost they read. I was amazed at the breadth and depth of reading that all the booksellers I met do. Not only had almost all of them read my books, they were carrying around giant bags of galleys to take home and read. Independent booksellers are constantly learning, and constantly searching for the best books to recommend to their customers. While Barnes and Noble promoted The Bookman’s Tale in a major way for six weeks and Amazon took whatever orders came their way, independent booksellers continue to hand sell that title two years after it was published. As authors we know that sales in the first week and the first month are absolutely critical to the success of a book (and to our chances of selling the next one), but without independent booksellers, these might be our only sales. The indies keep good books alive.
I write this column now because tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day. All the things that make independent booksellers great for authors make them fantastic for readers. Want to know what book you should read next—ask your independent bookseller. Want to meet the author of a favorite book—most of my author events (and everyone else’s) take place at independent bookstores. Want to walk into a store where the best books have been hand chosen for you and you don’t have to wade through mountains of dreck? Your indie is a great bet.
So why not head out to your local independent bookseller tomorrow. There are some special items for sale for Independent Bookstore Day (like a boxed set of books about books including The Bookman’s Tale that puts me in some very nice company). There is probably a warm cup of coffee and some good conversation. There is definitely someone who will listen to you and recommend your next read based on your personal taste. And when you meet that person, do something for me. Say, “Thank you!”