Support local bookstores before it’s too late!

I was looking forward to reading my monthly e-newsletter from Bestsellers Café, Bestsellers Cafethe bookstore/coffee shop in Medford, Massachusetts. I always like to see what books they recommend and the listing of upcoming author and live music events. However, I was saddened to see that the latest email was a good-bye letter. Bestsellers Café will be closing down at the end of January because of “unfavorable terms of a lease agreement.” I am so sorry to hear this. Bestsellers Café showcases the work of rising authors and has a section devoted to books published by local authors and independent presses. A couple of months ago they invited me in to speak about the essay I got published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology. The manager gave me a lovely introduction before I gave my talk. Only a handful of copies of the book were sold, but I was invited to come back the next time I have something published.

Writers who are trying to get established depend on this country’s privately owned and independent bookstores like Bestsellers Café for support. You’d have to be a highly successful commercial author before Barnes and Noble would consider hosting an event for you. There’s nothing to be done about the closing of Bestsellers Café, but let it be a reminder to all of us of the importance of supporting locally owned bookstores. Because if we don’t, they will cease to exist.

Independent Booksellers Tell How They Survive

Frugal books Photo

Have you ever wondered how the owners of independent bookstores feel about the pressure they face because of online booksellers and the large chain store with its seemingly endless selection of books, book-related merchandise, and full-service café menu? Many have closed due to their inability to compete. Some of the ones that survive look for creative ways to stay afloat.

Leonard and Clarrissa, the owners of Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, where I’ll be signing books on May 3rd, have their own way of keeping the customers coming back.

LISA:So many independent bookstores, such as yours find it hard to compete with online bookstores and bookstore chains. Are you challenged by this? How do you keep the customers coming in despite this competition?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: Yes we are challenged by it, however, our customer base prefers the experience of patronizing their local bookstore that carries niche genres that a lot of online and mainstream booksellers do not.

LISA: Your slogan is “Changing Minds One Book at a Time.” Please elaborate.

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: Leonard actually came up with the slogan. It was born out of his experience while incarcerated, each book he read not only helped to change his mind; it also helped him become who he is.

LISA: What are the challenges of husband and wife operating a business together?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: As with any relationship whether it is personal or professional there will be disagreements and we won’t always see eye-to-eye but it is important to stay focused and positive, which is what we do.

LISA: What is the future of brick and mortar independent bookstores? Will they continue to exist?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: It would be nice to know the answer but there’s really no way for us to know the future of independent bookstore. We only hope that more people will support them as they are an asset to us all.

LISA: Your store seems to be community-oriented. Please explain.

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: We promote literacy in the community by hosting book signings and book fairs throughout the city. We are also in the process of hosting a spelling bee for students in the near future.

LISA: What makes your bookstore unique? What do you offer that others don’t?

FRUGAL BOOKSTORE: Our selection of books on African American studies, Latino interests, gifts, such as African figurines, soapstone sculptures, framed art, shadow boxes. Also, we provide a welcoming and professional atmosphere that people respect and appreciate.

Writer by Day, Karaoke King by Night

KaraokeIt’s a Saturday night at independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith and the latest author event is about to begin. The chairs have been arranged. The book signing table has been set up. But before the author, Rob Sheffield, talks about his book, the people attending– in the order in which they signed up–grab a microphone, flip through a booklet of lyrics, and belt out their favorite tunes. Turn Around Bright Eyes, is Sheffield’s story of how he started a new life as a young widower spending nights in New York City karaoke bars. Karaoke played a big part in his emotional journey and led to him meeting his second wife. Karaoke also plays a big part in his book launch, getting readers to come to his events and plunk down the price of a Saturday night dinner to buy his book. 

It’s a clever marketing tool, taking a theme from your written work and making it a vehicle to generate sales. I’m sure plenty of karaoke lovers show up at his events who hadn’t heard of Sheffield before. Some of them probably don’t even read very much. What a great way to build an audience.Gone are the days when authors stood stiffly at podiums, wore drab, rumpled suits with elbow patches, or uninspired pantsuit and blouse/shirt combos to deliver flat presentations.

Authors and publishers are realizing that getting the buying public to pay attention, in this day of flashy video games and fast-paced social networking, requires creative thinking.Cookbook authors have been catching on lately. At Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston’s Back Bay, for example, the author of EATS: Enjoy All the Seconds, has a September 15th engagement to not only talk about her book, but to give a “free” cooking demonstration, billed as an event to ensure that readers will never be faced with tossing away the healthiest foods again. I doubt if all those in attendance, dining on balsamic strawberries and carrot and cumin fritters, will eat and run before making a pit stop at the cash register.This has me thinking.

My novel in progress features an African drummer. I’m making a mental note to book African drummers to do a demo or mini class when I eventually launch my book. I’m curious to know if anyone else has been to a nontraditional book event or hosted one. What other approaches are authors and publishers, and publicists using these days to get a reader’s attention?