Last week, I attended the American Booksellers Winter Institute, which is the conference where booksellers gather to see what’s new for 2011. I am very very grateful to have been asked by my new publisher, Algonquin Books, to attend the event. The Winter Institute was a really great event. You know how everybody is always saying the book is dead? Well, it’s hard to believe that when you’re in a room full of booksellers, brimming with excitement about the written word, written on paper.
Being there was quite an education. I have blogged before about why you should buy your books from independent bookstores, but after attending the Winter Institute, I am more committed. Booksellers are women and men who help connect readers with the best books. They attend this Institute to meet the writers, to see what we’re all about. One woman said to me on the elevator, “I want to get your book in people’s hands.” I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t want to seem crazy.
But seriously. The indies represent resistance to the homogenization of our country. They call them “indies” because they are independent. Buying decisions are made in-house, not from some corporate entity that knows nothing about the community. You may remember my big box store horror story—I was in Arizona and I went to a big chain to sign my stock. I was told that they wouldn’t carry my book because there are not enough black people in Arizona. This decision didn’t come from the community, but from some big corporation that underestimated me—and the local citizens. The independents in Arizona carried my book because they know that book people read.
The economy is tough right now and I know that the chains offer deep discounts. It’s tricky because technically a big chain offering 30% off is selling the exact same merchandise as an indie that sell the book at full retail. However, although the book is the same, what the indie offers is a level of quality service that you can’t really see. Indie booksellers act as curators. They read everything to bring you books they love that you will love too. (I know you have heard this before, but if you were at the conference last week, you would see how true this is.)
I get lots of email from folks complaining that they can’t find my books in the big box stores. They say all they see are books with half-naked women on the cover. Who is making the decision that these are the only books that African American readers want to see? Not the indies.
I know that sometimes the one-click convenience is irresistable. But please make a point to buy from the indies, too. We need them. And right now, more than ever, they need us.
In the comments, please leave the name of your local bookstore. And if you love it, tell us why.