A couple of weeks ago, Austin author Chris Barton emailed to see if we could use a fresh infusion of signed stock and to let us know that he had proofs of Ekua Holmes’ gorgeous art for their upcoming Barbara Jordan picture book biography What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? to show us. Of course we were thrilled! We love seeing what Chris is working on. We’ve gotten to know Chris really well over the years, hosting him for release parties, educator panels, and even collaborating on a diverse book curation program together.
His email actually reminded me of the very first time I met Chris. Years ago, he came up to me at an event for a fellow SCBWI author to see if I wanted to look at an f&g of his first book, The Day-Glo Brothers, the story of the brothers who invented paint that glowed. I started thinking about different ways we have first connected with authors and how we might help make that interaction easier for local authors who are debuts or just new to town.
Today, our kids events coordinator and I sat down with Samantha Clark and Lucia DiStefano, both debut authors with upcoming releases: A Boy, the Boat, and the Beast from Simon & Schuster and Borrowed from Elephant Rock Books. They wanted to just connect with us in advance of their book releases, give us a peek at some book swag, and talk about pre-order and party plans. We know Samantha because we’ve worked with her for years in her role as SCBWI’s Regional Advisor, but we hadn’t met Lucia yet and were so glad Samantha brought her along.
As a community bookstore, I firmly believe that including the voices that make our city unique and vibrant makes our store better. While we can’t afford to carry every book on every local author’s deep backlist if sales wane, I’m always excited to celebrate their new projects. The fact of the matter is, though, that if I don’t connect with authors personally, I may not remember they are local. That matters, not only in terms of my book orders, but also because I won’t think to reach out to them if a great opportunity arises—whether for a special event or a festival line-up or some educator outreach.
At BookPeople, we say that Austin is “A Community Bound by Books,” and local authors are clearly allies in that pursuit. But Lucia mentioned today that as a new author she felt nervous about contacting us on her own out of fear of bothering us, and I get that. I know that, from the bookseller side of things, I have sometimes been unsure of (or even flat out misunderstood) authors’ perspectives at times myself. That’s probably inevitable because we’re not in exactly the same business, but the rewards of building understanding and fostering long-term relationships are huge.
The SCBWI has been an invaluable vehicle for facilitating those connections over the years. The Austin chapter of the SCBWI is huge and very active. We host their monthly meetings as well as release parties for many of their members, and I’ve gotten to know a lot of them over the years. But we’ve never built in a good opportunity for new SCBWI authors to connect with us without having to navigate the anxiety of cold emailing someone they don’t know. Samantha and I brainstormed out some ideas today, and this July we’re going to test out a new bookseller intro and q&a for Austin’s SCBWI author class of 2018. If it works well, we’ll make it an annual thing. We’ll obviously emphasize that this is a great opportunity for new authors to tell us about their books, but authors new and old can come and ask us anything at all—general questions about bookselling, best practices for working with us on book launches, ideas for how to help promote their books between releases, or anything on their minds about working with a bookstore like ours. I hope it’s the start of some beautiful friendships.