Last weekend, I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon the way many authors did nationwide, working at one of my local independent bookstores, Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minnesota. It was part of Small Business Saturday and the Indies First campaign by the American Booksellers Association, designed to get people offline and out shopping at their local businesses, namely independent bookstores. There was a fantastic turnout -- the place was packed all day -- and I had a great time talking about books with the customers and recommending my favorites to them based on books they've loved.
It got me thinking. Indies First shouldn't be confined to Small Business Saturday. It should be every day. Here are 10 reasons why you should shop at your local independent bookstore this holiday season -- and forever after.
1. You're supporting your local economy.
People who own indie bookstores and the people who work there are your neighbors trying their best to make a small business succeed. By spending your money there, you're keeping it in the community, and vibrant small businesses make vibrant towns -- even if your town is the size of New York City.
2. You'll get great service.
Booksellers aren't doing it for the money. Trust me, I was a bookseller years ago. I didn't get paid very much but I loved the job. It was so relaxing, being around books all day. Shelving them was like a mediation, making them look just so, fitting the new titles in to the right place, facing out books I thought customers should notice. That's why people work in bookstores -- for the love of it. Which leads me to...
3. Browsing in a bookstore, you'll find titles you had never heard of.
Booksellers know their stuff, and they really love it when people ask them for recommendations. That was the best part of the job for me, when a customer would ask if I could recommend anything similar to this book or that book. It was so much fun to introduce readers to new titles and new authors. It was like opening up a hidden part of the world for them. As a customer, I love it, too. At every bookstore I visited this year doing readings of The Vanishing, I asked booksellers for recommendations based on the types of books they know I write. I think I'm pretty plugged into the book world, but they put titles in my hands that I had never heard of -- and now love. That's what booksellers can do for you.
4. Children's story hours.
Introducing your child to the love of reading. Enough said.
5. You can read e-books and still support your local store.
I get that lots of people love their e-readers. I have an iPad and I download books when I'm traveling just for the sake of convenience, but I much prefer the experience of reading an actual book. With pages to turn. And a smell. And a cover I can touch. But, if you'd rather read on a device, read away, my friend. Many, if not most, bookstores have a way for you to buy your e-books via their websites. Kindle only supports Amazon-purchased books, but most of the other e-readers are compatible. If you're one of the people who loves the convenience and instant gratification of downloading a book while you're sitting at home in your jammies wanting something good to read, try doing it via your local bookstore's website next time.
I've visited a lot of bookstores in the years I've been an author, and most of them have cats or dogs on staff. There's just something about browsing through the shelves and finding a cat or dog curled up in the corner that makes me feel at home. One bookstore in Minneapolis, Wild Rumpus, has Amelia (a chinchilla), Daniel Handler, Trini Lopez and Sumo (cats), and Ferdinand and Doodle (ferrets). I would take my son there nearly every weekend when he was small, and he thought it was a magical place. I still do.
7. Food and booze.
Many local bookstores have coffee shops or restaurants attached, and it's a fun way to make a day out of your shopping trip. One of my favorites, Redbery Books in Cable, Wisconsin, is attached to Rivers Eatery, another local business that specializes in wood-fired pizza, fine wine and microbrews. If there's a better snowy afternoon than browsing through the bookstore, buying a couple of great books and then sitting down at a table to sip a glass of wine and read while a nice man is making me a pizza, I don't know of it.
8. Bookstores are about community and ambiance.
They host book clubs. They contribute to the local schools. They're places where you can run into friends and neighbors, or curl up in a cozy corner to read. And they're also beautiful book-filled rooms, each of them unique, with a character and feel all their own. I've never been into a bookstore I didn't fall in love with.
9. You can only meet your favorite authors at a bookstore, not online.
And that goes both ways -- I can't meet my readers online, either. I tour a lot. I love meeting my readers and hearing their insights and questions about my books. I still marvel at the fact that people I don't know are reading my books, I love answering their questions and sharing the stories of what inspired me to write my spooky, gothic novels, and I love all of the ghost stories people tell me wherever I go. It is truly an honor to stand in a roomful of people who have come out of their homes on a chilly night to hear me read the words I have written.
10. If bookstores go away, your favorite authors might, too.
Oh, the Stephen Kings of the world will be just fine, but for new authors or those who haven't yet made the New York Times Bestseller list, it is booksellers who put our books into the hands of readers. Independent booksellers are the reason many of your favorite authors have ongoing careers -- me included. Booksellers create the buzz and excitement around books nobody has heard of before. That's how my career caught fire. When my first book was published, nobody but my parents was walking into a bookstore asking for that novel by Wendy Webb, because nobody had heard of me. But the booksellers had. I was fortunate enough to be named to the IndieNext list, which recommends new books to indie bookstores, and booksellers spread the word, getting my book into the hands of their customers. Three books later, those customers, turned loyal readers, ARE walking into bookstores specifically to get my new novel, but it never would have happened without the support of independent bookstores. I make my living with words but I don't have any that can properly express my gratitude for that.
So this holiday, and every day, let's shop at our local bookstores. I will personally thank you for it when I come to yours.