A few months ago, author Sherman Alexie wrote an open letter to fellow authors. His letter began,
“Hello, hello, you gorgeous book nerds,
Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores. I want all of us (you and you and especially you) to spend an amazing day hand-selling books at your local independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday (that’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30 this year, so you know it’s a huge weekend for everyone who, you know, wants to make a living).”
He called on fellow authors to get out and share their love of reading, and celebrate the importance of indies to their communities and to the continued success of authors themselves. In an NPR interview, he said, “My career happened because the booksellers at independent bookstores hand-sold my book.” This is true for so many literary careers; enthusiastic indie booksellers raved about a new title by an unknown author, spreading the word to their communities and to other booksellers, until the lapping waves become a tidal wave of public awareness.
Many authors responded to the call, and I threw out a call to them on Facebook to share some of their experiences working at indies this weekend. By all accounts, they had a wonderful time! We would love to hear from all of you authors who participated, so feel free to add yours in the comments section!
Karen Romano Young — I was at Byrd’s Books in Bethel, Connecticut, admiring some of the surprise successes: a little book called Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed with beautiful pictures by Barbara McClintock, as well as Tibetan ‘singing bowls’ and the music and writing of Janet Ettele. Such a lovely store!
Jeanette Larson — I was pleased by the displays in The Book Spot and by the number of people who showed up. The owner said there was actually a line at opening! Traffic was pretty consistent throughout the morning. People seemed to appreciate having us there to give gift suggestions for gifts. I hand sold a couple of copies of A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert as well as books by a few of the other authors who were there. And a copy or two of my book…. ;-]
Jo Knowles — I hand-sold Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel The Odyssey to a young reader who then convinced her mom to let her start reading right away instead of waiting until Christmas.
Jeanie Wogaman — Talk to Erica Perl. The Obama family came in to shop while she was signing her books at Politics & Prose Bookstore. [Ed. note: I did! And Erica led me to her blog post about it, POTUS & Prose. It’s fun reading, and has pictures of the President!]
Anne Broyles — I loved thinking of the best questions to ask a customer looking for “a special book” for a particular child, and was glad I’ve read so many picture books (most requests were for younger kids). My favorite suggestion was to an uncle who rarely sees his 2-year-old nephew, but wanted a book they would enjoy reading together and the kid could look at on his own. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild was a big hit with the uncle, and hopefully, the nephew when he opens it on Christmas. (At Bestsellers Cafe in Medford, Mass.)
Wendell Minor — Florence and I spent two and a half happy hours “working” in our favorite Indie, The Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, CT. Our friend Marilyn Singer was also there signing her latest book, Tallulah’s Nutcracker. We feel very lucky to have such a wonderful bookstore in our small New England town. Small Business Saturday was a very busy day at the Hickory Stick. It was great to meet and greet so many customers, and help them select books for children on their holiday shopping list.
I have to say that our Indie is the heart and soul of our community, and it was our joy and pleasure to be part of a special day!
Cynthia Lord — At DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, I helped a reader find The Fault in Our Stars and had great conversations with all ages of readers with all different interests. One lady came to the counter to ask if we thought Shel Silverstein’s Falling Up would be a good choice for her to read to an elderly former first grade teacher who now has Alzheimer’s. She had liked Where the Sidewalk Ends, and we said, “Oh yes.” She bought it and it touches me to imagine them sharing the rhythm and joy of those poems together. It was a good reminder to me that wonderful children’s books are really for all of us. I gift-wrapped, too! And I had a funny moment when a mom said to her 3 year old, “OH! We love Hot Rod Hamster at our house, don’t we? Do you see this lady here? It’s her book!” The little girl looked shocked and said, “No. That’s MY book.” I think she was afraid I was going to come to her house and take her book away!
Leda Schubert — Bear Pond Books in Montpelier had a star-studded cast of eager booksellers: Tom Greene, M.T. Anderson, Linda Urban, Howard Norman, Howard Mosher, Sarah Stewart Taylor, me, and another author. Most of us were fairly incompetent, but Linda, formerly a professional bookseller, set an impossibly high standard. I was upstairs, but Senator Patrick Leahy came in downstairs to buy a NY Times. Fun was had by all.
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb — At Parnassus Books in Nashville, I gift-wrapped several books (and the customers were thankfully very forgiving of my skills!) My favorite was the family who purchased two copies of Jessica E. Young’s My Blue Is Happy, and the young girl had to read it one last time before I wrapped them up for her cousins.
Catherine Thimmesh — At the amazing Addendum in St. Paul, Minn., I was stumped by a young girl who wanted realistic fiction. I suggested 5 or 6 of my favorites — she had read them all! Finally, I thought of Rose Under Fire, and backtracked to Code Name Verity which was a hit and a sale! The funniest was a woman’s expression upon seeing Battle Bunny which I insisted was perfect for her 7-year-old boy who was a reluctant reader. I had to explain the whole concept and walk her through the book and finally she got the joke and decided it would be perfect. Most amazing were owners Marcus and Katherine who knew every title of every book and exactly where to find it. Great fun!
Kelly Barson — I was an honorary bookseller at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with Sarah Perry (aka S.J. Lomas) and Shanda Trent. Later Philip and Erin Stead were there. I had several favorite moments. The first was when I asked a girl what she liked to read and she said books about girls today (not future or past). I showed her my book, a contemporary YA, 45 Pounds (More or Less). She read the back and put it back on the shelf with a shrug. I cracked up and then sold her a post-apocalyptic scary story (In the After by Demitria Lunetta), which she was excited about. When I asked another girl what she liked to read, she seemed distracted and not interested in answering. Finally, she said, “I thought there were going to be authors here today.” When I told her I was, she asked for my book, hugged it, and asked for a signature. I later learned that she’d just come from spending the night in the hospital. She was adorable. I also suggested other friends’ books to eager readers. The whole morning was a blast. I loved it! But it’s hard work, too. Real-life booksellers are my heroes!
Awww. We are mighty fond of you real-life authors, too, without whom our stores would just be big collections of blank pads of paper and our minds less nuanced, provoked, enlightened, enriched, and entertained. Thank you so much for sharing your passion with your communities this weekend!