Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Indie Bookstores Rule

by guest blogger Dave Richardson    
Blue Marble Books serves readers in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati. 
It’s interesting, and somewhat ironic, that SWAGGER writer, Kathy Wiechman, contacted me to write a guest column about independent bookstores at this time. Interesting, because I’ve been busy trying to convince some larger publishers that our store, Blue Marble Books, is a great place to have new and established authors visit. Ironic, because a few days ago one of the premier and veteran kids bookstores, Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, Michigan, closed its doors for good.

When I’d heard about this store closing, my heart went out for the owners who are, in no uncertain terms, legends in the business. My second reaction, as one might think, was not a fear that this could happen to us – although any of us in the business know this is a real possibility each and every day – it was a sense of sadness for all the kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and writers who would be losing an invaluable source of information, inspiration, and help.

So what makes this closing such a great loss? What difference will it make if their customers take their business to a big box store or online? After all, in the end, books are being sold, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s not that simple, really. So, I thought I’d break it down for you.

Kids and Parents
When a child comes into our store, we’re right there. We ask them if they need help, if we can show them to a specific book, or if we can help them find something they will love. We have a strong knowledge of children’s books, usually don’t have to consult the computer to know where the book is or who wrote it, and can offer you alternative choices if the book is not available. One of my favorite questions to kids is “What is the title of the last book you loved?”

We’re experts at matching the right kid with the right book.
Two of our wonderful customers!
And we’re experts at finding that “pink book with the girl on front who loses her best friend to a new girl in school.” Yep, that was an actual request in our store. And we found it for them.

Because most indies hire employees who are readers, who have a sense of the community, and often a background in education or library sciences, they can help parents in choosing books appropriate for their child. I have no problem with telling a parent that the book their child chose might be something the child might enjoy when he or she is older.

Teachers and Librarians
The same is true for this group as well. More likely than not, teachers and librarians are working on a recommendation or requests from a student when they order books. An indie employee can inform a teacher or librarian of the content of the book, so they are not put in a difficult situation. Conversely, we can also handpick their next read aloud, the perfect book to hand to that non-reader, the book that will make all their students stay up late to finish it, or the newest book by an unknown, new author that will melt your heart by the time you finish it.
Blue Marble Books staffer, Betsy, is also a kindergarten teacher.
We also put out fires. One of our weekly events is the frantic call from a teacher who didn’t realize how little time there was before they needed this class set of books, or this author would be coming in to visit, or they just got an email from an online vendor saying the book which was marked as “in stock” won’t be arriving for three weeks. Often, after the emergency is solved, we hear “I should have come to you first.”

Finally, I think Indies are key for this group of people. Truly.

And they are key for us.

Because we are small, and think of the store more as a home than as work, it’s not uncommon that the stores become an anchor for the writing community in the area. Any given week, we have local authors and illustrators stopping by to sign books, buy books, or just to chat. Their books are kept in stock, usually signed, and are recommended by our staff.
Author Heather Henson signs copies of her MG book, Dream of Night in the Green Room of Blue Marble Books. The room is inspired after the green room from everyone's favorite bedtime story, Goodnight Moon.
New local authors are welcomed. We usually know them long before their first book is published. For instance, when Kathy announced her contract for her first book, my first words were of congratulations as a friend who has journeyed this road with her. My second words were, “We (meaning the store) get to do the launch!”

And for those not local, indies are much more likely to welcome new names into our stores for events. We know that if the person is not local that attendance and sales may not be stellar. We also know the quality of the book and know there will be more visits to come where the attendance will be much larger. In fact, there are several best selling books that owe their success to indie buzz. We’re reading new authors, and we’re talking about them to customers and other booksellers.

I’m paraphrasing author Michael Buckley who champions indie stores when he tours: What makes us different for touring writers is that for a small store, an author visit is an event. The store is expecting you. They have a prominent place for you to sign and present. Some, if not all, of the employees have read your book. The person taking care of you was not selling coffee the day before. When you leave, the employees will continue to hand-sell your book. And you’re always welcome back.

Indies are unique. Not every city or town is blessed with such a rare and wonderful treasure. If you are lucky enough to have one in your area, keep it alive and thriving by giving it your business. You’ll miss it if it goes. And if you are an author, suggest schools get their books from their local indie for your visits. Ask, when discussing tour options with your publicist, to make visits to the indies in each area.

So does it make a difference that one small store in Grand Rapids is closing its doors? It does to me. And to many others -- kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and writers alike.


  1. Thanks, Dave, for this wonderful guest blog. Indie bookstores & indie stores of all kinds deserve our support.

  2. Blue Marble Books looks like a dream place to work. Lucky you! And excellent points about how an independent store can become a fixture in the community and address everyone's needs with a personal touch, a little more insight and compassion, than the chains.

  3. I love our independent bookstores! We are so lucky in the Cincinnati area to have several good ones! I always think about The Shop Around the Corner, whenever I hear of a little bookstore going out of business. So sad.

  4. Oh boy, we've had a small indie bookstore close here too when a bigger one moved in. Needless to say, it's been a long time already and I have yet to visit this new one. Sad...

  5. Hi Kim and Dave - I certainly hope small bookstores - Indie stores - will be around for a long time to come... you appear to offer an excellent service for all your local book lovers .. good luck - cheers Hilary