Tag Archive for: Independent Bookstores

Everything Old is New Again

This is my first blog post as part of the Stiletto Gang. I’m excited, thrilled, and honored to be asked to be part of this wonderful group of awesome writers.
I lived in Memphis, Tenn. (Home of the Blues/Birthplace of Rock and Roll) for about 18 years before returning home to Charleston, South Carolina in 2016. When I moved to Memphis, I did group sales at a family entertainment center. We were members of a local association called Metro Memphis Attractions Association. Being a part of Double M Double A helped me acclimate quickly to the area and visit all of the historic, entertainment, and educational attractions. I’d been a tour guide in Charleston, so this was right up my alley.
In Charleston we pride ourselves on being the first to do and have most everything, you know like the first female newspaper publisher, first golf course, first municipal college, first museum, the list goes on and on. For my entire life I thought we invented the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain. Imagine my surprise upon visiting the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis and discovering that the former owner of the mansion started The Pig.

My favorite Pig cup.
Clarence Saunders opened his first Piggly Wiggly grocery store in 1916. Before then, shoppers would hand clerks a list and the clerks did the shopping, while the client waited for their order to be filled. When Saunders opened his store in Memphis, Tenn., it was the first true self-service grocery store. He laid out his store in a sort of loop that allowed for a greater variety of items to be visible and bought. Saunders received his patent for the self-service shopping in early 1917. 
Saunders may or may not be surprised to see his concepts still in use since he was a forward thinker. However, here we are in 2020 back to shoppers sending in their lists to clerks who do the shopping for them and bag up the items, leaving the customers to only ensure they have proper payment when picking up their groceries and or having the groceries delivered directly to their door. 
Saunders only had a couple of years of formal schooling and he became self-educated via reading. Which segues into the correlation of grocery shopping and bookstore evolution similarities, somehow, for me at least. 
Amazon has only been around since 1994 but is the giant of the bookselling (and everything else) industry. Jeff Bezos has put many an independent, and quite a few big-box brick-and-mortar stores out of business. And yet, in the Charleston area we have five independent bookstores: Blue Bicycle (downtown Charleston), Buxton Books (downtown Charleston), Main Street Reads (Summerville), Itinerate Literate (North Charleston – it used to be a bookmoblie store, hence the name), and The Turning Page (Goose Creek). Plus, I recently had someone tell me that an independent bookstore will open just over the Cooper River bridge in Mt. Pleasant in the near future. Take that Amazon! (just kidding)
I enjoy visiting and purchasing from independent bookstores. I dig their energy, their book signings, coffee talks, helpful staff, and book clubs. 

Itinerant Literate hosts “Get Lit Bookclub” where you dine at a local restaurant and the small plates of food incorporate the meals present in the book, plus you get a serving of wine with each course. They sell out monthly. 

Buxton holds book talks in their store and in conjunction with the Charleston Library Society next door to them. Buxton is home to Tour Charleston where all the tours are book-based. (Full disclosure: I occasionally give their ghost tours.)

I’m excited to write books and have signings in these local stores. I’m truly hopeful they all succeed. 
And when I plan ahead, a rarity indeed, I love ordering my groceries online. 

Have you noticed this trend of returning to the way we were? In what other ways are we going back to the way things were done once upon a time

You can find out more about Clarence Saunders and the museum collection at www.memphismuseum.org, and the Charleston Library Society at https://charlestonlibrarysociety.org

To learn more about Charleston, SC independent bookstores visit https://bluebicyclebooks.com, https://www.buxtonbooks.comhttps://www.itinerantliteratebooks.comhttps://mainstreetreads.com, and https://turningpagebookshop.com. You can find a book-based tour at www.tourcharleston.com

Support Your Local Muse

by Bethany Maines

Last time I blogged about identifying ways of marketing a book in preparation for making a marketing plan. My list, to recap, was…

Tip #1: Identify Marketing Message Distribution Channels
(aka Think of ways to promote yourself and your book)
• Live Audience – signings, guest speaking, launch party
• Internet Presence – website, facebook, twitter, youtube, goodreads, linkedin
• Internet Ads – Google AdWords, facebook ads, ads on websites
• Email – newsletters, e-fliers, personal email
• Video – book trailers, promo videos
• TV – news, reality shows, talk shows
• Radio – programs, ads
• Written Word – “expert” articles, reviews of other books, blogging, guest blogging, books, short stories
• Print – newspapers, magazines, print ads, fliers, posters, mailers
• Word of Mouth – book clubs, fans, bookstore staff, reviews

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote a piece about the fact that he didn’t really care if independent bookstores failed. (Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller) He made some salient points about Amazon strengthening US readership and book sales (and annoying hipster sales staff), but when came to the idea that independent bookstores don’t offer authors anything compared to Amazon, I had to shake my head. As a reader, I think bookstores are good things in general, but as an author, bookstore signings are the fastest, easiest way to talk to people about my books and to me that equals sales. Bookstores are an essential part of the writing economy and an essential part of every local economy (To quote the Washington state economist, “Please go buy things.”). So needless to say, I will not be following Mr. Manjoo’s advice and I will be keeping my relationship with bookstores strong (aka buying books and shooting the breeze with staff).

