The last Saturday in April is always Independent Bookstore Day (IBD), and if you’re not involved with it, this might be your time to jump in.
Every independent and self-publishing author knows that when it comes to writing books, it’s often a solitary effort. But our lives as writers and authors aren’t just one big lesson in solitude—even when it feels like that. Sometimes, if we are fortunate, we have our support systems: loved ones, our writer compadres, the writing community, and more. But our community isn’t just a bunch of folks on social media. They are our actual communities, our towns and cities and neighborhoods. Our local library and schools. The coffee shop, where the barista has an uncanny sixth sense about when to sneak an extra shot of espresso in your latte and saves you a fresh scone when they’re running low.
Our community is also our local bookshops.
Chances are, you’ve already browsed through your local bookstore more often than you can count. The staff probably know you, and even if they don’t, you can always count on them for an incredible recommendation and that warm recognition of a fellow book nerd. Like libraries, bookstores are our home away from home.
That’s enough reason to love them, but for authors, that love goes a little deeper. Independent bookstores are not only often the cornerstones of their communities—actively engaging in local events and also directly with their customers—but the staff are always happy to support and talk up their local authors, many (if not most) of whom they know personally. Even high-profile authors make an effort to support their local bookstores, knowing full well that the relationship is mutually affectionate . . . and beneficial.
For many authors, your local indie bookstores aren’t just a place to buy and sell books. They’re a place to meet people, to meet new readers. They can be your favorite place to do a book signing or reading and actively contribute to your community. And chances are good that once you’ve created a relationship with the staff, they’ll chat up your book when a customer comes in looking for recommendations. If you’ve done your due diligence, they should even have some signed copies nearby.
“Bookstores make fabulous venues for book launches and book talks,” points out Debbie Young in Are Bookstores Worth It for Indie Authors? “Holding events in a bookstore will help you build a close relationship with the bookseller, increasing your understanding of their clientele and their way of working, and giving them the opportunity to learn more about you and your books, making it more likely they will stock your books at other times.”
Unlike corporate book chains—who, bless them, play their own part in an indie author’s career—indie bookshops have the option to carry whatever books they’d like, regardless of whether or not they were published by a major author. And one of the strongest marketing resources an author can have is a bookseller who is willing to sell the book for them.
“Booksellers also sell a lot of books that are not from their regular stock,” writes Young. “Look behind the trade counter in any bookshop and you will usually find a huge shelf of ‘specials’—those they have ordered to fulfill one-off orders for customers requesting books not in their usual stock. Thus not being routinely stocked on a store’s shelf does not mean a particular book is never sold in that store.”
But bookstores aren’t just about selling books; they’re about championing for books. Indie bookshops are also part of the American Booksellers Association (ABA), who are fighting for books and authors every day, whether they’re taking a stand against banning books, advocating for diversity and representation, promoting shopping local, doing their part to prevent bookseller monopolies, or offering advice for small book businesses.
“Indie bookstores are the heart of our industry, and we must continue to support them in the same way that they support and champion books,” said New York Times bestselling author and 2022’s Independent Bookstore Day spokesperson Angie Thomas. Thomas, who penned the critically successful—and reportedly “controversial” due to its themes of systemic racism, trauma, and police violence—YA novel The Hate U Give. “With the immense impact that indie stores have made on my career, I couldn’t be more honored to be the ambassador for this year’s Independent Bookstore Day.”
So how can you support indie bookstores? Buy books and attend events. If you have a a loyal group of readers, think about having a signing or reading at a few indie shops. And start hitting social media. Find your favorite bookstores online, follow them, and engage with them. Aside from being a great way to increase their customer base (and ensuring their survival), it’s also a great way to—incidentally—engage with new readers.
The ABA also has a few requests if you want to help out:
- Use the hashtag #IndependentBookstoreDay in your posts
- Use photos and images from their website.
- Make sure your followers can easily find participating stores.
- Start conversations about indie bookstores and what they mean to you or the community, or even what you love best about them.
- Offer unique IBD store items and talk them up. (Didn’t get anything ready in time for this year? Start planning for 2023!)
“Get a bookseller on your side, and you have a fabulous ambassador who is face-to-face with book buyers all day every day and who is ace at hand-selling,” says Young. “We can all learn a lot from booksellers!”
Indie bookstores deserve not only our love but also our support. This Saturday, authors can return some of that love as we all throw a bit of a party for them. Maybe cake and paper don’t ideally mix, but who can refuse either?
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.