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Indies First: Me and My Indie, Today and Every Day

If you care about your community, you should care about shopping local. If you care about the economy, you should care about shopping local. If you care about books and the people who write them, you should care about shopping local.
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For me, Thanksgiving weekend has always been a comfy cocoon of an event, a four-day haze of friends and family lazing and laughing our way through a tryptophan-soaked festival of do-nothingness. I revel in the lack of expectations associated with my favorite holiday. I am not a Black Friday shopper, as I do not possess the requisite bloodlust. In fact, I conspire never to leave whatever house I've landed in for the weekend. It's a herculean effort to worm me out of my pajamas.

However, when I got an email from my local independent bookstore asking if I would volunteer as a bookseller on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I knew I would wrench myself out from between the sofa cushions, dust off the stuffing remnants, scrub the dried gravy from my chin and venture out into the consumer maelstrom that is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Why am I doing this? Why shall I abandon a Tupperware tower of leftovers and the joys of an elastic waistband? I will do it for my partners in nerdalicious bookdom, Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe. I will do it for Indies First.

Indies First is a nationwide event during which authors volunteer as booksellers at their local independent bookstore. Spearheaded by author Sherman Alexie and with administrative and online support from the American Booksellers Association, this year's event takes place on Saturday, November 30, also known as Small Business Saturday. Back in September, Alexie wrote an open letter to authors urging all to be a "superhero for independent bookstores." For Alexie, the idea for Indies First grew out of a conversation and relationship with Janis Segress, co-owner of Seattle's Queen Anne Book Company, where Alexie himself has hand-sold books.

As a kind of subset of Small Business Saturday, Indies First makes perfect sense. Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday fills a shopping void from more than just a calendar perspective. While Black Friday delights in Big-Box rampaging and Cyber Monday is about web scouring, Small Business Saturday encourages walking into a locally owned store and supporting your community. Egads, you might even have a conversation with someone! For independent bookstores in particular, that rarified market space--between big box and online--is where they live and breathe. Space is getting tight, but it's a space that authors and indie booksellers can grow together.

I've been incredibly lucky to land in the Malaprop's universe. In the more than 30 years since owner and founder Emoke B'Racz opened Malaprop's, it has served downtown Asheville, North Carolina, in countless ways. Malaprop's offers readings and recommendations, sure, and also promotes book clubs and supports local charities and arts organizations. Malaprop's gets it, from big picture vision down to small scale get-to-know-you interaction. The booksellers there do their best to support newbie and self-published authors while still hosting some of the most recognizable names in literature. They are arbiters of the joy of reading, not of some preconceived notion of taste. The store is full of discussion, meet-ups, poetry, and the occasional birthday party for 90-year-old regulars. It is a part of the community in a way larger and online competitors cannot be.

For authors, too, the independent bookstore occupies a sweet spot, one to be savored not just during Indies First, but year 'round. When my book The Girls of Atomic City came out earlier this year, it became my first New York Times bestseller. But while the book was an instant bestseller, I have not been. Malaprop's was supportive of my earlier titles as well, gave space to a freelancers group my husband, author Joseph D'Agnese, and I used to host, and listened as I lamented revisions and tried to manage my expectations as yet another book was about to come out into the world. As a reader and writer, I value my relationship with Malaprop's in more ways than I ever could have imagined when I first went in and introduced myself. I talk to Alsace Walentine, the store's events coordinator, not just about what I'm doing but about what other authors do, what approaches work better or worse, what booksellers are looking for and how best to promote.

We face similar frustrations, authors and independent booksellers, as we work to thrive in an industry-- publishing--that can feel at once perpetually shifting and hopelessly stuck. We bond together, doing what we can to support each other in this wacky world of words. So when The Girls of Atomic City was a hit, Malaprop's shared in that success with me. Launching my book among those familiar stacks felt special, because they had, in different ways, been along for the bumpy ride. When I get requests from across the country and even some other parts of the world for autographed copies of any of my books, I direct everyone (personally, or via my website) to Malaprop's. Offering signed copies via your local independent bookstore is something every author can do for both their readers and their bookseller. Because seriously--I don't see authors taking a sharpie to e-readers catching on.

So why should you, dear reader and shopper, care about any of this?

If you care about your community, you should care about shopping local. If you care about the economy, you should care about shopping local. If you care about books and the people who write them, you should care about shopping local. Each and every day we vote with our pocketbooks and the benefit of Indies First extends well beyond the pocketbooks of the author and the bookseller, and well beyond Small Business Saturday.

"When you shop small and local, more than 50 percent of the money you spend stays in your community," explains Malaprop's general manager Linda Barrett. "By supporting your local indie on Small Business Saturday, you directly support your friends and neighbors."

Indies First is a chance for authors to support the bookstores that have supported them. More than 1,000 authors at more than 400 bookstores in the United States will be participating. Cities like Venice, Italy, and Geneva, Switzerland are joining in as well. So while you're out and about this holiday weekend, stop into a local bookstore. If you see a befuddled bookseller, it might be an author in disguise. We are not always comfortable promoting ourselves, so you may hear us singing the praises of books our friends have written. We will of course happily sign books of our own as well. Ideally, the bookstores get sales, the authors get sales, customers get autographed books and a lot more money stays in your town. Pay it forward, and pay it back to the community.

To find an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.

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