To me talking to readers is my primary sales tool and one that is happily free. Other tools, like social media, are very important, but more secondary. Some of the secondary tools, like having a Facebook page or twittering are free, but many items like ads, book trailers, and giveaways (like book marks), all cost money. So in determining my marketing plan, I will be assessing a “distribution channel” for three things: how much time will it take, how much will it cost, and what will be my ROI (Return On Investment). A Facebook page is fast, free, and has a return of increased awareness and legitimacy. Facebook ads? Definitely not free, and the return depends on many variables. Better stop and consider.

Of course, as I look for ways to market my books I should keep in mind the fact that a marketing goal goes nowhere if I don’t meet the writer’s prime directive (no, I never watched Star Trek, and no, I don’t totally love everything that Data ever did including those two episodes of Night Court, shh, go away now): To be a writer, one must write.

Better Late Than Never

I thought I could do this while still in Sedona but Internet access was hard to find in our campground, Sedona is a beautiful place. I heard a quote that describes it,”God made the Grand Canyon for everyone to enjoy but He made Sedona as his dwelling place.”

Besides sightseeing, I gave two talks which were well-publicized and attended. The first was about promoting on the Internet, which I gave at the library.

The second was at Kris Neri’s Well Red Coyote bookstore. I’ve known Kris for a long time and was so glad to see her. “Working with Small Publishers” was my topic. I’m always surprised by how many have published with places like Publish America when there are other independent publishers to choose from. I always give handouts and answer questions.

What does surprise me is how few bought books, not just from me but from the bookstore. Indpendent bookstores are in danger, and the only way to save them is to support them by buying books, Oh, I did sell books, but it was a small percentage of the people who attended.

Whenever I attend something like this I always buy the author’s book to support them and the bookstore. Years ago, before I was published I did it to learn about the author’s writing and the publisher.

Next week, photos of Sedona, I promise.


The Book Matchmaker

Sally MacPherson, an independent bookstore owner from Portland, Oregon guest blogs today.

Hi, I’m Sally the book matchmaker. Thanks, Stiletto Gang, for asking me to guest blog! Hmmm. What to say….

Hey, I’m a bookseller. Maybe I should talk about selling books. Better yet, I think I’ll talk about buying books. Recently I came across a survey of where people buy books. The percentage of books purchased in grocery stores was 3%. That’s not too surprising; lots of grocery chains now stock books.

But then I saw this: The percentage of books purchased from independent bookstores was…wait for it now…also 3%. Wow. That number floored me. Chain bookstores accounted for more than 30% of sales, and the Internet rang up another 20%.

So, who cares? Well, the most immediate benefit to shopping at a local independent store is that the money stays local, as opposed to being sent to corporate headquarters. More important to me as a reader is that I don’t want to see my reading choices shrink as books get squeezed through an increasingly narrow consumer channel. If the majority of books are sold through chains such as Barnes & Noble and Costco, those vendors will have a whopping huge say in what is published. And that scares the pants off me – as a bookseller AND as a reader – and it should give pause to anyone who is or wants to be a writer.

Why? Isn’t it better for writers to have lots of places their books can be sold, including drug stores and grocery stores? Certainly, there are some positives to that distribution model. But in most cases the people making those book-buying decisions are not booksellers and aren’t likely to buy with an eye to nurturing new talent or even to satisfying specific local tastes. They will be attracted to the sure bets – the John Grishams and Stephen Kings of the world. And they aren’t likely to sit on books that don’t sell quickly.

At our store we labor over publishers’ catalogs, thinking of individual customers and our neighborhood as a whole, and selecting books that we think will strike a chord with our customers—even if it’s a chord of disagreement. And when customers come into the store looking for something to read, we can tell them about specific books—why we bought them and why they resonate with us. New authors have a better chance of building an audience when their books are sold with the zeal of a passionate bookseller than they do with a stack of books at Costco, a grocery store, or a large bookstore chain

When a customer comes into our store, my goal isn’t to pitch the latest bestseller from a rainmaker author, or to sell a book that the publisher has frontloaded with incentive discounts. It’s to find out what makes those customers tick, and then find the books that will resonate with them. And then to do it again and again as they come back. I love introducing new authors to receptive readers and watching those authors build a following.

After pondering this, I decided to revisit my own buying habits. For instance, lately I’ve gotten in the habit of buying music on-line through iTunes. But I’ve come to understand that, just like I don’t want to see independent bookstores disappear, I also want independent music stores to stick around. So, last weekend I treated myself to a mini spree at a local independent music store.

And then I needed some parts to fix my toilet. Typically I would head to the large chain store selling hardware / automotive / plumbing / groceries / furniture / clothing / music / whatever. This time I found a local independent hardware store and got what I needed there. And I had a great shopping experience.

So now I’m rethinking everything I buy—not just books and music and “parts,” but also food and clothes and coffee and pet supplies and everything else. Because I’ve realized that where you buy something makes as much of a statement about what you believe and support as what you buy.

Sally MacPherson